However, life in the urban areas was different from how it was in the agricultural regions. This difference was particularly apparent in the colorful, busy city streets. They sprang to life when the shops and residences lit up, like nocturnal beasts.
However, this was not so in the place where Climb was headed. That place was not a shining nightlife district, but more like a lightless street, shrouded in darkness.
Climb was silent and he did not carry a lantern as he walked through the quiet alleys. The fact that he could see while moving in the darkness was thanks to a magical effect in his helmet which made it function like a set of night vision goggles. While he could only see up to 15 meters in front of him, what he could see was as bright as day.
In addition, the plates of his full plate armor — made of mithril and other materials — did not make noise when they bumped into each other, unlike steel plate armor. In addition, the enchantment on the armor meant that there were no sounds of metallic rustling when in motion. Unless they had exceptional hearing or were a skilled thief, not even someone standing beside Climb would be able to pick up on the sounds of him walking.
That was why he had joined the pioneer reconnaissance party.
After walking down the alley, his target came into view.
It was surrounded by imposing walls, which sealed it off from the surrounding area. It felt like a prison, or a fortress. His mind raced with dark thoughts like What sort of illegal activities are going on inside? Even the magical lamps installed on either side of the door could not dispel that mental image.
According to their intelligence, their target ought to be behind these walls, but he could not see it from here.
“That’s it. I’m sure of it,” Climb muttered as he hunkered down. A voice answered from the empty air beside him.
“Agreed, leader. Judging by the feel of this place, that should be it. I’ll go take a look around, then.”
The person who replied was a former orichalcum-ranked adventurer who possessed thief-type skills. After he was done, Brain — who was travelling with them — added:
“Be careful. You might be invisible, but some warriors can see through it.”
“Of course. Our enemy is the Eight Fingers, after all. I’ll be operating under the assumption that they have thieves or magic casters on my level. So I hope the two of you will pray for my success.”
With that, the presence beside Climb began fading away. While he could not hear anything even while craning his neck to listen, perhaps a thief on par with him might be able to hear soft footsteps drawing away, heading towards the residence.
This left Climb and Brain.
They had left the others behind because they were not skilled at stealthy movement. The noise from full plate armor would practically broadcast their location to the enemy. That said, nobody was foolhardy enough to take off their armor and approach the enemy when there was an upcoming battle.
That was why the two of them were here.
Of course, they were both warriors, and they could not move like thieves did. Even so, Climb and Brain could move in the darkness — Climb relying on his enchanted armor, while Brain used martial arts — and together they had come this close to the enemy camp. However, what came next could only be left to a professional.
The two of them had risked so much to come here so that they could decide whether to attack or flee if the infiltration failed and the enemy bolstered their defenses. Therefore, their mission was already accomplished just by staying here and watching the enemy.
Even so, they could not help but feel uneasy as time passed. Since they were waiting and had not gone in themselves, their thoughts naturally turned towards the worst.
“It’ll be okay, right?”
As the words slipped from Climb’s mouth, Brain calmly answered:
“I don’t know, but… all we can do is trust him. We have to trust in the skills of a former orichalcum-ranked adventurer.”
“You’re right. After all, he’s a veteran adventurer.”
They did not know how long they had waited, but Brain’s hand suddenly went to the 「Katana」at his waist. Just as Climb was about to reach for his sword in response, a somewhat panicked male voice came from beside them.
“Wait! Wait! It’s me. I’m back.”
It was the voice of the thief who had gone to scout ahead.
“Ah, as I thought. You came so close but didn’t do anything, so I thought… you must have been trying to see if I could really detect you with martial arts, right?”
“Yes, sorry about that. You’re right. I’m really sorry for daring to test the skills of the great Brain Unglaus.”
“Don’t worry about it. I might have done the same thing in your position. That aside, can you tell us what you’ve learned?
The air rippled beside Climb, and he sensed that someone had sat down. He could not see anyone when he looked beside him, yet her had the strange feeling that someone was there.
“—First, I think that place is used for training of some sort. There’s a large yard behind the wall, making it look like a practice yard. I only had a cursory look through the interior, but there seem to be several segregated rooms inside. I guess it’s a base for Eight Fingers’ security division. Also, there’s one place which was heavily guarded, so I had trouble approaching. And then something terrible happened, leader.”
The man’s tone changed. It was now filled with the utmost tension.
“I discovered two important things when I went inside. One is that there’s a prison here, with a woman inside. The other is that there are several people here whose descriptions match those of Six Arms.”
The woman aside, they had already expected Six Arms to be here. So what was the problem?
Climb’s doubts were immediately answered by a question from Brain.
“You said ‘several people’? Doesn’t sound like one person.”
“Five of them. Now that Illusion Devil’s been captured, that ought to be all of them.”
In other words, this was an impossible hurdle for them. They had drawn the short straw. However—
“That’s… well, it’s terrible, but it’s also pretty fortunate. Since they’re all here, that means the others can easily take down the other locations.”
That was the silver lining on a very dark cloud.
“Then, what should we do?”
“What can we do? We can’t attack this place. Let’s fall back.”
“Are you alright with that, Climb-kun?”
“I don’t like it, but we don’t have a choice. If Six Arms are gathered here, then it must be a permanent base or it holds something they value heavily. It would be bad if we withdrew before verifying that. However, I don’t think we should do anything our fighting power can’t cover.”
“Then, should I go in again and take a look, maybe bring some documents back?”
“No, it’s too risky. Forget it. Since they haven’t found us yet, I think it would be wiser to retreat right away. What do you think?”
“That’s right, I approve. But then what should we do next, attack another point?”
“I think that would be the most effective course of action. Could you report to the people behind us? We’ll wait here to make sure nobody comes out to pursue you.”
“I doubt there’ll be anyone like that, but you can’t be too careful. In that case, I’ll leave this to the two of you.”
The thief had not yet dispelled his invisibility as he deliberately moved quickly so Climb and Brain could hear. He then fell back to where the rest of the team members were waiting.
“…Doesn’t seem like there’s any movement so far, Climb-kun.”
“Yes. Then we should probably retreat and go to another location with the others.”
“Sounds good — hm. Climb-kun, look.”
Climb’s eyes followed Brain’s finger, and they both saw a man they had met yesterday heading for the building they were watching.
“Isn’t that Sebas-sama? Why is he here?”
“…It doesn’t seem like a coincidence, but… what happened? Is he part of them?”
“I’m sure he isn’t. Brain-sama, you think so too, right?”
“Aye, he can’t be. Unless he’s really good at acting. Still, I don’t think Sebas-sama is that kind of man.”
“In any case, let’s call out—”
Just as the words left his mouth, Sebas turned and his eyes fixed on the two of them. Climb and Brain were some distance away from the building in order to observe it, and they were hidden in the darkness. Under normal circumstances, it would have been quite hard to find them. While he might have looked in their direction by chance, Climb was completely certain that it was not the case this time around.
Sebas jogged over.
His speed was abnormal. He was so fast that he seemed to be teleporting every time they blinked as he closed the distance to them. He was running normally, but his celerity was such that their brains refused to acknowledge it.
Then, he flew over their heads. More accurately, he leapt over the heads of the two people hunkered down in the alley.
“What a coincidence, fancy meeting you two here. Is something the matter?”
“Er, no, we actually wanted to ask that ourselves… we were planning to attack that building which was owned by Eight Fingers, so we were lying in wait here.”
“…Just the two of you?”
“No, there’s several others behind us.”
“I see,” Sebas said quietly. Climb then asked him:
“Sebas-sama, why did you come here? Do you have business in that building?”
“Yes. That is precisely so. The woman I mentioned yesterday, the one whom I rescued, was kidnapped. The enemy called me over here, and so I came.”
“Is that so! Our colleague who scouted ahead did say there was a woman inside.”
“…And where is that comrade of yours?”
“Oh, I think he’ll be back soon… ah, there he is.”
The no-longer-invisible adventurer returned from where Brain was looking. He looked at Sebas in surprise. Clearly, the sudden appearance of this dashing old gentleman was quite out of place here.
“This is Sebas-sama, the person who lent us his aid when we caught the Illusion Devil. The person in the cell you mentioned earlier seems to be a friend of Sebas-sama’s, which is why we met here. This man is completely trustworthy, so please do not worry.”
“I see,” the thief answered. He then began talking about what he had learned starting with news on that woman. After hearing everything, Sebas spoke in a grateful voice.
“I see. I understand. Thank you. Rescuing her now will be much easier.”
“No, please don’t worry about it, sir. By the way, everyone’s ready to pull out…”
The thief felt guilty as he realised that he and the others had decided to retreat while that female friend of Sebas was still locked up within that building. He sneaked a look at Sebas’ face.
“Sebas-sama. Five of the strongest fighters in Eight Fingers, called Six Arms, are in that building… Can you defeat them?”
The thief knotted his brows as he heard Climb’s question. Climb understood what he was thinking. The Six Arms were each the equivalent of an adamantite-ranked adventurer. Surely he must have thought that taking five of them on at once was impossible. However, Sebas simply ignored those thoughts and nodded gently.
“Five people of Succulent’s caliber shouldn’t be a problem.”
The thief kept himself from rolling his eyes, then he pulled Climb and Brain away. He looked at Sebas with a pained expression on his face, and then asked them:
“…Leader. Is he a madman?”
Anyone would think such a thing upon hearing Sebas speak like that. Anyone who knew the strength of an adamantite-ranked adventurer would surely think so too. However, Climb had glimpsed a fraction of Sebas’ power, and he knew that Sebas was definitely not bragging.
“No. That man really is that amazing.”
The thief stared long and hard at Climb. The look in his eye was as though he was gazing upon a lunatic.
“Brain-sama thinks so too.”
“Eh?! Even Brain Unglaus thinks that as well?”
Brain smiled bitterly to the thief and nodded.
“Yes, Sebas-sama is strong enough that Gazef and I couldn’t beat him even if we went at him together.”
“That. that’s really… no, if what you said is true, then it would be amazing…”
It was hard to believe, but he had to accept it given that the two of them had said that much. The thief looked at Sebas with a complex expression on his face.
“If we can count on your aid, Sebas-sama, we might be able to… sorry, could you tell Sebas-sama about the Six Arms?”
The thief agreed, and Sebas quietly waited for him to finish speaking. However, he lost his gentlemanly reserve upon hearing the title of one of Six Arms’ members.
“Undying King Davernoc, is it… a mere fool does not deserve that title.”
Sebas did not react beyond those muttered words, and the thief finished sharing his information. Just then, Climb asked:
“Then, Sebas-sama… if you don’t mind, could we count on your assistance?”
“Of course. I came to save Tsuare, after all. Leave Six Arms to me, then.”
“Then I hope you will come at them from the front and draw their attention, Sebas-sama. We will use that opportunity to infiltrate the place. While we cannot possibly replace you, please allow us to help rescue Tsuare-san on your behalf.”
“Just as well. Nothing would be better than for you gentlemen to help rescue her while the enemy is distracted, to prevent her from becoming a hostage or from being spirited away via a different route.”
“I understand. We will definitely rescue Tsuare-san safely. Then, who will be going in? I know the original plan was to have everyone infiltrate, and it was a good idea…”
“Hm — if we’re sneaking in quietly, then we need to make as little noise as possible. After that, once we rescue Tsuare-san, we’ll need to head out as directly as possible, so we’ll need to be able to fight. That being the case…”
The thief looked at Climb and Brain after the two of them addressed their questions to him.
“Well, if we had unlimited use of [Invisibility] spells there might be another way, but… I think the three of us are the most suitable for the task.”
“You mean I can go too?”
“Well, my fellow warriors’ armor is too noisy, so they’re not suitable for infiltration.”
“I understand. Then we’ll be sneaking in.”
“If our magic caster could use [Silence] spells or the like, it’d be a different matter… well, if it’s just the three of us, then there’s still a way. I’ll ask everyone to cast [Invisibility] spells on us.
“[Invisibility], huh,” Climb said bitterly. “My helmet can see through invisibility once a day, so I’ve no problems if everyone is invisible, but how about the rest of you? It would be bad if we got lost because we couldn’t see the others.”
“I’m fine. Someone’s already cast a [See Invisibility] spell on one of my magic items. It can only be used once, but I can use it on myself.”
“I don’t have an ability like that, but I don’t think I’ll miss the sound of your footsteps, leader.”
“Is that so. Then communications between the infiltration party ought to be fine. In that case, we’ll be going in first; please wait a while before making your move, Sebas-sama.”
“I will be counting on you.”
Sebas bowed his hoary head to them, which startled Climb and Brain. After all, they had done nothing to make this amazing man bow to them. This was because they were sort of using the mighty Sebas, much like they had during the brothel raid.
“No, please don’t worry about it. The truth is, we came to attack this location. In fact, we’re very grateful that you’re willing to deal with Six Arms for us, Sebas-sama.”
“Then we are helping each other out, are we not?”
There was no hint of any resentment or malice towards Climb and the others on Sebas’ smiling face. Climb stood up, his heart at ease.
“Then we will be falling back first, to have the others cast spells on us.”
Lower Fire Month (9th Month) 4th Day 22:15
Some time later — although it was still a few minutes before the appointed time — Sebas stood before the main gate. The gate was lattice-shaped, so he could peer through it, but the trees within prevented him from seeing too far inside.
“Oi, you’re on time, aren’t you?” a voice asked hoarsely. Following that, a man stepped out from among the trees.
Of course, Sebas had noticed the man’s presence from the beginning. That was because he had activated an ability which allowed him to sense all life signs within an area. That said, sometimes it could not detect opponents who were using stealth-type skills, so he could not rely too heavily on it. However, it was still useful to some extent.
“This way. Follow me.”
The man opened the door, and he led Sebas down a path in the yard.
Considering this yard was the property of a criminal organization like Eight Fingers, it did not feel particularly gloomy and the vegetation was neatly trimmed, as though they had a skilled gardener taking care of things.
After following the path for a while, a vast space which looked like a training area unfolded before his eyes.
There were several bonfires blazing away merrily, and bright red firelight illuminated the surroundings.
There were about 30 people here, with many men and several women among them, and they all had wicked smiles on their faces. Said smiles were crude and intoxicated with violence, certain of the prospect of victory.
Sebas looked around him. There was nobody here who could begin to rival him, but he found the Six Arms of which Climb had spoken.
One of them wore a hooded robe. The robe was black, stitched with a bright red flame pattern below the waist. Sebas could not see the face under the hood, but there was no trace of life energy wafting out from beneath it. In fact, it was precisely the opposite. It would seem the nickname of ”Undying” was not merely metaphorical, but that this was a true undead being; hence the name.
Their sole female was dressed sheer silks, and looked to be agile. She wore gold bangles on her wrists and ankles, which rang with crisp metallic sounds as she moved. She had six scimitars at her waist.
The next man was dressed in a cotton suit. He also wore a gold-stitched jacket (a matador’s traje de luces) and a vest. His weapon was a thin sword whose blade seemed to be extending from a rose blossom, and it radiated a rose’s fragrance.
The final man wore a suit of unadorned full plate armor, and his sword was securely stowed within its sheath.
There were four of them in total. Their leader Zero was not here. He was probably waiting somewhere to make his appearance.
The four of them advanced on him, and the others moved to encircle Sebas.
“Hey gramps, I heard you’re pretty good, huh? You can send a man flying with just your fists, right?”
“We got to where we were in Eight Fingers through our skills. It would be pretty bad if we lost. That idiot didn’t realize that. While the slave trading division’s on the decline, we can’t lose in front of their boss.”
“Actually, at this point I have a question. Succulent insisted that he lost to Brain Unglaus. Or did he lose to you, but he just didn’t want to admit it?”
“Yes. I never fought him directly. I met him once at the house, and the next time I saw him, he was unconscious on the ground.”
“I see. Well, all right, it’s no wonder he lost. Considering his opponent was the great Brain Unglaus, there’s no way he could have won with that strength of his.”
“Considering he continued honing his skills after that duel and he’s on par with Gazef Stronoff, I suppose it’s understandable why he lost.”
“Still, that doesn’t mean we can let you off. We’ll take care of Unglaus and the Shiny Princess’ lackey later. You’ll be the first, you troublemaking old man. We’ll kill you first.”
“We have to subdue you with force and kill you. Otherwise we’ll be in a bad state.”
“Look over there.”
As the members of Six Arms took turns addressing him, Sebas pointed to the the third floor of the building.
“There’s bigwigs from all over gathered there. They’re here to watch us toy with you until you die, old man.”
“Is the man called Zero there?”
A scornful expression appeared on one of the four. Sebas extended his finger and pointed toward the third floor. He then put his hand down, paying no attention to the confused looks on the Six Arms’ faces.
“What are you doing? Taunting them?”
“Please do not worry about it. Then, where is she?”
His opposition was still sneering at him as they answered his question with a question. Sebas calmly replied:
“The woman you snatched from the house. Her name is Tsuare.”
“—And if I said she was dead?”
“Would you be that kind?”
“Hahaha! That’s right. We aren’t that nice. That woman is a present for Cocco Doll. She’s being well taken care of.”
“I see… I see.”
Sebas saw one of the four people shift their line of sight towards a certain location in the building. However, what caught his eye was the fact that it was not the place where he heard Tsuare had been held — that being the case, all he had to do was verify the location.
“This is a rare occasion, so why don’t you all come at once? Letting Zero escape would be troublesome, and it would just waste time.”
“…You talk big, human.”
“You must be feeling cocky because you had an easy time with the mooks, huh? But have you seen real power before?”
“Very well said. I wish to take these words and return them to all of you. However… may I ask a question? Why do you think I am weaker than Brain-sama?”
“Don’t look down on us. Warriors of our level can tell an opponent’s strength on sight. And you look far weaker than us, old man.”
The other two people, Davernoc aside, nodded in agreement.
Sebas could gauge his opponent’s strength by the potency of their ki. However, much like his other ability, it would be difficult to tell if his opponents were concealing their power with skills or magic.
“That’s why, we’re giving you a chance. We’ll come at you one at a time, so—”
“—I am very strong, you know.”
Sebas flexed his fingers, beckoning them to come at him.
“Like I said just now, coming one at a time is troublesome. All of you should attack me at once. That way, you ought to be able to last about ten seconds.”
“Don’t underestimate us, human.”
Davernoc’s shoulders trembled.
“Underestimate you? You are the ones underestimating your opponent. My name is Sebas. The person who gave me that name was the strongest warrior. The master whom I serve is the supreme ruler of… well, there is no point telling you low-lives. Alright, I tire of dealing with you. Let us end this.”
Sebas stepped forward. He approached the person whose title most displeased Sebas.
♦ ♦ ♦
“Undying King” Davernoc.
His true identity was a naturally-spawned Elder Lich. The undead were born from mass death. They were creatures who hated the living and often desired only to end their lives. However, some intelligent undead could rein in their hatred and build relationships with the living. Davernoc was one such undead being.
The aim of his false life was to ably harness the power of magic and to learn techniques beyond the spells he could use since his genesis.
However, even if he wanted to learn said techniques, he could not find anyone to teach him, given that the undead were seen as the nemeses of the living. Perhaps if there were other undead like him — in fact, there was a secret society formed of undead magic casters — things might have been different, but unfortunately, Davernoc had never encountered such beings.
Therefore, he thought of accumulating wealth, and using them to pay the price to have people teach him magic.
At first, he had begun by killing and robbing travellers, but then he had been defeated by adventurers who had come to hunt him down. Now painfully aware of his foolishness, he considered a new way to earn a living. Therefore, he concealed his identity and joined a mercenary band.
However, someone else learned that he could continuously launch [Fireballs] and his identity as one of the undead came to light. He was then forced to flee that mercenary band.
After that, when he had once again lost a way to generate income, someone found him. That person was Zero
He introduced Davernoc to someone who was willing to teach him magic, and paid him appropriately. In turn, he asked Davernoc to use his magical powers under his direction. That was exactly what Davernoc had hoped for.
As long as he could steadily accumulate more magical power, an undead being like himself with an unlimited lifespan might eventually become a being that could eradicate all life. Zero might have been lending aid to a future disaster for mankind.
—Sebas closed in like a storm, his right hand clenched into a fist which he threw in a straight punch. Unable to defend against the strike or evade it, without so much as the time to move, Davernoc’s head went flying.
Davernoc’s unlife was thus extinguished. It vanished without him knowing why or how he had offended his opponent.
Unlike how he usually was, Sebas disdainfully said:
“Only one person in this entire world deserves to use that title. That person commands incomparable majesty. An inferior undead being like yourself ought to know your place.”
Sebas flicked his right hand, shaking off the bone fragments stuck to it. As Davernoc’s body vanished, the many magic items he had equipped clattered to the ground.
Even when everyone was frozen in shock, the Six Arms could still move. As expected, they were capable warriors; only people who had been through numerous life or death battles could do such a thing.
Indeed, that was worthy of praise. That was because it proved that their reputation of being the equals of adamantite-ranked adventurers was not for show.
After that, Sebas stalked towards that woman.
“Dancing Scimitar” Edstrem.
There was a certain magical item property called “Dance”. As the name suggested, it was an enchantment which allowed a weapon to move as though it were dancing, allowing it to attack independently. Thus, it was commonly regarded as the best way to increase the amount of one’s attacks.
That said, this enchantment only allowed for simple movements, and thus it was not suitable as a primary offensive method. At the very most, it was good for sneak attacks or to hamper a foe, and during fierce clashes between warriors of her level, all it could do was get in her enemy’s way. Since there was a limit to how much one could enchant a weapon, it was a sensible choice to pick some other effect instead, rather than the Dance enchantment. For instance, Blue Rose’s Gagaran used a weapon whose enchantments only increased the damage it dealt.
That said, there was no better enchantment for her than the Dance property.
Dancing weapons moved in accordance with their masters’ will. However, when their master was involved in a fight for their life, it was very difficult to order a weapon that one was not holding and which was in a completely different location to attack an opponent, unless there was a tremendous difference in fighting strength. Therefore, most dancing weapons could only make simple motions.
However, that was not the case for her.
She could easily and naturally manipulate her weapons as though they were being held by an invisible warrior — one whose skills were equivalent to hers. The reason for this was due to the unique makeup of her brain. This was because she had been born with a pair of natural abilities.
The first was an excellent sense of spatial awareness — bordering on the preternatural.
And then — some people could have their right hands act with complete independence from their left hands without training. However, her ability in that field was greater than that; her mind was gifted with an unnatural flexibility. That was her second ability.
It would not be unusual for someone to describe her as having two brains. This was her ability.
If she had only one of those abilities, she would not have been able to control her swords as freely as she did. However, these two abilities were united within her. One could call it a miracle.
In all likelihood, there was nobody else within the Kingdom’s nine million souls who had the same abilities as her.
Her scimitars left their sheaths on their own, in accordance with her fighting spirit. All she had to do was focus on defense, while the five other swords launched attacks on their own.
This was a barrier of blades. Stepping into this cage meant certain death.
Before the scimitars could begin their attacks, Sebas had already entered his attack radius, and he threw a chop with impossible speed.
In the next moment, her head fell to the ground. Wreathed in ki, his knife hand was sharper than any blade.
Fresh blood spurted from her neck, and her body collapsed a beat later. However, the five scimitars still hung in the air.
That was because Sebas’ chopping hand had been too sharp and too fast for her to feel her own death. She might not even have felt pain.
The five scimitars — still obeying her will — sliced through the air towards Sebas.
However, Sebas ignored those swords, drawing himself and standing in place. He tenderly addressed the fallen head with honest praise:
“To think you would continue to fight even with your head severed… I salute your fighting spirit.”
Her mouth opened and closed.
What are you saying?
I don’t understand.
However, she had probably sensed something from those words. Her eyes spun madly, and then realized her body was missing its head. Her expression distorted wildly. She blinked several times, and then her eyes went so wide it seemed as though her eyeballs were about to roll out of her head.
Impossible. It can’t be. It must be an illusion. I couldn’t have been defeated. He did nothing to me. I can’t move because of some kind of magic. Somebody say something.
And then, she finally accepted reality, and despair colored her face.
Her mouth opened and closed, and the swords headed at Sebas fell to the ground, never to move again.
“Come on, attack with me! Let’s get him together!”
A voice which sounded like a shriek came from the man in full plate armor. However sturdy it was, his armor could not protect him from his fear.
He had realized — not with his logical mind, but with his heart and soul — that Sebas had been telling the truth, and that he was currently facing a creature he should never have fought, which should not exist in this world.
“Take, take, take my, take take my [Void… Void Cutter]!”
He already knew. He knew that he was about to die. He knew that no matter what happened, there was no possible way for him to defeat the man called Sebas.
He had not fled because his instincts told him: you won’t make it more than a few steps before he kills you. You’ll die if you advance. You’ll also die if you retreat. That being the case, at least…
Those thoughts proved that he was still a warrior.
The man confronting him — Sebas — narrowed his eyes.
That was because he was thinking, perhaps this might be the first enemy whose abilities I have to watch.
The person who made Sebas was the World Champion known as Touch Me, whose trump card was a strike that cleaved through the very fabric of space-time itself. Of course, there was no way the person before him could reach that level, but even an imitation of that technique might be able to hurt Sebas.
“Void Cutter” Peysilian.
His nickname was derived from the fact that he had a mysterious technique where he could draw from a one-meter long scabbard and bisect a foe over three meters away. In truth this move did not actually cut through space.
The secret lay in the sword.
There was a type of sword called the urumi. It was a long blade made from a flexible metal which bent easily. The weapon Peysilian carried was an urumi which had been so finely sharpened that it could be called a sword of cutting string. Perhaps a metal whip might be a more accurate name.
A high-speed draw-cut with such a weapon could kill a foe without leaving a mark, only a lingering arc of cold light, thus leading to his nickname.
Compared to the rest of Six Arms, this move was more of a trick, but the fact that he could skilfully use a weapon which was so difficult to master proved his incredible warrior skills. If one handed the same weapon to Gazef, even the man hailed as the mightiest warrior would not be able to wield it as well as Peysilian.
In addition, its power was not diminished even if one saw through the trick.
The frightening aspect of the whip lay in the ridiculous speeds its tip could reach. Seeing and then avoiding it was very difficult — no, it was almost impossible.
It was an ultra-high-speed slash. What difference was there between an attack which humanity could not respond to and cutting through the air itself?
The tip of the sword, the leading edge of that high-speed attack was caught between two fingers. So casual was that movement that it looked like something which had been picked up off the ground.
Sebas carefully examined the metal between his fingertips, and arched an eyebrow.
“What is this… and to think you called it cutting through the void…”
With a strange, bird-like cry, a rapier lanced out at Sebas.
“Thousand Kills” Malmvist.
His main weapon, Rose’s Thorn, was enchanted with two magical properties. The first was “Fleshgrinding”. In the instant the sword struck its foe’s body, this fearsome magic would twist the surrounding muscle and tissue. The effect was to rip and tear at the flesh around the injury site, leaving hideous wounds. The other was “Master Assassin”. That enchantment enlarged wounds and made even the slightest scratch a severe injury.
Those two abilities were vicious enough, but there was one more ability on top of those. It was not a magical power — but poison.
The tip of Rose’s Thorn was smeared with a lethal concoction of many poisons. Malmvist had prepared this because he was not originally a warrior, but more of an assassin. Since he wielded his sword to slay his foe, he had assembled this combination with the objective of killing his enemy within a short period of time, by any means necessary. Indeed, even a single scratch could be fatal.
Without the proper countermeasures, even Gazef Stronoff and Brain Unglaus would perish beneath his blade.
However, there was a weakness among all this.
Since he relied on his ability to win by causing a single scratch, Malmvist’s swordsmanship was subpar. However, his lunges were the real deal; his lightning thrusts were arguably superior even to those of Gazef Stronoff.
In other words, this was the strongest stab in the Royal Capital.
And then this move was further augmented by many martial arts, almost as many as the former Black Scripture member Clementine.
Sebas did not dodge it. He did not need to dodge it.
Malmvist, who had made that thrust with all his might, could not bring himself to speak.
Rose’s Thorn — a vicious weapon that could kill with the slightest scratch. He saw Sebas blocking it with his finger.
Indeed, Sebas had halted the tip of the rapier with the pad of his index finger.
Malmvist blinked repeatedly, so much that it seemed unnatural. Only after that did he realize that it was not an illusion, that he was not dreaming, and then he managed to gasp a few words out. That was the only thing he could do.
This made no sense at all. His experience told him that the fleshy pad of a finger could not possibly stop a thrust which could even pierce steel. Yet, what he saw before his eyes was reality.
Malvist could not budge an old man’s gently raised finger with all his strength.
Rose’s Thorn bent.
He tried to pull the rapier back to try and strike somewhere else, but before he could do so, Sebas had pinched its tip between his thumb and index finger. That immobilized the blade.
Before him stood an immovable mountain. He saw that his colleague was also desperately trying to pull his own sword back.
Amidst this situation, a voice of iron rang forth, cutting through everything.
“Alright, my turn.”
In the next instant, Peysilian’s head exploded.
♦ ♦ ♦
An attack like this could be considered quite rare coming from Sebas. Until now, he had been using proper technique, but this blow had been born of thoughtless anger, punching off his opponent’s head with sheer brute force.
He shifted his gaze to the right hand which he had extended toward the now-disintegrated head.
His white glove was flecked with spots, and the stench of rusted iron wafted forth.
“What a gaffe…”
He let go of the rapier and used the fingers which had held it to peel off and discard the bloodstained glove. In the instant that it hit the stone floor, Malmvist hooked it away with the tip of his slender blade, snatching the glove away.
Perhaps Malmvist was very confident that he had been as swift as a shooting star in the night sky, but to Sebas it was so slow that he wanted to yawn. He could have shattered the rapier, or stepped forward and explosively decapitated his opponent, or done many other things to take his glove back. However, he simply could not understand what his opponent was aiming for. Confused, Sebas did not make a move, but directly asked:
“What… are you trying to do?”
“This is it!!! This must be the magic item that’s making you stronger!!!”
It was merely a glove made out of cloth.
His voice sounded like a broken gong. Foam flecked the corner of his mouth. His eyes were bloodshot. Malmvist’s mind was probably half-lost in a world of madness. Having witnessed an unbelievable sight, he was desperately scrabbling for some reason to explain what he had seen.
“You need only acknowledge my strength; why are you thinking like this… although you may do so if you wish.”
Sebas threw a punch at the man whose face was split by a grin.
After Malmvist crumpled to the ground, his head blown to smithereens, all that remained was silence.
Sebas blew on his fingertip, as though it had been stained with something. However, the protection of his [Iron Skin] had prevented him from taking so much as a scratch.
“In any case, I could have settled it in five seconds if that ‘Void Cutter’ title had not put me on my guard. Being able to last 20 seconds is quite praiseworthy.”
After that Sebas gave an order to the predator who was preparing to seize the people within the building — the ones which he had pointed out just now, who had witnessed this tragic scene from the window:
“Solution, I imagine they possess useful information, so do not kill them. Now then…”
He glanced icily at the people surrounding him, all of whom were frozen in place.
“Ten seconds for the rest of you.”
Lower Fire Month (9th Month) 4th Day 22:13
Climb ran through the empty corridor. Thanks to the enchantment on his helmet, he could see the two people running with him, despite the [Invisibility] spell on them. He even wondered if the spell had been cast at all. However, upon closer inspection, the two of them looked a little washed-out, so there was nothing to fear.
He was careful not to make too much noise, but neither could he slow his pace.
They had to rescue the kidnapped girl while Sebas bought them time. Even if Sebas was a powerhouse which even Gazef Stronoff and Brain Unglaus together could not defeat, his opponents were still the members of Six Arms, who were said to be on par with adamantite-ranked adventurers. If they surrounded and pounded him, things might get dangerous. Therefore, they had to immediately rescue the imprisoned woman and escape with Sebas.
After several more turns and rushing down a staircase, the man at their head suddenly ground to a halt.
Climb stumbled in place for a few steps, and then the thief quietly apologized:
“Sorry for the sudden halt, leader. This is it. The cells are just beyond this corner, and there’s a woman in the innermost one.
It was purely by chance, but the invisibility spell wore off as he spoke — as though it were keyed to his voice — making them all appear vibrantly-colored once more.
Heeding the thief’s suggestion, Climb peered around the corner. There he saw a dark passageway, with several large cells in a row.
“…There’s nobody around, the same way it was when I came here just now.”
There were no captives, or even sentries. This lack of precautions was terribly suspicious. It was as though someone was trying to lure them in. However when one thought about it calmly, nobody would be suicidal enough to infiltrate a building where the strongest members of Eight Fingers — Six Arms — were gathered. Climb and the others would not have taken that risk either, if not for the fact that Sebas was serving as a decoy and another woman was locked up here.
The others probably thought the same way too.
This casual attitude and the openings they had left were a great boon to Climb’s team. This was what people called “pride going before a fall”.
“Then let’s move in quickly and rescue the hostage.”
Perhaps it was because they were on deadly ground together, but the thief’s tone had become a lot friendlier than just now. Brain asked him:
“Before that, can I ask a question? What’s with those double doors all the way inside?”
Looking down the corridor, there was a set of double doors, just as Brain had said.
“Ah — well, given what I’ve seen until now, these aren’t jail cells lined up here, but animal cages. I think the doors in there lead to a place where the beasts can be… led into something like an arena.”
“I see… indeed, I can smell beasts from those cells. I heard that in the Empire, they allow magical beasts to fight in their arenas…”
Climb sniffed at the air like Brain did. There was the odor of animals — carnivorous beasts, to be precise.”
“However, there’s a difference between taking them for training or using them for public executions. I don’t really want to think about what other things you could use them for… but I guess they might have put on a monster exhibition or something. Ay, look at how far I’ve drifted from the topic. Shall we?”
Climb nodded to Brain’s question, as did the thief.
The thief led the way, followed by Climb and Brain.
The three of them reached the innermost cell without encountering anything, and then the thief began inspecting the cell door.
The magic activated, and there was the sound of the cell door lock disengaging. The thief looked unhappy, but there was no time. All Climb could hope for was that he would not mind a small thing like this.
“Is that Tsuare-san?” Climb called out to the woman in the cell. The woman lying on the floor propped herself up. Her description was an exact match for the one Sebas had provided, and she was dressed in a maid’s uniform. They probably had the right person, given that she had probably been wearing the same thing when she had been kidnapped.
That calmed Climb down greatly. Their first objective had been achieved. Next was their second objective of getting her safely out of here.
“Sebas-sama asked us to rescue you. Please, follow me.”
The woman — Tsuare — nodded as Climb spoke to her.
As Tsuare emerged from the cell, she looked at Brain and then the thief. She looked a little surprised. In particular, her eyes lingered longest on Brain.
“There’s no noise from behind this door — the one which might lead to an arena. Still, it’s too risky to enter a place we don’t know anything about. We ought to stick to the plan and retrace our steps.”
Climb and Brain approved. Or rather, they were both warriors, and they knew this sort of decision was best left to a professional, hence their ready agreement.
Climb looked down at Tsuare’s feet and made sure that she was wearing shoes. That way, she ought to be able to run.
“Then, let’s get out of here before the enemy arrives.”
“Right, I got it. I’ll lead and you follow, like just now. However, there’s no invisibility magic this time round. I’ll be advancing while keeping an eye open, so don’t miss my signals.”
“Got it… what’s the matter, Brain-sama?” Climb asked Brain, who had been studying Tsuare intently.
“Hm? …Oh, no, it’s nothing, Climb-kun.”
Brain wrinkled his brow, but said nothing else. Climb glanced at Tsuare, but did not see anything which particularly drew his attention. She looked like nothing more than an imprisoned maid.
“There’s nothing, right? Then, shall we?”
The thief began running, followed by Climb and Brain. Tsuare was at the rear.
After running past the cells, the thief slowed down before he turned the corner. He was probably checking out the situation around the corner.
However, someone turned the corner, as naturally and casually as though they were taking a stroll, standing in front of the thief. The man had been prepared for someone to get in their way, but he was still hard-pressed to react when it actually happened.
Just as Climb froze in place from the sudden development, the thief made use of the reflexes a former orichalcum-ranker ought to have. He readied his dagger and stepped forward with murderous intent.
And then — there was a tremendous crash as the thief flew back, as though a bull had knocked him away. Fortunately, Climb caught him. Given that the thief could not brace himself, he might have been badly hurt just from hitting the ground in this state. However, although Climb caught him, he could not fully absorb the impact, and the two of them rolled to the ground.
Climb was worried about the thief’s groan as he tried to fight back the pain, but he was more concerned about the man who had appeared before them. That was because he was most definitely an enemy.
The person who stood in their way was a bald man. His body bulged with muscles, his face looked like a boulder, and he was covered in animal tattoos.
The man’s name flashed through Climb’s brain, and his surprise took physical form as a sound.
This man was one of the Six Arms, and the leader of their Security Division, the mightiest being in Eight Fingers.
“…Indeed, kid. You’re that whore’s slave, aren’t you? Hmph! To think there’d be ants crawling in here. Just leave a bit of bait out and you’re everywhere. It pisses me off.”
Zero spared only a glance for Climb and the thief on the ground before turning his stern gaze onto Brain. He sized the man up from head to toe, evaluating the worth of Brain the warrior.
Climb was grateful that this mighty person had not bothered to take him seriously, and then he checked on the thief.
“Are you alright? Do you have some way to heal yourself?”
He asked quietly for fear Zero’s attention would turn on them.
There was no answer, just the sound of unimaginable pain. The shocking thing was that there was a fist-shaped dent in his breastplate. It clearly illustrated the power of a single punch from Zero.
After shaking his head several times, the thief finally came to his senses. Climb did as the thief asked and felt around his waist.
“I’ve seen your face before. You’re Brain Unglaus, aren’t you? The man who fought on par with Gazef Stronoff. Your name’s not for show; none of your movements expose any weaknesses. By the looks of that, you must have been training yourself after that tournament. Now I understand. Succulent didn’t lose because he was careless, but because he faced you head-on. He lost because his foe was too strong. I have to forgive his failure just this once. Alright, you made me lose face, so normally I’d have to kill you. However, I’m a generous man. On account of your peerless sword skills, I’ll give you a chance. Kneel before me and swear to be my subordinate, and I’ll spare your life.”
“You won’t stinge on the money, will you?”
“Oh… are you interested…?”
“Why not hear you out? I did beat Succulent, so I should be able to look forward to good treatment, no?”
“Hahaha! Your desires do run deep. You’re talking money before begging me for your life. You can’t take it with you, you know.”
“Oi oi, what the hell. You mean you can’t pay? I didn’t expect you lot to be that poor. Or are you pocketing all the money yourself?”
“The hell you say?!”
Zero’s knuckles cracked with tension.
“You’ve got a mouth on you, Unglaus. A lot of people talk better than they fight; are you one of them? Or did you get cocky because you beat Succulent? Then here’s a sincere apology for making you so full of yourself despite only beating the weakest member of Six Arms.”
Brain shrugged, as though he was only kidding. He had been trying to draw the conversation out because he was thinking of the wounded thief and Climb.
In that case, why had Zero played along with Brain? He was probably confident of beating them three-on-one. Or was there some other reason?
Tsuare had slowly shifted behind Brain. If she wanted to be protected, then she should have hidden behind Climb for safety’s sake. There was no need to savor the thrill of danger by moving behind the man staring down Zero.
Brain worked his shoulders and glanced behind himself. It was a very subtle movement, and Climb was not certain of it. However, his gaze had been directed at Tsuare, and there was no goodwill in his eyes. No, that was most certainly the way in which he would look upon an enemy.
Eh? Why move there? Was he looking at me? No, that’s not it.
Something had happened. Climb rose uneasily to his feet.
“Hmph, so the ant stood up? Bought enough time for him, haven’t you? It’s about time to tell me what you really think. No, there’s no need to speak. Kneel, or don’t kneel! Show me, Unglaus!”
—This was enough.
He extended his left hand straight out and pulled his right hand back, clenching his fist as he did so. He lowered his waist straight down, but his body was rigid and unmoving. The way his muscles bulged almost made one think that they were creaking. At this moment, Zero was easy to describe. He was like a massive boulder, or no, perhaps it would be better to say he was like a raging bull.
In contrast, Brain lowered his stance as well. His movements were the same as Zero’s but there was a world of difference between the two of them.
If Zero was like the roaring rivers, then Brain was like a gentle brook. If Zero was the attacker, then Brain was the defender.
“I ordered them not to kill the old man, but the ones greeting him are a bunch of hotheads. They might go too far by accident and end his life. That would be troublesome. I have to kill the old man personally, in order to let everyone know how stupid it is to oppose us.”
His face twisted wickedly. It was as though to demonstrate how hatred could make a person ugly.
“Unglaus, I will make you the foundation of my reputation as the strongest warrior. I’ll use your tombstone to show everyone the fate of anyone stupid enough to challenge Six Arms! As for the whore’s slave, I’ll pretty his head up and mail it back to her.”
A wave of bloodlust washed over them from the front. However, it was nothing compared to what they had experienced from Sebas back then. Climb’s eyes sharpened and he stared back, leaving Zero a little disappointed.
“Really now? I understand. Then, I shall be your opponent, Zero. Climb-kun, I’ll leave the enemy behind to you!”
Climb did not understand what he had said for a moment. But it was only Climb who did not understand. The thief hurled a throwing knife at Tsuare.
The flying blade which the former orichalcum-ranked adventurer threw was swift and sharp.
Tsuare barely managed to evade it. According to Sebas, Tsuare should have been an ordinary maid. This was far too skilled for it to be a mere coincidence.
“So you already saw through it!”
The speaker was still Tsuare, but the voice belonged to the “Illusion Devil” Succulent.
“So you didn’t ask your rescuers anything because you thought they’d recognize your voice? Still, circling around behind my back was too suspicious. Well, I’d been guessing that you were either the real person under mind control, or someone transformed into her shape.”
Brain did not look back — still staring down Zero — as he unravelled the mystery.
“After that, I took a guess from the way you ran, but I couldn’t be sure until the end… fortunately it really was you. It’s not like I could tell him to throw carefully and only graze you.”
The thief’s face hardened for a moment. Then, he seemed to be directing an expression of gratitude at Succulent.
“Hmph. Based on what he’s saying, he saw straight through that little charade you suggested. That being the case, there’s no need to rely on it. What comes next will be decided with pure strength! … Succulent, kill those two mooks behind you. You can do that, right?”
“Of, of course, boss.”
Tsuare melted away into nothingness, and in her place stood Succulent. However, he was still in the maid’s outfit.
“When I think about it, I went out of my way to get you out. If you can’t even do a small thing like this…”
What Zero would do after that was so abundantly clear that the man hurriedly nodded, and then he turned to glare at Climb.
“We meet again, kid.”
His words were stiff, laced with a tension that he, as the previous victor, should not have.
Eight Fingers was not a compassionate organization, and naturally, they would not forgive a second failure. Succulent was now fighting an uphill battle, and the composure fled from his face.
“Eight Fingers can bail out someone imprisoned in the Princess’ name?!”
Though he had witnessed the power of Eight Fingers, he nevertheless raised his sword.
“…I can’t lose this time round.”
Brain had helped him defeat his opponent last time. However, not even Brain Unglaus could guarantee an easy win against Zero and Succulent, who were both members of Six Arms.
My enemy is stronger than me.
If he clung to that cowardly line of thought, all he could do was await death.
I must win.
With this unshakeable determination in his heart, Climb pushed his foot forward — he slid it forward — and advanced a step toward Succulent.
“It’s okay — it’s okay — I’ll help you too,”
The thief voiced his encouragement from behind. His casual tone was probably a kindness on his part, calculated to ease the tension in Climb’s heart. Since he was more skilled than Climb, it was good to be able to count on his support. However, he had taken a blow from Zero, and he was not fully recovered even after drinking his potion. In addition, they had never fought side by side before, making Climb worry that they would not be coordinated.
The thief sensed what Climb was thinking, and Climb in turn sensed him smiling thinly.
“Don’t worry. I’m just here to support you. Thieves fight differently from warriors — I’ll show you that we don’t just clash swords.”
He was more experienced than himself. Therefore, it was not that Climb should match himself to his partner, but that the thief would match himself to Climb. All Climb had to do was fight Succulent with all his strength.
Climb stared at his opponent, a determined look in his eyes. Succulent was generating clones of himself like he had last time. Now there were several Succulents, and he could not tell which was the original. A bitter taste spread through his mouth.
Just as both sides closed in on each other, a bag flew out from behind Climb’s back.
“This is how a thief fights!”
The bag burst at Succulent’s feet, and powder burst out. Succulent covered his mouth, thinking that it was poison. But that was not the case. It was not poison, but a magic item.
“Will ‘o’ Wisp Powder!”
The effects were immediately visible. Of the five Succulents, only one glowed with a murky bluish-white light.
Succulent’s eyes went wide as he realised this.
Will o’ Wisp Powder was used to reveal invisible opponents or those who were skilled at stealth. It was also ineffective against the unliving.
[Multiple Vision] reflected the condition of the original, so even if one threw ink at the original and got it dirty, the illusory doubles would all get dirty as well. Unless applied with great skill, it was still very difficult to tell apart the original. However, when it came to magic items, changes in the original did not affect the illusions.
Perhaps a high-level illusion spell might have been able to replicate the effects of a magic item, but Succulent — who had studied as a fencer and an illusionist at the same time — could not use such high-level illusions.
Climb’s sword hacked down at the real Succulent.
Succulent leapt away. It was a splendid dodge, but seemed a little unsightly owing to the fact that he was in a maid’s uniform.
They went back and forth like this over a dozen times.
Climb had the advantage. This was not a ploy by Succulent; it was simply due to the difference in their combat prowess.
Humans could not suddenly become more skilled in the space of a single day. The difference in their respective combat abilities had not changed since their previous encounter. However, there were exceptions to all things. Simply put, Climb had become stronger while Succulent had become weaker.
To begin with, Climb was equipped with his enchanted armor, his shield, his sword, and other pieces of his gear. His muscular strength had improved, his defensive power had increased, and the most important thing was that he could use the fighting method he was familiar with. In contrast, Succulent had been arrested, all his equipped magic items had been confiscated, and on top of that, he was forced to dress in a cumbersome maid’s uniform in order to disguise himself with an illusory transformation.
Their equipment had shrunk the gap between them, but naturally, that was not all.
One reason why Succulent had become weaker was because his fighting style had been seen through. In addition, the thief supporting Climb from behind was providing him with timely and accurate advice.
Even when Succulent used illusions, they were countered one by one through the thief’s alchemical or magical items. The way the thief had responded to Succulent was as though he had specially prepared to face him. In fact, the thief had estimated the abilities of Six Arms from prior information and prepared countermeasures against all of them. The startling thing was that he even had countermeasures for Succulent, who should have been in jail. This was an obsessive degree of preparedness.
“Son of a bitch!”
Succulent’s voice was more worried and panicked than he had been before the battle.
He glared at the thief. Climb moved to block his line of sight. He could not allow him to be attacked.
Defended by a frontliner, the thief deliberately aggravated Succulent.
“Oi oi, why the fierce face? Aren’t you one of the Six Arms who’re supposed to be on par with adamantite-ranked adventurers? What’s wrong with a little handicap?”
Succulent’s face twisted in hatred. The wounds he had taken in their exchange of blows wept fresh blood, making him look even more vicious.
Succulent cursed, and prepared to cast a spell. As a warrior, Climb should have rushed up to stop him, but he did not. This was because he had executed over a dozen tandem maneuvers with the thief, and they had developed an unspoken understanding with each other. Therefore, he decided to trust the thief.
A bottle flew out from behind Climb in a parabola and it shattered at Succulent’s feet. Climb saw a colored, asphyxiating gas spread out from it.
“Kahah! Koff! Koff!”
Succulent coughed several times, clearly in misery.
This was was merely petty interference with an alchemical item. However, it was quite effective, and Succulent ceased his spellcasting.
Trickery like this would have had no impeding effect on a specialized magic caster, but Succulent had trained as a warrior as well as a magic caster. Thus, even this trivial hindrance had interrupted him, wasting his mana.
Climb charged forward with all his strength at the distracted Succulent. This was not the same measured strike in their exchange of blows until now, but an advance that did not allow for retreat. Some people might have felt that this was a rash action, taken in the hope of gaining a speedy victory. However, Climb’s warrior instincts were screaming at him:
This was the moment of truth, when victory and defeat would be decided.
Indeed, Climb and the thief currently had the upper hand, but there was no telling how long their superior circumstances would last. The thief’s supply of thrown items was not inexhaustible either. He ought to make the best of this favorable moment and press the advantage.
Climb activated the unique martial art he had mastered yesterday.
This move did not have a name. If he had to pick one on short notice, he might call it [Limit Breaker — Mind]. Its effect was simple enough; it released the human brain’s limitations on the human body. Through this, all his attributes — from his senses to his physical abilities — reached the next level.
Extended usage of this technique would lead to physical strain or muscle tearing, so it could be considered a double-edged sword. However, he would not be able to beat Succulent if he did not end the battle as quickly as possible.
As the martial art activated, Climb sensed something switching on in his brain.
The raging emotions racing through his heart were vented in the form of a ferocious cry.
Succulent looked shocked, as though he had recalled something. Accompanying the surprise was something which might have been called fear. This was not a feeling which he — a man who was on par with an adamantite-ranked adventurer — ought to have when facing his lessers.
Climb brought his sword into a high stance and brought it down in a mighty chop — and it was blocked. Being able to block a magic longsword with an unenchanted dagger was truly worthy of praise. However, the fact that Climb’s blow could force Succulent the fencer to select a defense he was not skilled with was also quite admirable.
But that was not the end of the attack. Climb immediately thrust his foot forward in a kick.
Succulent immediately made to protect his abdomen — and his face contorted severely.
His face was pale, his cold sweat flowed like a river, and he was practically hunched over as he backed up in a bow-legged gait.
Climb glanced back and saw the thief wincing in sympathy.
Succulent had been kicked in the groin by an iron boot. While he had apparently been wearing a cup of some sort, Climb could still feel something soft deforming inside it.
And then, he finished him off with a cleaving strike to the head.
Fresh blood spurted forth, and Succulent collapsed heavily to the ground with a thump.
Climb did not dare let himself get careless, and so he surveyed his surroundings. He was particularly watchful in case an enemy tried to circle around behind him to where the thief was. After a while, he finally allowed himself to be certain. That was probably not an illusion.
This was a great accomplishment. Even if it had been two on one, it was a significant victory.
Climb turned to Brain. For a moment, he thought that he might be able to help — but then that enthusiasm vanished.
Their battle was on a completely different level.
The first thing was that it sounded different. What was supposed to be a clash between blade and fist produced the echoing of crashing metal all around. There was no pause either. The intense exchange between them made Climb wonder if either of them had time to breathe.
Zero, in particular, caught his attention.
His fist scooped a trench out of the wall. It was a smooth, flowing movement, like digging through clay, and it gouged a scar into the wall’s surface.
“Oi, oi… they say first-rate monks can make their fists as hard as steel, but that guy’s fists aren’t just that. Are they as hard as mithril… no, orichalcum?”
The thief was watching the same scene from beside Climb, and he murmured to himself.
After a minute’s worth of exchanged blows — after an intense battle which would have seen Climb lose his life if he were in there — both sides were unharmed. As a result, a look of genuine respect bloomed on Zero’s face.
“Unglaus… You’re pretty good. You’re the first man who’s endured my attacks for this long.”
Similarly, Brain had a respectful expression on his own face.
“Same to you… this is the second time I’ve met such a skilled monk in my entire life.”
“Oh?” Zero’s face twisted in interest. “To think there’s another monk with skills like mine. That’s the first time I’ve ever heard of something like that. Tell me his name. I won’t be able to ask you when you’re dead.”
“He ought to be heading here, once he’s done taking care of your Six Arms.”
Zero’s eyebrows wrinkled, and he smiled.
“Hmph! You mean that old man? Sorry, but I sent four of my people to welcome him. They’re not like Succulent over there. They might not be as good as me, but they’re not bad either. How could that old man make it?”
“You think so? I’d find it easier to picture him strolling leisurely around that corner.”
“Well, that’s pretty scary. In that case, I’d best get a little serious.”
Climb was dumbfounded by those words. The fact that Zero still counted that intense back and forth as taking it easy made Climb imagine just how unattainable he would be if he fought in earnest. The fact that Brain did not seem surprised at all also shocked him.
Could it be neither of them were fighting seriously? This is the true pinnacle of mankind, a battle between people on par with adamantite-ranked adventurers!
“Let’s do it, then. Those two have wrapped things up on their side, so I don’t need to draw this out any more. Fall to me here and let’s have an end to it, Zero.”
Brain sheathed his sword and lowered his stance. Climb had seen that posture before; it was the same stance Brain had assumed when he had taken down Succulent in one hit. Before Climb could wonder if Zero would be similarly defeated in one strike as well, the man had already leapt well back. He opened up the distance between them with superhuman agility.
“Edstrem can deploy a sword barrier. Your move isn’t exactly the same, but it’s also a barrier of blades, no? Enter casually and you’ll be cut in half, am I right?”
Zero had probably not seen through Brain’s self-innovated martial art, but he had still sensed the nature of the move, proving his warrior’s senses were exceptional indeed.
“Still… from what I can tell, that move of yours only allows you to respond to your opponent,, and you can’t use it if you don’t take a stance.”
Zero punched the air. It seemed to be a meaningless move, but that iron fist actually generated a shockwave which buffeted Brain’s body.
“So all I need to do is attack you from a distance and I win. Or do you have some way to cut a distant foe?”
“No, I don’t,” Brain answered honestly. “If you’re going to fight like that, then I won’t use this move.”
Zero calmly — with an expression that some might say did not suit him, one that brimmed with motion like the surface of a lake — asked Brain:
“Brain Unglaus. Is this your ace in the hole?”
“Indeed. This trump card of mine has only ever been… defeated once, from the front.”
“How boring. So someone else already defeated it once? Then this will be the second time.”
Zero slowly pulled his fist back, taking a stance of his own.
“I will punch straight through you from the front. I’ll shatter that move you’re so proud of and attain victory. First I’ll defeat Brain Unglaus, and then someday I will have Gazef Stronoff kneel at my feet. That way, I’ll be the strongest man in the Kingdom.”
“And instead your ambition’s going to falter at the first step of facing me. Zero, you really do have too much time on your hands, don’t you?”
“You really are all talk… no, you put up quite a fight, I can’t say that talking’s all you know. That said, I’m still better than you. Go to hell knowing this, and regret the fact that you dared stand against the almighty Zero-sama. here I come!”
Zero’s body was covered in animal tattoos, and those tattoos began to glow faintly. Brain, on his part, remained still. While Zero appeared to be as still as a statue, Climb could sense a tremendous power accumulating inside him, longing for the right moment to be unleashed.
None could interfere with this violent clash of strength against strength.
And then suddenly, a nonchalant voice cut in.
“—So you gentlemen were here after all.”
Everyone turned to look at the unexpected arrival, as though they had received an electric shock. Even Zero and Brain — who should not have turned their eyes away from the powerful foes before them — did the same thing.
There they saw an old man, Sebas. To Zero, he should not have been here.
“What? What’s this? The Six Arms should be dealing with you now… Did you sneak in like these people?”
Sebas gently shook his head.
“No. I defeated your colleagues and then I came here.”
“…Nonsense, utter nonsense, enough of your bullshit. They might not be a match for me, but they’re still warriors whom I gifted with the title of Six Arms. How could you have made it here unscathed?!”
“As the saying goes, truth is stranger than fiction.”
“Sebas-sama! The Tsuare-san over here is a fake! Succulent took her form with an illusion! You need to go rescue her!”
“Ah. Thank you for your concern. However, it is fine, Climb-kun. I have already rescued her. She was elsewhere in this building.”
Sebas turned to look behind him. Climb followed his line of sight and saw a girl wrapped in a blanket at the room’s entrance.
Climb hurriedly looked down at Succulent. The maid uniform he wore was soaked in blood and there was a huge rip in it. He could not possibly take it off and give it to Tsuare, and she would surely refuse it too.
“Pay it no heed, Climb-kun. The maid uniform is merely a cloth outfit. There is nothing to regret.”
Sebas smiled bitterly as he spoke, and Climb relaxed a little.
“Oi oi oi, you’re actually ignoring me for idle chit-chat… you lot are pretty relaxed, aren’t you?”
Zero had been facing Brain since just now, and so he could not move carelessly. Now, he finally changed his position and glared hatefully at Sebas.
“Old man! I’ll ask you again, what happened to my people!”
“—I killed them all.”
His tone was as casual as though he were picking a wildflower by the road, but his words were merciless beyond compare.
“It, it can’t be! How do you expect me to believe that!?!”
Zero’s furious cry only drew a smile from Sebas. All that benign smile did was make Zero’s instincts realize that Sebas was telling the truth.
“…Brain Unglaus. I’ll fight you later. I’m going to show this man the power of Six Arms!”
“Mm, got it. Try not to die right away. Still, I don’t think there’ll be anything left for me to do.”
“Bullshit! …Old man! You’ll pay with your life for that nonsense you spouted!”
Sebas smiled bitterly. That smile was unbearable for a man who prided himself as the strongest warrior.
Zero’s tattoos glowed.
Head of the Security Division, leader of the Six Arms, “Battle Demon” Zero.
Even mighty warriors like Gazef Stronoff or Brain Unglaus would instantly lose to him in unarmed combat. The outcome would still be in doubt even if they had weapons in hand.
One of this man’s careers was a vocation called Shaman. That vocation had a skill which allowed one to be possessed by animal spirits, through which he could gain those animals’ excellent physical attributes. It could only be used a limited number of times in a day, but once used, it would allow a human to boost his physical abilities into the realm of wild beasts.
A physically superior animal using the fighting arts of a human being — surely nothing was more frightening than that.
Zero activated his skill.
Normally, he would conserve his strength by only activating the power of one animal at a time. However, Zero understood that Sebas’ strength could not be underestimated.
That said, he did not believe that Sebas could kill four of the Six Arms by himself. However, if he had broken through in a direct assault instead of sneaking in, that meant that there were others besides him, which made more sense.
It was more likely that he had been accompanied by Blue Rose.
Before he had more detailed information, all he could do was use his full strength to defeat Sebas and then fight Brain Unglaus some other day. He had to show the people around him his overwhelming power as a threat before temporarily retreating.
He decided that this was the best way to do things, and he began preparing his most powerful move.
The leopard on his feet, the falcon on his back, the rhino on his arms, the bull on his chest, the lion on his head; he activated all of them. He felt an explosive power gush out through his body and it felt as though his entire body had swelled up. For a moment he was even afraid that he would burst.
He expelled the burning power from inside him — and stepped forward.
This was the attack of Zero, the mightiest warrior of Six Arms. It was a straight punch with just a fist. There were no feints or fancy moves here; it was just a simple punch with an Iron Fist. However, the power within that fist beggared belief. In addition to his shamanic skills, it was also enhanced by numerous other skills from monk-type jobs and then by many magic items which granted his fist overwhelming speed and destructive power.
It was so fast that even Zero had a hard time controlling it. It barely qualified as a technique because it relied on stepping into the opponent’s reach and slugging them with all the strength he could muster. However, Zero was not at all hesitant about letting his opponent see his ultimate move. This technique was simple and invincible. He had the utmost confidence that nobody could defeat it with petty trickery.
Zero’s heart cleared as he cast everything else behind him. His senses seemed to slowly distend, and he stepped forward, feeling as though his body was stretching out behind him.
It was too late.
Zero reached Sebas in the blink of an eye. The power within him moved perfectly, fully accumulated and focused, and he threw a powerful straight punch with his right fist..
Zero saw Sebas frozen in place — probably because he had been too fast for the old man — and smiled. It was as though to say: Go and regret making an enemy of me, the strongest warrior of Six Arms.
The fist connected with Sebas’ vulnerable belly. It was a perfect, immaculate strike.
Explosive power rampaged like a violent gale, and Sebas flew lightly through the air like a doll, into the distance. His corpse hit the ground, but even that could not dissipate the power of the strike and the body continued rolling violently across the ground.
He did not move. He had died on the spot.
No, that was only to be expected. One could imagine how all his internal organs had been ruptured into a sticky paste. He only looked human on the outside.
This was Zero’s most powerful technique. It was a fiendish move which incarnated the principle of the one-hit kill.
—At least, that was how it should have been.
Instead, Sebas — did not move at all.
He blocked the punch which Zero had thrown with all his might head-on, using nothing but his belly — his own muscles.
Nobody who saw it dared to believe it. One could say the scene before them was unreal.
The difference between their bodies was obvious at a glance. However, the outcome had been completely the opposite of what was expected.
The person who could least believe it was naturally Zero himself. This was the most powerful blow he could make. He could not believe any living being could take it and remain unharmed. That was how it had always been until now. That was what he had always thought until now, but then this scene had unfolded before his eyes. Thus, he did not react even as a black object flashed before his eyes.
Sebas raised his leg to the air. The foot raced past the tip of Zero’s nose — like the motion of a flying swallow.
And like a thunderbolt, it fell.
An axe kick.
That was the typical name for a move like this. However, its speed and power were anything but typical.
“…Who are you…” Zero muttered, and the corner of Sebas’ mouth curled up slightly.
A gruesome sound of cracking filled the air. Zero fell to the ground, his skull pulverized and his neck and spine shattered, as though he had been crushed by a several-hundred kilogram weight.
The room was silent.
In a word, everyone in this room was transfixed. Sebas shifted away from where Zero’s smashed skull was gushing fresh blood and patted at the place where Zero’s fist had struck.
“Whew, that was close. If not for your timely warning, I would probably be dead.”
Are you kidding me? What warning are you talking about?!
The three people present — perhaps even Tsuare thought the same way as well — did not speak, but they shouted the same thing inside their hearts.
“You saved me, Climb-kun.”
“—Wha… ah. Er… yes.”
Climb’s mouth was still wide open as if to go “Ahhh”, but he nervously accepted Sebas’ thanks. His mind had been so overloaded that he had no idea what to say.
“It seems I was just a little bit stronger than him.”
Sebas indicated a small distance between his two fingers. The gap between them was probably the difference between Zero and himself which Sebas was implying, but naturally, nobody agreed with that assessment.
How could that be a little bit?
Just like before, everyone present thought the same thing.
“In any case, since we’ve rescued her, I think it might be best to retreat now.”
“Ah, no, ah, are the other members of Six Arms… really…?”
“Yes. I killed them all. There were too many of them and they were all expert fighters, so I could not go easy on them. I somewhat regret that now.”
“Is, is that so. Well, there’s nothing to be done about that. Ah, please don’t beat yourself up about it.”
The three of them simultaneously looked at the corpse of Zero on the ground. None of them could bring themselves to say, “You’re lying.”
“In, in any case, let’s get the troops to search this building.”
They had originally come to search this building. Gaining Sebas’ help and being able to make a clean sweep of an important enemy stronghold was a miraculous stroke of luck. In addition, if Sebas’ words were to be believed — and they looked to be one hundred percent truthful — they had even achieved the amazing result of destroying the strongest fighting force of Eight Fingers.
One could say they had done better than any other group. The only imperfection was that Zero — a man who knew a lot about the organization — had been killed, but that was merely a calculated loss since they could not have taken him alive anyway. Only a fool would be unhappy with that.
As they heard Climb’s excited words, approving looks appeared on the face of Brain and the thief, and they nodded. However, one person seemed unhappy.
“What’s wrong, Sebas-sama?”
“Ah, it is nothing. Just that something caught my attention… let’s not talk about it right now, the air here is not good. Shall we head outside?”
Everyone took turns looking at Zero’s corpse and then Tsuare before expressing their approval of Sebas’ suggestion.
Sebas walked up to where Tsuare was standing at the entrance and scooped her up. Her pale, slender, almost fleshless legs dangled in the air. They saw how tightly Tsuare clung to Sebas’ clothing with her emaciated arms.
A butler and a maid. The mood between them did not seem like that was all there was to it.
It would be boorish to ask about their relationship. Does it matter what’s going on between them?
“Right, let’s go, then.”
After saying so, Climb led everyone out without waiting for them to reply.
The other three followed behind him. They could conduct their investigations after Sebas and Tsuare left, and he remained alert. If someone ambushed them along the way, he intended to fight on behalf of Sebas — whose arms were occupied with Tsuare — although there might not be a need for that at all. However, his worries were unfounded.
They had sensed people within the building on their way in, but now it felt like it had been abandoned.
When one thought calmly about it, once Sebas defeated the Six Arms, there was no way anyone would be brave enough to remain in the building and fight him. In all likelihood, they had probably fled. If that were the case, hopefully the people waiting outside could arrest them. Climb pondered those thoughts as he left the building.
That sense of liberation took a great weight off his shoulders.
Someone tapped Climb’s relaxed shoulders. Looking back, he saw that it was the thief. The man’s eyes were fixed in a completely different direction. The wide-eyed look on his face was much like the one he had when Sebas had slain Zero.
Climb followed his line of sight, and then his own eyes went wide.
“A wall of fire?”
Climb unconsciously nodded as he heard Brain mutter to himself.
Flames would rise up if a house caught fire. Climb would definitely not be shocked by such a blaze. However, that was not what he was looking at; it was a wall of fire over 30 meters tall, encircling a district of the Royal Capital. It looked to be hundreds of meters long.
“Now what could that be?”
Sebas’ surprised yet relaxed comment brought the three of them back to their senses.
“What should we do, leader? I think that’s the warehouse district, who’s in charge of that?”
“Blue Rose’s leader, Alvein-sama… I’m judging this as an emergency, so we’ll abandon all our objectives and fall back to the Royal Palace as directed. After that, I’ll be counting on you all for advice on how to proceed.”
“That’s probably the best course of action… ah — Sebas-sama…”
“I will take her to a safe place to prevent something like this from happening again.”
“Understood, Sebas-sama. Thank you for your help yesterday and today.”
“Please pay it no heed. We shared the same objectives, so all I did was render a bit of assistance… I shall strive to repay you all for your attempt at rescuing her. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I will be taking my leave.”