Chapter 23-Before the Return
During the time that Gabriel was away on his Odyssey, his NPCs of Dracon's Keep did not sit idle with their time. Before his departure, he left a number of instructions for them to ensure that they would not be left without guidance in his absence. One of which was to spread out into the continent of this new world that they found themselves in. Mostly as spies to gather information, and other times to subtly influence events without revealing the Keep's presence to the wider world. Before the return of their master, they watch, wait, and influence...
Roble Holy Kingdom, Royal Palace of Hoburns
That is what ran through what passed for the mind of Remedios Custodio, as she practically stomped towards her "duty station". She hissed through gritted teeth, cursing and spitting as she went through the halls of the Royal Palace of Hoburns.
"Damn him... Damn him!"
She stopped in a more secluded spot in the hall as she tried to calm her ragged breathing. No matter how many times she did this it never became easier. Having to be a subordinate to someone that was not her Holy Queen, let alone someone that sat in what used to be her place next to her friend's side. A thought that once again filled her with venom and spite.
'Dammit! That bastard! That whoreson! How did it come to this?!'
She remembered it like it was yesterday. Some time ago, what was likely a Sea Troll, emerged from the coast of Rimun and started wreaking havoc. Shouting how it was looking for a "worthy meal" in fighting someone strong. By the grace of the gods no one lost their lives, but the multitudes of injured, maimed, and destroyed infrastructure made clear the crisis they were facing at the time.
The strength of that monster was unheard-of at the time. Neither her paladins stationed there, nor were the useless sell-swords calling themselves "adventurers" could take the beast down. It was then that she received her orders to go there with all haste and dispatch the fiend. With her sister at her side, and the best of her paladins, surely she would have emerged victorious?
Alas, that was not to be. For as soon as she neared the area, even from the distance she was, she saw a cleanshaven man with trimmed silver hair and the most piercing of blue eyes fell the beast in a single stroke of his shining blade. For a moment, her sister thought it to be the famous adventurer from the Dragon Kingdom, the "Fierce Flash" Cerabrate. But no, it was some stranger from a foreign land calling himself, "Arburt Klaus".
He arrived some time prior, and wore a gray-colored set of full-plate armor with circlet that was possessed of a fine polished sheen, and was complimented by fine blue vestments and cloak that draped over his back. His style employed a sword/shield combination, with the weapons in question being fine in make. So fine in fact that for a moment back then she would have compared them to the holy sword that she thankfully still bore.
Back then, she remembered mentally mocking him for the style he employed by way of coping with the fact that her duty and glory had been "stolen" by someone else. Surely if he was truly strong, then he could fight and defend with his blade alone?
He was with a female companion who stood to his side like an attendant. She wore medium-armor that was possessed of a brighter metallic sheen, with brown and red vestments, and had only a single sword sheathed on her left-hip. To which Remedios herself approved of, and thus gave the orange-haired, blue-eyed woman more respect.
Her sister Kelart took the lead in approaching and questioning the two strangers that rendered service to the people of Roble, since Remedios had to admit that she was better at that sort of thing. It turns out that the two strangers identified themselves as "Free Paladins". Those whom swore not to a master or liege, but followed the Paladin Code as wanderers or Workers, doing good deeds and defending the helpless in their travels.
Remedios clearly recalled scoffing at such a notion. A lordless paladin? To her they were no better than lawless sell-swords and mercenaries. They may have had the powers and abilities of a paladin, but they were no "true" paladins. Even the acts of charity and kindness they rendered to the people of Rimun during their stay did not assuage her of those impressions.
But of course, her dear sister thought differently. They rarely saw eye-to-eye on anything after all, despite the love and care they had for each other as sisters. That too was tested when, in an act that completely flabbergasted her, Kelart invited these disgraces to paladins everywhere to have an audience with their Holy Queen! All she saw was red after that, and barely recalled her sister's words in the days leading up to that meeting.
It was then that everything went to hell. Her ever-benevolent and kind Queen and friend whom she shared a birthday with, saw fit to grant the pair a boon for their services. In a move that shocked all present, the boon that damnable man asked for was a duel with the Head of their Paladin Order, Remedios Custodio herself! If he won, he becomes the new Head Paladin, and if he lost, he and his "sword-sister" would pledge their service to Queen Calca Bessarez.
Remedios recalled being eager to put these "fake paladins" in their place. Calca was hesitant to grant such a request, but was bound by her word to grant it. Kelart oddly remained silent on the matter, deferring to their Queen's judgement instead. What followed in the duel proper before the eyes of the Paladin Guard was nothing less than insanity; she was completely outmatched at every turn!
As she bit her lower-lip, her thoughts drifted to that day, recalling the match itself...
Once again, her sword bounced off Arburt's infernal shield! Her Safarlisia, which was one of the Four Great Holy Swords, and was forged from a mysterious metal that was harder than even adamantite, could not even scratch it! How was this possible?!
"Aaargh! Stop hiding behind your shield and fight me you coward!" Remedios indignantly roared.
Her foe's face remained impassive and unimpressed as held his shield horizontally, level with the ground on his left-arm. He then dismissively scoffed at her, which seemed to ignite the flames of her rage even more at she charged.
Another hit blocked with ease...
...And then another. And another. Every strike was blocked and parried with absurd ease as the coward hid behind that seemingly unbreakable shield of his! Something that was impossibly a match for her blade, yet she could not fathom how that could be. So it was in this mix of fury and confusion that she invoked her [Martial Arts] and continued to attack with wild abandon.
"[Flow Acceleration]! [Ability Boost]! [Greater Ability Boost]! [Strong Strike]!"
Once again, she charged, and once again the air absolutely rang with the echoes of metal-on-metal clashes that was so piercing and cacophonous that those assembled had to cover their ears. Even the Holy Queen Calca Bessarez on a raised pedestal nearly a dozen meters away winced at the auditory assault to her senses.
Of course, Rememdios was so taken by her own ignorance and rage that she failed to notice a couple key details. First, was the fact that her opponent outclassed her own strength and skills by a large margin. Something that the gathered paladins and even some of the squires were able to pick up on relatively quickly.
It wasn't out of cowardice that her opponent took only a defensive stance. It was simple tactics. Had she her wits about her, she would have noticed that he allowed her to take the offensive. For the more ferocious and adamant her attacks, the more she wore herself out. Eventually, even her stamina would wane, and leave her vulnerable.
Suddenly, Remedios was batted aside by a simple bash of Sir Arburt's shield. She rolled over the ground a few turns before swiftly getting back to her feet and resumed her attack, whilst adding a couple more [Martial Arts] onto the ones still active. Failing to notice that her opponent was purposely goading her into precisely that.
"[Body Strengthening]! [Capacity Building]!"
Once again, she brought her blade down upon his immoveable shield, and again there was that cacophonous ringing of metal-on-metal that seemed to get louder little-by-little, as she continued her assaults. Then there was the second detail Remedios missed; the light. Every time she struck his shield, there was a brief flash of white light.
At first it was imperceptible from the orange sparks made from the collision of sword-on-shield during Remedios' fracas. But then it become more and more noticeable. To the point where even the sparks began to change color. It was then that some of the more experienced paladins in the audience, and even Kelart and their Queen, picked up on the signs of this being part of his plan all along. He was preparing some sort of special ability.
Once again, Remedios was thrown aside by a bash of his shield, blood now streaming down her chin. Her breathing was ragged, and while fiery will remained in her eyes, physically she was all but spent. Hardly surprising, given the fact that a solid hour had passed. Though for one lost in their own maelstrom of hate and anger such as her, it may have been a few fleeting moments.
"Enough of this! Holy Blade, [Safarlisia]!" She raged, raising her blade above her head.
"Oi! What's our daft captain doing now?!"
"Meh... Making a bigger fool of herself by looks of it."
"Captain, don't! That won't work!"
Some paladins from the crowd exclaimed, either from shock, shame, or a combination thereof as they saw just how inadequate their captain and head paladin really was. Especially when she invoked the power of her sacred blade, intensified by her Class of [Evil Slayer], which channeled divine power into a single attack. A trump-card well known to some of her more immediate subordinates.
Her opponent frowned upon the display, but made no effort to dodge as he readied his shield to take what would be her final attack.
With a downward motion of her blade, Remedios release a wave of divine power upon Sir Arburt that exploded upon contact. A spectacle that made Remedios smile for a seconds as she labored to catch her breath, clearly exhausted from her ceaseless melee as sweat coated every single centimeter of her body.
Her moment of triumph was dashed however, for as the dust cleared, Sir Arburt predictably immerged unscathed. Gritting her teeth, Remedios balefully growled as he fellow paladins levied pitying looks upon her. It was a matter of common sense that a divine attack such as hers would not cause harm to a non-evil entity, much less another paladin. By using up what energy she had left into a useless attack, her fate was sealed.
Her opponent meanwhile, went through a spectrum of different facial expressions. Of course he was nonplussed at an action that was so foolish, but then disappointment, and then finally a measure of anger as he glared daggers at her.
"Are you done, fool of a paladin?"
His voice was like steel that cut through the heavy air. Everyone, even the dimwitted Remedios, knew that this was the deciding moment.
"Then... it's my turn."
None could follow what happened next. One moment he breathed a calming, almost meditative breath, then there was a gust of wind, and suddenly he was 1-meter right in front of a stunned Remedios. She barely had time to blink as he gently invoked the name of his attack...
"[Divine Unyielding Blade]"
After all this time, he finally drew his blade in a quick-draw motion. There was only a bright flash of light, and then...
She could not even recall her defeat at his hands. She just remembered waking to her sister's tender care, with her armor in complete taters, and the winner of the duel and new Head of the Paladin Order being announced by their Queen. Remedios expected angered shouts, or some kind of word raised in her defense. But instead there were jubilant jeers! Her own brothers and sisters of the Paladin Order actually WELCOMED the charlatan into their ranks!
What stung the most was the fact that neither her sister, nor her Queen and friend raised a single word in protest. Nay, they too seemed welcoming of him! She wanted to scream. It must have been a joke. A figment played on her feeble mind by something strange she must have eaten! Surely this couldn't be...
Remedios was drawn from her fury and frustration ridden thoughts when the voice of her sister called out to her from her side. Kelart looked curious and impassive as she waited on an answer. Remedios herself was still gritting her teeth as sweat beaded over her brow. Her state of mind plain for any with even a rudimentary skill in reading facial and body language.
They seemed to be alone in the hall, and thus Remedios decided to give voice to her frustrations.
"...I-I cannot accept this! That bastard takes my place and none so much as objected! Even you! That bastard foreigner..."
"Stop right there, sister."
Remedios was taken aback by the deathly edge to her sister's voice, and as she looked upon her beautiful visage, she was equally surprised by the look of disappointment she bore. There was a weary sigh as Kelart then calmly, yet coldly spoke.
"Sister, as much as I love and care for you, I must be frank. For some time, your lack of careful planning and intelligence has been a great source of frustration for me. I grew weary of taking the blame for your mistakes to protect our Lady Calca from feeling guilty. Our country was then gifted with a strong and powerful ally, and you wanted to dismiss him out of hand. As shocked as I was by his bold request, I saw it as a boon for us. For the sake of our country and Queen we simply could not lose such a talent. That was made all the more plain, when he took your measure, and defeated you with that single mighty blow."
She could not believe what she was hearing. Remedios simply could not comprehend the words coming out of her younger-sister's mouth, and was rendered silent and dumbfounded.
"I'm sorry, sister. Had you made any efforts to improve that brain of yours, like we've discussed so many times before, I might have objected to the duel, but I simply couldn't do it. I was forced to consider the greater future of our country. As for Sir Arburt Klaus, he has not been sitting on his laurels. In the short time he's taken your position, he has increased the strength and quality of our country's forces in many different ways. The most relevant example being the 'Holy Archer Corps'. An idea you've always dismissed..."
Kelart sighed again, as she noticed her sister's dumbstruck expression. A clear indication that she's barely following her.
"He has confronted his new duties with dedicated zeal, but with also with temperance and wisdom. The people love him, our troops and paladins admire and adore him, and Her Majesty now relies on him. He is the best thing to happen to our country in a long time, and I will not listen to your childish ravings. Since Sir Arburt Klaus has put me in charge of you, consider it an order when I say to never speak of it again. Now, as the Queen's bodyguard, it's nearly time to begin your duties. So please follow me, sister."
Without waiting for an answer, Kelart gracefully turned on her heel and slowly walked away. It only added to Remedios' frustrations. Especially when she didn't have the intelligence to really see the "big picture", as some would call it. All she could see was her personal feelings. At the very least she was grateful to continue to watch over her Queen, and by extension keep an eye on the "usurper".
As for her sister, her behavior frustrated her as well, but finally understood what some of the nobles she hated meant when they would derogatively refer to her as someone with the "Face of Angel, Heart of Demon". Her sister could be quite vicious, even compared to her. Though it was a point of pride for Remedios, and strangely trusted in it as she trailed behind her. Even if she couldn't trust in this "Sir Arburt" as far as she could spit.
Meanwhile, the object of Remedios' ire was in a spacious office, busily flipping through several documents that detailed ongoing efforts to reorganize the military of Roble Holy Kingdom's northern half into a more respectable and varied force. One report in particular caught his attention as a recruit he had personally "sponsored" into the Holy Archer Corps after a chance meeting, was rapidly on the rise.
Showing great skill and promise, Neia Baraja, daughter of Pavel Baraja of the Nine Colors, received nothing but praise for her skills in Archery. A far cry from someone that struggled as just a squire in the art of the sword. Though people looked down on her for her "wicked eyes", he easily saw past that, recognizing potential that was wasting away as a squire in a field that was wholly incompatible with her innate potential.
Suddenly, the telltale indicator of an incoming [Message] spell caught his attention. Having already left instructions not to be disturbed, with the door to his office locked and the room itself warded against spying, he leaned back and closed his eyes in a relaxed fashion to receive the call he was expecting on the other end as he mentally replied.
[Authentication: Bravo-Zulu, four, niner, seven.]
[Authentication received. Countersign: Sierra-Mike, niner, one, seven.]
Using a system of confirmation left behind by their High Lords, they confirmed their respective identities as Tamura Oakenfold, Vice-Commander of all NPCs of Dracon's Keep, spoke in a more casual fashion.
[Hello, Arburt.~ I trust all is proceeding as it was during the last check-in?]
[Indeed it is, Lady Tamura. Though the southern nobles continue to be an obstacle, our liege-lord's plans for this nation continue apace. I assume that all is quiet in the Keep?]
[Oh, yes. Do not worry about that. If anything changes, you will be notified in the next scheduled check-in.]
[I am grateful, Lady Tamura.]
There was silence between the two NPCs of Dracon's Keep for a full minute, before Tamura then spoke up in a softer tone.
[Do you still have reservations with serving as a spy and infiltrator, Arburt?]
[I... I will admit that in the beginning it bothered me greatly. Truthfully, a part of me is still at odds with this role I was chosen for. However, I do not question the wisdom in our master's choice of approach with this country. Tis truly one that ever teeters on the edge of ruin, both from within and without.]
[Hm. Indeed. I was disturbed to hear the details of that country's problems. Though you have done well to address some of them. Especially with that fool Remedios. I'm still amazed she was in a position of leadership. You are to be commended for that.]
[I thank you, Lady Tamura. Honestly, unseating that dunce was a pleasure. My [Skill] was only at one-third its full strength, even after having absorbed the energy from her attacks. Though that made it easier to avoid incurring a fatal blow. After she had all but spent her energy on useless attacks... Ahem! Regardless, for now I do not anticipate a problem that level-50s like myself and my sword-sister cannot handle.]
[That is good to hear, but please do not hesitate to use your item to inform us immediately if that should change.]
[By your command, Lady Tamura. Paladin-Lieutenant Arburt Klaus of Dracon's Keep, over and out.]
Re-Estize Kingdom, Valencia Palace
Morning meal had been finished for those whom lived and worked within the royal palace of the Kingdom. All were busily going about the start of their day with practiced ease, and none were more famous, or infamous to others, than the nation's Warrior-Captain, Gazef Stronoff. As he strode towards his place of duty, none who saw him failed to know of him. Especially in his duty uniform.
Hailed as the mightiest warrior in the land, he won his position and title by merit of his martial strength alone years ago. Though he never rested on his laurels, continuing his training since that day. It was fair to say that he was stronger now than he was then. He passed many sorts in the halls that immediately recognized him.
There were Royal Guards and Knights who, despite their noble birth, held a silent respect for him due to his martial prowess. Even if they could not let it show beyond a simple head-nod. If they did, they would likely become targets of the ever-present feuds between nobles who did not see Gazef as a boon to their nation, but an eyesore. One in which they constantly schemed to either remove, or at the very least, besmirch him somehow.
A few of those very same nobles passed him in the halls, and looked as if they chewed a bitter worm as they did. Not bothering to even hide their disdain. Gazef paid this no mind, as he was used to this by now, but did not care. He earned his place here, and was completely loyal to the King who saw his worth. Arriving as the said King's private dinning chambers, he crisply knocked twice before entering without further prompting.
Closing the door behind him, he bowed at the waist as he spoke in a firm tone.
"Good morning, You Majesty."
"Ah, Gazef. Good morning to you as well."
As Gazef rose from his bow, he saw the smiling face of his King as he replied to him. A few maids were already busily clearing away a few dishes, and was surprised to see the "Golden Princess" Renner Theiere Chardelon Ryle Vaiself, finishing her own meal next to her father's left, King Ramposa III. Though he noticed that Climb, Princess Renner's bodyguard, was not present, for morning meals such a thing was not unusual.
"Ah, good morning, Warrior-Captain~!" The third princess sweetly greeted.
"Good morning, my lady. It's a pleasure to see you so early this morning."
"Why, thank you Warrior-Captain. It was nice to be able to take morning meal with father for once."
"Yes, I agree, my daughter. I am thankful for your company. It warms this old heart of mine to see you so bright and cheerful this morning." The King warmly said in reply.
"Good morning, Gazef.~"
Another female voice warmly greeted him. Dutifully standing straight on the King's right-side was a beautiful woman with mid-length maroon-colored hair in a neat single braid, and sharp blue-colored eyes that made one feel as if they were being evaluated by a predator. Despite this however, her smile was warm, and she was genuinely happy to see Gazef. If truth be told, he likewise was happy to see her as he returned the courtesy.
"Good morning, Miss Alleta. I am glad to see you are doing well."
"Likewise, good sir." She replied with a graceful bow.
While the other maids seemed wary of her, Gazef appreciated her presence. After all, this maid shared in his duties in protecting the King from harm as food taster, and secondary bodyguard in his absence. He could remember it like it was yesterday, when mysterious and highly skilled assassins dressed in black stole into the inner gardens of Valencia Palace in the dead of night. When they struck it was just himself, the King, and the newest royal maid, Alleta Rou Laren.
They were skilled to be sure. And strong. While he would have been able to defeat them if he were by himself, their coordinated attack to isolate him made their objective plain; their target was the King! They might have succeeded too, if it wasn't for the presence of Alleta. She fought them off with a strength and grace that was quite uncommon. It was as if she danced with their attackers as she systematically disarmed and killed them with their own blades.
In the aftermath, he was in awe, and was frankly ashamed of his earlier suspicions of her. But none could blame him at the time. She was sponsored by one Marquis Elias Brandt Dale Raeven a few months before the attack took place. The man flitted to-and-fro between the Royal and Noble factions of the Kingdom like a bat. An opportunist through and through. Though in this case, his blatant attempt to curry favor with the crown ended in their favor instead.
Despite an exhaustive investigation, none could determine where the assassins came from, who they were, or who hired them. A process made all the more difficult when the assassins in question were engulfed in magical blue flame shortly after their deaths. Burning all evidence to ash. Speculations ran rampant that they were from the assassin's group "Ijaniya", but that still begged the question of who hired them. Even after endless fingering pointing in meetings, they were still no closer to an answer, and likely never will.
However, the positive results of this attack were as plain as the negative ones. Since security in Ro-Lente Castle was strengthened considerably and Alleta, much like Gazef, was assigned to protect the King. Though there were some whispers that the attack was "arranged" to make that outcome happen, none would dare voice them anywhere near Marquis Raeven.
Just as Gazef lost himself in his thoughts, the lady in question spoke up in that same warm tone that made him relax all the same.
"Can we get you anything, Gazef?"
"Uh... Ahem! Pardon me, Miss Alleta. That won't be necessary. I would not wish to trouble you."
"Oh, it is no trouble at all." She replied with a cordial head-bow.
"Ah, Alleta. If you would be so kind as to inspect the meeting chambers. A meeting with the nobility is soon to take place." King Ramposa III calmly instructed.
Stepping a few paces away from his side, she bowed at the waist as she complied with a smile.
"As you wish, Your Majesty."
She gracefully turned on her heel as she walked past Gazef, and the two exchanged fond looks as they nodded to each other. As she left, the King jovially chuckled like a kindly old man as he spoke.
"Oh-hoh-hoh~! I am glad that the two of you get along so well, Gazef. It helps to ease some of the burdens from my mind to know I can rely on such two dependable individuals."
"You are too kind, Your Majesty. Although, if your servant may ask, why another meeting so early?" Gazef asked in respect, noting that the other maids were no longer present.
"Ah. It seems that my daughter's proposals for increased security on the roads, while having merit, are being met with resistance by some nobles in both factions. Some feel it a threat to their rights to tax and tithe. Among other things. I imagine that they wish to debate everything until their throats run dry." The King replied in a humored, yet weary tone as he sighed.
"I'm sorry if this has caused you undue trouble, father." Princess Renner contritely said to the side.
"Hm? Oh, do not worry yourself over it, my dear. Your progressive proposals are proof of your care for out Kingdom, and we would be the lesser for it if you were to stop." The King said reassuringly.
"Oh, thank you, father.~"
As Renner performed a dainty head-bow to her father, and the conversation continued in a relaxed fashion. It was true that she had introduced many pragmatic and rather revolutionary proposals to better the Kingdom, as well as the lot in the lives of those whom live in it. But with the exception of her proposal to ban slavery, nearly all of them had been curtailed by the nobles.
Unbeknownst to all of them, they were being watched. Under the cover of an invisibility spell, a pseudo-dragon was curled up like a cat on a nearby shelf, observing all that passed. And all that it saw and heard was relayed to Alleta who recently left.
She whom was a former assassin for a degenerate former noble of the Baharuth Empire, and now served Dracon's Keep, in the name of her liege-lord, Gabriel Erin Dracon. Coming to and infiltrating the Re-Estize Kingdom was not even a challenge for her. Nor was it a difficult task for the few "NPCs" that accompanied her in this task. Depending on the results of the impending meeting of nobles, she may or may not have something to report in her next check-in.
Meanwhile, as her pseudo-dragon lazily watched the father/daughter interactions of the King and the Princess, it became increasingly agitated. Its kind had an innate ability to measure the "character" of an individual, and despite how sweet and sincere Princess Renner appeared, it could tell just how fake it really was. Just being around her made it feel uncomfortable...
Suddenly, Renner's line-of-sight casually shifted to the pseudo-dragon's position, and it froze on the spot. While it should have been impossible for her to pick up on its presence, it could have sworn that she locked eye-contact with him. Neither the King nor Gazef noticed as her smile widened ever so slightly, and the glint in her eye became almost predatory. A change that came and went so abruptly they any normal person would have missed it.
As the three of them then left the room, the pseudo-dragon remained in place from that jarring experience. As it telepathically replayed this development to Alleta, one thought came in louder and clearer than any other...
That girl is scary.
Slane Theocracy, Capital City
A spacious office of modest décor with fine polished wooden shelves, was absolutely stacked with neatly arranged rows of books and file binders, as a man in his mid-to-late 40s pensively read an opened report. This was Raymond Zarg Lauransan, the Cardinal of Earth and overall Commander of the Six Scriptures.
He gently rubbed his short beard as he read a report on the progress of his new aid being trained to assist him. A promising young man of great potential beat all other candidates for the position, and while one of his talent would have been perfect for the Scriptures, Raymond had found himself in need of a dependable second-in-command. He sighed at that thought as he leaned back on his chair's back rest, chuckling in ironic humor as he spoke to himself.
"It's been a massive boon to this country to have another Godkin at our disposal, but she can be quite the handful. Heh-heh-heh..."
Some time ago, a young girl no older than 14-years of age wandered into the capital, dazed and confused about her surroundings. As if she hadn't the slightest clue where she was. Of course, their wards detected the use of teleportation into the capital without issue, but the fact that the teleportation itself registered to be greater than the 7th-tier caused quite the commotion.
Of all the possibilities, finding a young, bright, and cheerful girl with a pair of cats was not one they considered. Nor was the fact that she was adorned in vestments that almost rivaled that of the Black Scripture's godly panoplies. When they found her, she was questioning some citizens and guardsmen, and it became immediately apparent to the responding Scriptures that the Cardinals should be to the ones to question her.
He could remember that day quite clearly. When she was brought into their halls, she was happy, cooperative, and had a bright air about her that was rather disarming. It was that innocence that endeared her to them almost immediately. Especially himself, since he loved children, and regretted never having any of his own. Duty and responsibility to his country and humanity as a whole took precedence over such things.
Still, the fact that he was good with children helped in questioning the mysterious girl, who the Thousand Leagues Astrologer confirmed was quite human. The girl that called herself "Astraea" had spun a fantastic tale of helping her "favorite uncle" in conducting experiments in teleportation magic that went awry, and suddenly finding herself in an unknown country. It was quite the incredible story. Especially when...
Raymond found himself drawn away from his recollections by a light tapping at his office door, and calmly spoke in reply.
"Who is it?"
"It's me. May I come in?"
"Oh, certainly. It is open."
Upon his approval, Raymond's office door gently opened and in walked Ginedine Delan Guelfi, the Cardinal of Water and his comrade among the Theocracy's Six Cardinals. He was a shriveled old man with dusty-brown skin that contrasted sharply with his immaculate robes. In fact, he was so old that one normally could not correctly guess his true age. Although despite that age, he was still as sharp and intelligent as when he first began his tenure as a Cardinal.
"May I take a seat?" The old man politely asked as he motioned towards the seat in front of Raymond's desk.
"Certainly. To what do I owe this visit?"
"Hmph... Let us not play coy Raymond. Despite the passage of time, the same topic has been on everyone's lips since her arrival." Ginedine frankly replied.
"Hm... Indeed. She has been the topic of nearly all of our meetings."
"Yes, and I do not question the decision to have you be put in charge of her. Though I still have some doubts as to her origins."
A weary sigh escaped Raymond's lips as he leaned his elbows upon his desk, interlacing his hands in front of his face. This was a topic that still came up in their meetings with a great deal of frequency, and it was honestly tiring at this point.
"We have been over this before, and there is no point in revisiting it. The fact is, everything that she has told us and shown us has been consistent, with no contradictions. Moreover, we still lack the means of verifying everything."
"So, you still believe her claims that she's from the western continent?"
"Given the fact that she can wield magic of the 8th-tier, a feat reserved only for legends and Godkin, it's in line with what little we do know. And honestly, as I said before we lack the means to investigate it further."
Both men fell silent after Raymond's pointed response. The western continent, often referred to as the "Dark Continent", was one of constant mystery and danger for those that knew what little information was available. A great continent that lay at the other end of the great western ocean, whose expanse was filled with dangerous seaborn monsters. Even the fabled Dragon Emperor forbid his kind from ever going there, and sealed away all knowledge regarding it.
Of the few times that other nations, with secret aid from the Theocracy, were able to launch expeditions there, only one individual had returned from the journey. One whom was one of their own agents, but was rendered a near incoherent mess from the experience. From the few bits they were able to get from him before he expired, he described a land of powerful and frightful beings that made adamantite-ranked adventurers seem as children by comparison.
It was this information, along with the fact that she could wield such powerful magic lend some credence to her story. The fact that she also knew the term and identified herself as a "Godkin" aided in the voracity of her story. After all, if the "Advent of the Gods" as they called it, could happen in their home continent, who's to say that it does not likewise happen in other lands? A thought that chilled them, but one they could not help but acknowledge.
"Very well then. I see your point Raymond. It only confounds me that we cannot learn more, regardless of the boon that quite literally dropped into our lap." Ginedine admitted in reserved consternation as he folded his arms.
"I can see your point my friend, but we can do no more at this time but wait." Raymond replied in sympathy to his comrade's position.
"Oh? As I understand it, you've been having that girl serve as a tutor of sorts for your new aid-to-be... I have to admit, the rapport that you've developed with that girl has likewise been a boon."
"Heh-heh... Trust me my friend, she's still a handful. Though I must admit, she's easier to handle than Zesshi." Raymond said with a dry chuckle.
"Which actually beings me to something I wanted to ask you. If those two were to meet, what in your opinion would happen?" Ginedine asked with a hardened edge to his gaze.
"I honestly couldn't... Ah... I see what you're saying. You're hoping that she can serve as a sort of counter-balance to Zesshi in some way." Raymond said with a now more serious tone.
"That is it precisely. Since you have been put in charge of her, I wanted to broach this topic with you first before bringing it up in open council."
"I do appreciate the courtesy, Ginedine. Hmm..."
Raymond cradled his chin with his right thumb and index-finger as he sank into thought. While Zesshi Zetsumei was the Theocracy's ace Godkin and humanity's Guardian, she at times had a rather difficult personality. It was a troublesome topic, even at the best of times. Especially when the previous generations of Cardinals had stolen her away from her mother's side and raised her to be like that. Now it was they whom had to deal with the consequences of their shortsightedness.
Despite the inherent danger of those two meeting, the Captain of the Black Scripture himself said that Astraea's powers as a magic caster, was comparable to that of Zesshi as a warrior. So perhaps if Zesshi had a true peer to interact with, perhaps that could help them in the long run in managing some of Zesshi's more troublesome tendencies. Still, he knew very well what would need to happen before then...
"If I agree to this Ginedine, we must first make extensive preparations. Preferably somewhere isolated where they can meet. But I'm sure you already knew that." Raymond said in a concerned tone.
"Of course. That should go without saying."
"Very well... Then we both will broach this topic in the next meeting. If this mad scheme works, it'll further strengthen and secure this nation. Of course, I'm sure you realize this means making Astraea an official member of the Black Scripture? Possibly even as a Second Extra-Seat?" Raymond asked with a raised brow.
"Quite. The very notion will naturally receive resistance, which is why it's important that both of our voices joined in support of this course of action, will make all the difference." Ginedine calmly said with a nod.
"Hmm... As expected. Very well then. Since the next meeting is this afternoon, I will broach the topic, with you providing follow-up. How does that sound to you?"
"Hm. A reasonable course of action. I accept."
"Then I will need time to prepare for this. Unless of course you had any other business with me before then?" Raymond asked with a perked brow, noticing his comrade's stationary posture.
"Indeed, I do. As the over-all Commander of the Scriptures, what news have you regarding him and his long-term mission?"
In that moment, the air around them cooled. The topic broached appeared a sensitive one, as the two stared each other down for a moment, before Raymond calmly replied with a neutral tone.
"And now it is you who's playing cloy my friend. This office is warded against any kind of spying, but your discretion is appreciated. To answer, according to his last received [Message], he's found nothing as of yet. Although he did mention to be investigating some rather strange rumors in the Land of the Drake Riders."
"Oh? Do these rumors have anything to do with the words shared from the 'Being of Light'?"
"Unknown at this time. You know how Rufus can be. Especially since he is the only other one besides the Pontifex Maximus and ourselves who's aware of the existence of that creature."
"Hm... Another troublesome topic, but one that can be brought up in the upcoming meeting. Thank you for your condor Raymond. I shall see to my own affairs before then." Ginedine cordially said as he rose to his feet with a courteous head-bow.
"And you my friend. See you then."
With that exchange, Ginedine took his leave from Raymond's office, who leaned back and exhaled a serious of exhausted sighs. He then smiled bitterly as he spoke aloud to himself.
"Heh... Now more than ever, I could use a capable aid. All of this is making me feel old."
With an ironic chuckle and stretching of his limbs, Raymond resumed his work with increased furor, as the impending meeting of the Theocracy's leadership now took on a more pressing importance...
Slane Theocracy, Capital City
-A few days later-
It was late morning within the confines of a pristine Theocracy temple, as the rays of the sun beamed onto blue-stained glass windows, providing an almost serene ambience. However, this space was not one of worship, but of study and training for some of the Theocracy's most elite of magic casters. Wherein stood only two individuals.
The first was a young man in his early-20s of average height and lean build with neatly groomed long white hair tied off in a rat-tail at the base of his neck. His violet-colored eyes shined with intelligence and confidence as he bore a thin smile that bespoke the same. He wore immaculate white garments with golden-yellow edging and blue-colored accents. His entire appearance could be summed up with but a single word; refined. Although he also possessed a calm aura that aimed to always smile, it gave him an air of mysteriousness in the process.
The other individual was the young girl that had all but consumed even casual conversation within the Theocracy's upper-echelons, Astraea Christine Amell. (A/N:Ch.8) As her two feline companions rubbed against her legs with contented purrs and soft mewing, she positively beamed with a proud and pleased smile that more than complimented her cute, almost adorable countenance. She then spoke in her usual cheerful timbre as she held both hands behind her head.
"Way to go, Ennie~! You've come a long way from the newb that I randomly picked out of the crowd."
At that subtle jibe, the man smiled warmly with a hint of cunning as he took a graceful bow, and replied in gratitude.
"You are too kind my teacher. It is only with your, dedicated tutelage that I was able to come this far."
This was Enhela Reid Gahi, newly appointed as the aid and right-hand of Cardinal Raymond Zarg Lauransan. His was an unprecedented case, for one so young to be appointed to such a station, but it spoke well of his inherent capabilities. As well as the caliber of his instructor, whom tilted her head and smiled sweetly.
"Oh, I was just trying to whip you into shape, but give yourself some credit Ennie~! You've pulled off some interesting things. What, with blending what you've already been taught in divine magics with the arcane stuff I taught you. You've got a real knack for it~! I'd bet coin on you in a match against that old-fart from the Empire any day."
"I thank you for your praise and confidence, my teacher. I'm certain that I wouldn't disappoint you in such an, unlikely scenario." Enhela says as he slightly bows with right-hand over his chest, still smiling as ever.
"Hmph~! You better not. I put too much time and effort for it to be otherwise. Now then~! Just keep at it, and be sure to tackle your new job with that same zeal as your training." Astraea said with a playful wink, as Enhela chuckled and spoke ironically.
"Indeed. Although I can only hope I will be able to do so without the coughing up of blood."
"What~? Coughing up blood builds character. Teehehee.~" Astraea nonchalantly says as she shrugs and giggles.
"Hehe... Ahem... As you say, milady. And worry not. I shall carry out your other instructions without fail."
As Enhela speaks with a now more overt cunning in his smile, Astraea's innocent and child-like façade briefly fades as she responds in kind.
"Mm-hmm... I know you will, Enhela. I trained a good boy after all."
For a moment there was silence as the two shared knowing and cunning smiles, before a set of double doors behind them opened, with Cardinal Raymond Zarg Lauransan himself walking in. He regarded the pair fondly as he spoke.
"Good day, you two. All is well I hope?"
Without missing a beat, Astraea's demeanor returns to its previous state as she twirls on the tips of her toes and happily waves to the Cardinal of Earth.
"Hello, Uncle Raymond~! Here for Ennie's graduation from my lessons?"
"Ah, sadly no, young Astraea. My workload continues to increase, and I now have need of his services." Raymond replies with dry amusement, and he motions to a thick binder under his left-arm.
"Oh, okay. Hard work Ennie~!" Astraea cheerfully says as she pumps her right-fist in the air.
"You as well, teacher." Enhela says with a graceful bow before stepping to the Cardinal's side to take the binder in hand.
"You will find all the necessary instructions within." Raymond informs with professional tone.
"Very good, Your Excellency. Then I shall carry out my duties forthwith. Good day."
As Enhela leaves with a confident and purposeful gait in his step, Raymond once again turns to Astraea, who was affectionately petting her cats. One was sitting on her right shoulder, and had blue and white fur, whilst the other with dark-blue with only a patch of white fur around its left-eye was in her arms. Both wore collars, with the first one having a green collar with pearl in the center. The second had a red collar that likewise bore a pearl.
"Well now Astraea, if there's nothing else that you plan on doing today, can you come with me?"
"Sure~! Where are we going?" Astraea happily replied without a moment's hesitation.
"There's someone we would like you to meet. A carriage awaits outside to take us there."
"Aw, can't we just teleport there~? Those carriage rides are always so long and boring." Astraea replies with a pout.
"I know my dear, but it is necessary that we go to a predetermined location, so we don't set off the wards that detect such things."
"Good girl. Now if you'll follow me?"
"Okay~! What about you Pogo and Kata? Up for a trip~?"
Her feline companions mewed in unison as they rubbed their heads against Astraea, whom giggled at them. Raymond smiled warmly at the display as he nodded and turned back to the exit, with Astraea following behind as she hummed. She grinned mischievously as the 3rd-Floor Guardian of Dracon's Keep opened mental communications with her sentient cats.
[Boy, this's a lot of fun~! I must properly thank Lord Gabriel for this assignment when he returns from his trip.]
[Aye, you seem to be enjoying yourself with your "cover", milady.] Pogo mentally replied as he softly purred. (A/N:Ch.16)
[Can we please focus on the topic at hand, Lady Astraea? Such as who they are taking us to meet, and why?] The serious, female voice of Kata interjected over their link.
[Yes, yes, I know, Kata. Stop worrying so much. I've managed to get this far, haven't I~?]
[Hmm... Indeed. I daresay that this "spy-craft" suits you. And I am thankful for these items that allows us to communicate without the [Message] spell.] Kata mentally commented as she lightly pawed at the collar that bore a white pearl, then doing the same to a matching earring Astraea wore.
[Yeah~! They're really convenient... Anyways~! Let's see this mysterious person they want us to meet. I just hope it's not a waste of my time.] Astraea mentally affirmed as her feline companions' meows echoed in the halls, before exiting the temple.
The items they referred to were called, [Link-Pearls]. They allowed the users to telepathically communicate in a similar fashion to the aforementioned [Message] spell. Though they were different in that the items could only send and receive communications between the matching sets that have been "attuned" with each other.
So, while not as versatile as [Message], they had the advantage of being more secure and efficient. Since users did not have to worry about a duration period running out. This meant that the three of them could conceivably "talk" all day long without interruption. Something that became a necessity during their assignment to infiltrate the Theocracy.
Careful divination of its capital revealed startling numbers of wards of a strength that rivaled that of 7th-tier magic. Wards that had been crafted by generations of Miko Princesses that wore dangerous artifacts called the [Crown of Wisdom]. This turned them into basically living dolls, in exchange for being able to cast high-tier spells. Though they were revered and respected, they were essentially living sacrifices to make that possible.
From what Astraea and her feline companions learned, the Miko Princesses were central to the country's large-scale rituals for casting high-tier magic. Considering how long it had been since the arrival of the "Six Great Gods", this allowed them literal centuries to fortify their capital city. So infiltration via teleportation would be detected regardless of tier. Something they confirmed upon their initial arrival, and thus their prepared cover-story came in handy.
The same risk was involved sending out a [Message]. Making the use of their pearls all the more important. Of course, their master suspected the Theocracy's venerated "Six Great Gods" came from YGGDRASIL like him, and thus far everything seen lent credence to those suspicions. All in all, their infiltration was a resounding success, with a few pleasant surprises as well. Raymond's fatherly affection for Astraea was one such surprise. One in which she took full advantage of, but she had to admit that a part of her really did like him.
'When Lord Gabriel returns, maybe I'll put in a good word for, "Uncle Raymond". It would be sad if he had to go bye-bye before my lord's plans for this country are complete... Ah, whatever~! I'm eager to see who they're taking me to see. Must be someone important too...'
Dracon's Keep, 8th-Floor, Gabriel's Study
Using the large, rectangular conference table in their master's study, the Commander and Vice-Commander of the Keep's NPCs in Walter and Tamura respectively (A/N:Ch.2), sat surrounded by large piles of documents and [Crystal Tablets] alike. In the absence of their master, they expertly managed and ran his Keep with equal parts devotion and professionalism. With their individual capabilities, they each could do the work of over a dozen people.
Pouring over a series of reports with practiced ease, the two highest ranking NPCs nodded in satisfaction over what they saw. Walter in particular was pleased with how food production continued apace. A sizable surplus ensured that even if they ceased production that instant, it would take years before the risk of dipping into their YGGDRASIL grade stockpiles became apparent.
Tamura handled the management of their spies and operatives jointly with Walter, and so far all proceeded in a direction they believed adequately met with their master's directives without revealing the Keep's existence.
Astraea successfully ingratiated herself with the higher authority of the most powerful human nation on the continent, which opened the door for more "conventional" operatives to slip into the country. Although the Floor Guardian in question had to do so with [Legacy Class] copies of her main [Divine Class] panoply. Given what they learned of the Slane Theocracy, they felt that to be the wisest course of action.
The Re-Estize Kingdom, which was among the weakest and most primitive of the surrounding human nations, took little to no effort to infiltrate. Plying some subtle influence to one of their nobles, getting one of their people close to the crown was child's play. An adequate fiction had been crafted to ensure that outcome, with a similar tactic used in the Roble Holy Kingdom.
The deal their liege-lord made with Leol in the Empire turned out to be quite the boon, since it allowed them access to valuable information at little cost in terms of personnel and resources (A/N:Ch14). Those called "Workers" were commissioned by him to conduct various information gathering quests, were naturally much more familiar with the people and countries than they who were displaced strangers in this new world.
So long as they kept a close eye on their activities, it proved a good method to offset a few issues in having enough skilled people to fill certain roles. After all, they would not wish to weaken the Keep's defenses by too large a margin. While a necessary move to fulfill their Lord Gabriel's directives, the long-term absence of a level-100 Floor Guardian, as well as some mid-tier NPCs, left Tamura and Walter ill-at-ease.
Or perhaps they were being too "paranoid", as some of the High Lords would have said in the past. Though they could not help it. With the leader of their High Lords away on his "revenge quest", they felt decidedly uncomfortable leaving his domain open to any sort of compromise in its protection. No matter how "necessary" it was.
It was for this reason that some countries on the continent had yet to see any of their operatives. Among them being the Argland Council State, Elf Country, Karnassus City-State Alliance, and the Beastman Country which bordered the Dragon Kingdom to the south. To both the NPCs, they were simply too far away to warrant sending anyone. Not while their liege-lord was still away.
While Lady Akemi's presence was a reassuring one, having joined the ranks of their "High Lords" by Gabriel's own invitation, it was simply not the same. Though they had to admit, she tackled her new role in the Keep with admirable zeal. The NPCs loved and adored her as if she had been one of them all along.
Though currently Akemi herself was away on business, trying to mediate a territorial dispute between the Drake Rider Country and the Wyvern Rider Territories. Given the tribal nature of the latter, that was made somewhat difficult. Compounded by the past actions of the now deceased Yogg in Bwynleah Veinun (A/N:Ch.7). Though Akemi turned out to be a rather skilled and shewed negotiator, with her last [Message] indicating that she would be able to return this evening for dinner, before heading back out again.
Sighing heavily, Tamura set aside the last [Crystal Tablet] she had to work on, as she completed her daily "status checks" with their operatives. Walter did not fail to notice the heavy air that lingered around her as she leaned back onto her chair.
"Does something trouble you?" Walter stoically asks.
"Hm? I... suppose so. These countries we sent our people to, and those we have yet to send anyone... I find myself wishing to take more direct action at times..." Tamura wearily mused.
Walter pushed up his glasses with joined index and middle-fingers as he finished up his own workload, and spoke up in a firm, professional tone.
"While I understand how you feel my dear, until Lord Gabriel returns, we must be content in keeping the balance between these nations stable. The plans he laid for us before his departure were quite clear... Ah, and now that I realize it, did that tablet contain Astraea's latest report?"
"Quite, my friend. It seems she made another surprising discovery today, when she was taken to meet someone named, Zesshi Zetsumei." Tamura said as she handed Walter the Tablet in question.
It took only a minute for him to read over the contents before his vision narrowed, pushing up his glasses again. A sure sign that he was mulling over the information with both scrutiny and a great deal of curiosity.
"So, she's recruited her protégé to our cause... And they trust her enough to now reveal the existence of yet another 'Godkin'. A level-85 half-elf, is it? Intriguing..."
"Our liege-lord was right to be wary of them. This and her previous reports do well to clarify why that monster Bwynleah was also wary of them." Tamura chimed in with professional tones.
"Hmm... Quite right, my dear. Though now I am ashamed to admit my initial doubts to our master's choice of spies. Astraea has been performing admirably."
There was a light chuckle from Tamura as she folded her arms and crossed her legs, and then spoke in amusement.
"Let us be fair, Walter. We both had doubts about her taking on such a role."
No one could have been blamed for the shock and skepticism. The 3rd-Floor Guardian was best known for blowing things up with delight and zeal. Although it was noted that she and the 6th-Floor Guardian, once constantly at odds with each other, began to at least pretend to get along after receiving their mutual punishment from their master. (A/N:Ch.9) While it did paint a hopeful outlook on her capacity to serve as a spy, the pair still had some doubts, despite their master's confidence in her.
In the end, their Lord Gabriel's choice the correct one. As he pointed out, her appearance, age, and demeanor would all but defuse suspicion against her. After all, if you want someone to pose as a displaced Godkin of a foreign country, who would you be more disinclined to suspect of duplicity? A full-grown adult, or a "child" who comes off as rather innocent and playful? Even if she was the only human they had with that combination, the results were still surprising.
Their master Gabriel also pointed out that with her child-like appearance and behavior, it would make the Theocracy's leadership think her easier to manipulate, despite her power. Playing into those misconceptions was a crucial part of their master's strategy, and it played out to perfection. But that did not mean they became complacent. Not when their initial introduction to a "Godkin" involved the Captain of the Black Scripture, whom Astraea rated to be a level-75.
Though she was able to "befriend" him well enough, there was another disturbing discovery in a possible [World Class Item] being in the Theocracy's possession. As Astraea herself reported, there was an old, humorless "bag-wind" named Kaire that wore a dress that most certainly did NOT belong on her wrinkled old body. One that absolutely gave her the "creeps", as her creator would have put it.
There was something about it that screamed "Danger!" to her senses when she first met her, but so far, she has failed in identifying what it was that made it so dangerous. No one, not even her new "Uncle" Raymond was willing to tell her what it was that made it so special... Yet. Still, there were few doubts as to the class that item belonged, and thus remained vigilant.
And finally, there was something else that she could not place; a feeling. A presence within the city that was like a low hum in the background. Though the feeling was not hostile. If anything, it reminded her of Cassiel, much to her annoyance. Though the country openly practices in the art of "angel" summoning, it wasn't the same presence that she felt.
The question then became, how could she investigate something as vague and imperceptible as that? Especially when her feline companions seemed unable to sense it? They who were able to move about the capital-city with near-impunity to gather information. Astraea could only conclude that only those of a certain level could feel it.
Despite the frustrations she expressed in her reports, Astraea conducted herself with surprising levels of patience in these matters. Of course, she who drank of the Fountain of Youth should have some patience, it was not a quality many who knew her ascribed to her. Though perhaps it was her drive to render the best possible service to their Lord Gabriel that compelled these new and surprising qualities out of her?
Walter smiled and Tamura chuckled dryly over these musings, before the former calmly spoke.
"Perhaps we should simply be grateful to our Lord Gabriel for his experience in such matters. Don't you agree my dear?"
"Yes, I quite agree with that.~"
"Then let us move on to other matters. How fair the production of golems on your end?" (A/N:Ch.16)
"Oh, quite well actually. We should have enough to..."
Suddenly, both Walter and Tamura received the telltale notices of an incoming [Message], with the voice of the Treasury Area Guardian and one of the three "Fates" Clotho, hurriedly speaking in an urgent manner.
[Lady Tamura! Lord Walter! Code verification Omega 9-1-1! The [Worlds' Gate] has become active. The return of Lord Gabriel is imminent! Please report to its chamber in the Treasury immediately!]
In that instant, smiles spread over both of their lips as their hearts soured. Their master is now returning!
"Well then, let us welcome our liege-lord back home." Walter says in a tone that, while sounding like his usual stoic self, held a bit more energy.
"Hehe~! As our Lady would say, no need to tell me twice."
And with that, they both invoked the power of their respective rings, disappearing in flashes of blue light. Their master returns, but what news shall he bring with him they wondered...
*A/N: So! Gabriel's about to return, and his NPCs have been busy in his absence. I'm still a bit away before the next arc officially starts. This chapter was born from the simple question of, "What have Gabe's NPCs been up to?" So consider this chapter a "bridge" before "Season-3" begins in earnest. Normally I'd end things here, but I'll be ending these Author's Notes with a little Q&A to preempt some questions/issues some readers might have, after a friend of mine pointed them out to me. So then! Without further ado, let's get into that...*
Question: What's up with the Theocracy's capital-city having 7th-tier wards?
Answer: Ah, yes. Let's address THAT elephant in the room. As some may/may not recall, in the LN/manga/anime, the kidnapped Nfirea Bareare, wearing the [Crown of Wisdom], was able to cast the 7th-tier spell, [Undead Army]. Using a bit of logic and reason, we can safely assume that, whether as individuals or working as groups in ritual-style magic, the Miko Princesses are capable of similar feats. Just with different spells and applications. Considering the Theocracy has a 600-year history with Players founding it, I'd be mildly retarded, both as a writer and logical individual, to think that they hadn't used that time and means to fortify their position. Especially after the whole "Eight Greed Kings" debacle. Also, there's something else the Theocracy is hiding that'll become an important plot-point in the future. What's that, "something"? Well, that'd be a spoiler. All I can say now is that it's crucial to future events.
Q: How'd you come up with the Captain's Lv.75 estimate?
A: A number of things brought me to that conclusion. First, the unequipped Shalltear. As seen in LN Vol-3, despite not having any dedicated warrior levels, she pegged him to be stronger than Solution Epsilon, who's a Lv.57. It's reasonable to assume due to that, the good Captain would have to be at least 10-levels stronger for that to register with her. Hence her comment in measuring strength in "meters", during her encounter with Brain. When one stops to think about it, it's reasonable to assume she wasn't entirely mocking him, but also stating facts.
Then there's the fact that he not only briefly halted Shalltear's advance, but survived one of her attacks, when she was fully intent on killing him. It'd take more than quality gear to do that. Outside of the LNs, there's comments made by the author of Overlord himself, who said that the Captain has more "based levels" than almost every councilor of the Argland Council State, barring the Platinum Dragon Lord and his controlled armor of course. So! Using a little something called "preponderance of evidence", I arrived at the "middle-ground" estimate of level-75.
Q: Ditto for Zesshi's Lv.85 estimate.
A: Once again, let's use a little "preponderance of evidence" to reach a reasonable estimate. Of course, this one's a bit more challenging, having less to work with. Still, there's enough to still come up with something. First, it's plainly stated that she's stronger than the Captain (Duh!). In the LNs he internally muses that while Shalltear (unequipped) was superior to Zesshi, he felt that Zesshi would still be able to win, due to her item panoply originally belonging to their "gods" (i.e. Players). Anyone who's played RPGs and/or MMOs should be able to get the "meta" without explanation.
Then once again, we have comments made by the author himself, calling her an "Overlord of the New World". Implying that she's one of the strongest beings in the NW. In addition, she's said to have the strongest of the Top-10 [Talents] on the continent. While we still don't know WHAT that [Talent] is per-se, it can be a game changer. Case in point, Evileye has one of those "Top-10", allowing her to copy/store nearly any spell to be used once. Including Super-Tier and [Wild Magic] spells! Although this absurd ability is balanced out by certain prerequisites and caveats, the idea that Zesshi has something that can TOP it is a tad crazy. Even the weak Nfirea Bareare being able to use any magic item without restriction is ridiculous. So, with all that in mind, that's how I came up with Zesshi's estimate.
Q: You're not pro-Theocracy, are you?
A: Okay, let's get that B.S. settled once and for all; Hell, NO! I'm not. However, while some would let their negative bias affect their writing, I try not to do that as best I can. I strive to be as objective as possible when trying to flesh things out. Hence that "preponderance of evidence" phrase I've coined more than once. It's that objectivity that becomes essential in quality fanfic writing. So I'll be sure to give credit where it's due. No more, no less. That kind of philosophy applies to ALL of my works.
Q: What's with the hints of another continent?
A: Simple. The New World is just that. An entire WORLD, and one in which I fully plan on exploring more in-depth in the future. Especially since it's looking more and more unlikely that the OG author Maruyama will be doing that. However, rest assured that I'll be doing so only when it's for plot related reasons.
Q: Will end-chapter "Review Replies" be making a comeback?
A: Well, yes and no. I'm deliberately trying to keep word counts down by not doing that anymore, instead opting to reply via PMs. Since I like that personal touch. Although being in vo-tech college, along with other IRL issues going on, has made even that a little more difficult than before. I'll do in-chapter replies to "Guest" reviews, and/or doing more of these "Q&A" segments where the need arises.
*Whew! And with all of that out of the way, see you all next time true believers!*