Beta: Worldbringer of Joseun
"Before we proceed, I assume we are all aware of why we are meeting?" Once again, every guild leader sat in their respective chairs. Shiroe pushed up his glasses before he continued. "While the week following the proposed changes was largely uneventful, it would appear that that time has passed."
"Are you referring to our little guests?" Krusty questioned, but he already knew the answer was yes. Especially if that smile was anything to go by. "They're keeping a relatively low profile, but I'm pleased to know they didn't escape your notice."
"If they had, then I'd be worried," Shiroe admitted. "However, noticing one or two Landers wandering about like they've got something to hide isn't that impressive. I'm sure you all know what this means."
"Those Landers are finally moving," Eins muttered. "How are our precautions? Are we prepared? What is their man-power like?"
"Even if they had one-hundred-thousand soldiers, they wouldn't be able to deal with us," Isaac dismissed. "But the real problem is…"
"Yes, the Ancients," Eins reiterated. "Have the scouts noticed anything?"
"Not a single sign of movement," William dutifully reported. "Just like those Landers said. Right, Illya?"
Oh, it seems that the boys finally deigned her some time. "Yes, it matches what we learned from the Lander Council. They're also keeping to their word and refraining from interacting with the foreigners."
"I'm glad we cut that potential information leak in the bud," Krusty said. "But are we sure this won't have any repercussions? Aren't we potentially alienating the locals from every other Lander on Yamato?"
"The local Landers are more independent than their Capital counterparts," Illya explained, hopefully for the last time as she disliked repeating herself. "Other villages and cities receive protection from them against bandits and monsters in exchange for taxes. Since Akihabara was previously Adventurer-only soil, the Eastal League of Free Cities saw no reason to provide that same protection, and thus the populace did not need to pay taxes."
At least, until this Round Table was formed.
"So they only have loyalty to the crown because they were born here," William continued. Akihabara was an Adventurer-controlled city smack-dab in the middle of Eastal's territory. This meant that they were technically a part of the League of Free Cities by proxy. "That's rather easy to overturn, but have we gotten any messages from the Capital? It's already been a week and I'd imagine they won't leave Akihabara alone for such a long time."
"Not yet," Shiroe said, "But I imagine that will change very soon. For now, we should focus on the next step."
"I know," William muttered. "It's that training camp idea, right? I had a few members volunteer to help already, so no arguments here."
"Same here," Isaac said. "Bastards are raring to go."
"I'd worry if a training camp held by the Black Sword Knights was to come to pass," Woodstock muttered in clear contempt. "Are you certain that they are capable?"
Isaac frowned heavily and glared his way. "You know, my guild isn't the same as it was before the Apocalypse. A few of them want to actually help,"
"If you two can hold off on the petty squabble, that would be much appreciated," Illya chose that time to interrupt. She sent her former guild-master a knowing look.
Woodstock huffed and reclined into his seat. "Fine, but I'll have a few of my members ensure that they learn the ropes, and oversee the training camp."
"That would be for the best," Eins said with a wry smile. Nobody could argue with him, because it was well-known that Grandeur was a guild that focused on helping the little guy, even before the Apocalypse. They were uniquely suited to this task.
"Speaking of which, what would the training camp exactly entail?" Ichimonjinosuke asked.
"The plan was, like, to set up camp near a respawn town and have the rookies go in and out on rotation," Marielle explained. "In between dungeon-diving sessions, volunteer instructors would, like, explain basic dungeon tactics and how to work as a group."
"Teaching teamwork early, that's good. They'll never be able to go on raids otherwise," Isaac muttered. "Some of my old members never even learned that and simply played solo ninety-percent of the time. Or they were account buyers trying to make it seem like they knew what they were doing, couldn't tell."
"Which town did you have in mind?" William asked. "If it's near a higher-leveled dungeon, I might take the entire guild with me there to pass the time."
"I'd hope you won't," Illya muttered. "Guild-masters have to remain in the city, at least until we get that message from Eastal. After that, you can do what you want."
William frowned and sighed. "There's a lot less freedom than before, isn't there?"
"Welcome to politics," Illya said with a smile. "It's slow, painful, and a boring process. Television makes it look exciting, but it really isn't… unless you count the backroom deals. Those are generally more fun."
"Which I hope you aren't partaking in, Illya," Woodstock added with a stern look.
"Oh, don't even bother babying her," Ichimonjinosuke dismissed. "She might've been yours a while ago, but that woman cornered more than half of this table in her deals. Isn't that right, Michitaka?"
The owner of the Marine Organization frowned and slammed his head onto the table. He didn't destroy it, thankfully, but his pride had certainly been. After losing the bet, the upper management of his guild nearly throttled him– actually, they might've if it wasn't for the Royal Guard System.
"It was just one potion!" he wailed. "Why are my alchemists struggling so hard?"
"Are you certain that it is not because of a lack of talent?" Illya teased, to which Michitaka sobbed harder. "By the way, I'm still waiting on the last few warehouses. One warehouse is certainly not, and I quote 'a few warehouses.'"
"You'll get them when we're done constructing them!" Michitaka said. "One was already hard enough to pawn off, but the other warehouses are full. A lot of materials were gathered yesterday!"
"Fine, I suppose I'll be satisfied with one, for now," Illya smiled. "However, I'm willing to give you a little breather, since your guild helped build mine's new estate, so you can reduce it to just one additional warehouse."
Just as Michitaka looked to be praying to the gods, Soujirou interrupted. "What are you stockpiling those materials for anyway? Are you going to sell them?"
"It must be for that project," Roderick muttered. "The Ocypete if I recall correctly."
"Hopefully, it is successful," Calasin added. "Our own personal stores went down by thirty-percent. Recuperating those losses will not be easy should it fail."
"Which it won't," Michitaka said as he got out of his funk. "I actually have some IRL engineers in my guild that helped, and they all say the math works out. They'll even oversee the construction, just to make sure they do things right."
"We'll eagerly await it," Shiroe supplied before clearing his throat. "In the meantime, let's focus on the actual topic of the meeting. The training camp details can be hashed out later, but let's not forget the reason behind the camp."
Nods resounded around the table.
To sum it up, the training camp exists purely to strengthen Akihabara. The fewer low-level newbies in the city, the better. They needed that extra strength for what was to come.
And they weren't talking about the Landers this time, or the Ancients.
"Susukino's trying to expand, aren't they?" Michitaka muttered.
A few eyes wandered to Illya, who nodded in confirmation. "There are a few Landers in the city that are neither locals nor from the Capital as infiltrators. This group of Landers is much more frantic and prone to fleeing at the first sign of trouble. I'm guessing Susukino sent them to Akihabara."
"Low standards," William scoffed. "But what makes you think they're from Susukino?"
"The local Landers mentioned recognizing a few of them to be from Susukino," Illya said. She got that information from the merchants, but it never hurt to get confirmation from a little mental infiltration. So she also hypnotized them into telling the truth and wiped their recent memories. Covering her tracks, as all good magi should. "It's likely that they're holding their family members hostage. They have no choice but to comply and spy for them."
"Should we deal with that potential information leak too?" Soujirou asked, a little unsure.
"No, let them keep operating under the impression that they haven't been caught," Shiroe said, which Illya agreed with. "With the cooperation of the locals, we can feed them false information. Not overtly false, as that would immediately notify Susukino that their ruse was discovered, but minute differences. Omission rather than outright lies."
"I see. It would paint their spies as incompetent, but they can't blame them because the spies were originally civilians," Calasin muttered. "Well done, as expected of the Tea-Party's Strategist."
"But this is, like, kind of terrifying, honestly," Marielle admitted.
True. With the exception of Illya, these people were ordinary players, who played Elder Tale to escape reality or hang out with friends. None of them expected this situation, especially the current topic of the meeting. They were wildly unqualified.
But Illya was sure that they would grow into the role. They were guild-masters for a reason, and obtaining that rank required a certain amount of charisma… not unlike some politicians, now that she thought about it.
"That being said," Shiroe continued. "That also increases the chance that more… hot-headed individuals would take out their frustrations on the locals and their family, a rather counter-intuitive way to make their spies do better. Unfortunate, but we aren't in a position to do anything about it."
"And if we made them carry one-hundred-percent false information, the possible punishment would be worse," Krusty said with a nod. "How troublesome."
"Why don't we just… what was the guild occupying Susukino again?" Isaac asked.
"Brigandia" Illya reminded, idly noting how ironically fitting it was.
"Right, those guys," Isaac continued. "Why don't we just send a guild there and deal with them directly?" Isaac suggested. "If we just give them the boot, wouldn't it solve all our problems?"
"If it was that easy, we'd do it," Shiroe sighed wearily.
"We'd be spread too thin," Krusty said as he answered in Shiroe's place. "Think about it. The only guilds that can deal with Brigandia at its current numbers are the top combat guilds. In other words, one of us. Sending a force out of Akihabara would undoubtedly weaken our response capabilities."
"There's nothing to respond to right now," Isaac argued. "So I still don't see why."
"We'll be giving Susukino a reason to respond," Shiroe reminded. "We still aren't prepared to face a somewhat unified Susukino. If we decide to gather a subjugation force, they will know and prepare accordingly."
"Isn't that why we're gonna feed their spies fake info?" Isaac continued. He really wasn't getting it, was he?
"The fake information is only useful when the omitted information is small enough to be omitted," Illya explained. "There's no way we can conceal a subjugation force, and if we manage to conceal it, then we'd need to have a small group move out. A small group cannot take care of the entirety of Susukino, which means we will also need to steadily build up a force and set up camp near Susukino, but keep them hidden until the time of subjugation."
In other words, a huge pain in the ass.
Isaac groaned and rubbed his head. "… This stuff is why I never played strategy games."
"If there was a strategy game as in-depth as IRL politics, point me to it, because I'd be trying that out ASAP," Michitaka also groaned. However, he raised his head and looked towards Illya. "I assume there's even more?"
"Yes," Illya continued. "Even Brigandia must know that cowed Landers, no matter how many, aren't going to be useful to him. At least, not without supervision."
"They have their own players in the city too?" Isaac grumbled. "What a pain."
The Susukino Landers were likely reporting to a nearby player, but that player wouldn't have entered the city, and if they had, then they would need to stick to the outskirts or hide in a house for weeks on end.
"The hypothetical overseer is also probably not a part of Brigandia officially," Illya added. "This means that he or she can easily hide among the smaller guilds and report back in real-time."
As convenient as the instant messaging system was, it was really a thorn in their side when dealing with the bandit-controlled city. And yes, Illya wouldn't dare call Brigandia a guild, because they honestly felt more like bandits. They probably looked the part too.
"This also means preparing a subjugation force stealthily is a pipe-dream," Krusty added. "All it takes is one slip-up and Brigandia will know, which endangers the hypothetical adventurers we send. They could be emboldened by that success, which makes it harder to cow Brigandia out of the city."
"That being said, they were totally humbled by a small party of adventurers already. Right, Shiro-bo?" Marielle took the chance to tease the strategist. However, she widened her eyes at some realization. "Wait~ didn't you meet with the leader of Brigandia, back when you went to Susukino? Wouldn't you know their capabilities the most?"
As all eyes turned to him, Shiroe sighed and nodded. "Yes, you're right. Their leader, Demiqas, is hardly a threat. If it was just him, I doubt he'd have the strategic sense to deal with an invasion…"
"So we can attack?" Isaac asked, hopeful.
"… However, his strategist is a different matter," Shiroe continued. "His name is Londark, a level-ninety elven sorcerer, and it was likely his idea to take control of Susukino in the first place. The chance of that person still controlling the city from the shadows is high. There's also a chance that he left the guild…"
"… but that possibility is basically gone," Illya added. "Going by your description of Demiqas, there's no way he'd be sending in spies. He sounds like the kind of guy to go in guns blazing without a hint of care, kind of like a certain Guardian among us."
Isaac blinked unaware.
"Besides," Shiroe added swiftly before Isaac noticed the slight. "Sending a force out would startle the League of Free Cities. This could hurt potential diplomatic relations. Not a risk we want to take."
"Well, I guess we have to speed up our timetable for the training camp," Ichimonjinosuke muttered. "It's best to prepare the young ones for any possible altercation. It would be… unfortunate, very unfortunate if they had to learn on the go."
Especially if Brigandia foregoes killing them and just kidnaps them. Then, it becomes a rescue mission. Frustrating, isn't it? Just the thought of that happening to her guildmates… perhaps they did need to speed up the training camp.
Shiroe cleared his throat.
"I believe we got side-tracked. William, you wanted to know where the training camp will take place?" at his nod, he continued. "It will be at Choushi, at the Zantleaf region. It's near several dungeons so the lower-level players can spread out in case one gets too full. Not to mention–"
"A low-level area," William sighed. "Well, looks like we won't be traveling. There aren't any raids we can do there. Nothing but skeletons, goblins, and the occasional slime. A waste of time for us."
For him, maybe. However, that location was no-doubt suitable for her guild members. Due to not leaving the city as often as before, the levels of her guildmates had stagnated. They were all at least level twenty-five, no higher than they were two weeks ago. More specifically, Shirou was twenty-six, Rin twenty-seven, and Sakura the lowest at twenty-five.
Honestly, the last time they gained any levels was back in that cave with the goblins…
"Oh, I almost forgot." Or rather, she did forget. Completely. It's been weeks since she even had a passing thought about it. Illya opened a trade request with the Villain-in-Glasses. "Shiroe, I had forgotten to mention this, but I found a strange item a few weeks back while I was training my guild. Do you know what it is? I've sent a trade request so you can see it."
Shiroe sighed as he checked. "I'd like to avoid any distractions for this meeting though–"
The Villain-in-Glasses stopped, no doubt because he recognized the item.
"So, what is it?" William asked with a frown, as several of the more aware Round Table members straightened in their seat. "I don't like that expression."
"I might've messed up," Shiroe admitted. He dismissed the window and sent Illya a pointed look, to which she got the memo and brought out the item in question from her inventory. "That is an event item. One that only drops when a goblin is killed at a specific time-frame."
Once Krusty recognized it, he sagged into his seat. In fact, almost all the players at the table let out some act of irritation.
"I take it that this item is important?" Illya asked, still unsure where they were going with this reaction.
"How long have you been playing this game?" William asked pointedly.
"She joined my guild back when she was level-twenty, but that was a year ago, right after the event concluded. No, that doesn't explain why she doesn't know," Woodstock added onto the question.
"Hey, I had real life to attend to you know?" Illya bit back. "I usually stop playing for a few weeks to do other things. This wasn't the only game I played."
"So you're the type to skimp on daily logins," Isaac frowned. "That's... sort of wack."
"Not everyone plays the game as much as we do, as evident with her level," Shiroe remedied. "It is very likely that she doesn't know."
Illya had basically raised her character until she was sixty or so within a few months. She only got away with doing that because she had some free time. True, she could've gotten to max-level higher by going to the very efficient farming spots and clearing the fast quests, which would've taken a day if she did, but there were reasons she didn't want to.
One was that she wanted to actually experience the game rather than power level. The other was that those zones always had players already using them, and just having another player nearby was enough to dissuade people from grinding there because of the chance of kill-stealing. Another reason was that she would literally need a whole day of grinding without rest or sleep. A day with no downtime and continual usage of EXP potions. Illya wasn't insane. She had much better ways to use that time, especially seeing as she only played Elder Tale while her family was busy.
Although, Illya would admit to entertaining the idea at times, but only during the particularly long days when everyone was still attending classes. Playing multiplayer games solo really caused your motivations to play the game to drop if you didn't have friends to play with... She supposed that was just one of the reasons she didn't play the game every day.
… Actually, that was a thought. The fast quests are certainly gone, but did those power-leveling zones still exist? If they did, then it would be a great idea to organize a guild trip. It's not like there are players in those zones anymore.
"It's not just likely, she definitely doesn't know," Isaac complained. "Damn it! It's not just Susukino, but now we have to prepare for this event too!?"
"To answer your question, Illya," Shiroe took center stage. "That item is known as the Goblin King's Missive. Lore-wise, it's a message sent to all goblin tribes to gather and coronate their new king. The event was for players to head into Seven Falls and defeat the Goblin King before he is crowned. The time-limit of defeating the Goblin King is usually one week, which has most certainly passed."
"This means that fat fuck is king now, isn't he?" Isaac grumbled. "I never really did that event because the rewards weren't good enough for me. It was great for new players though…"
"Yes, in an ideal scenario we could use this to train up our new ones, but it's not a great idea now," Woodstock corrected. "I'm certain you are aware of what happens when that event isn't completed in time?"
"Of course, I know!" Isaac bit back. "The Goblin King is crowned and he's going to wage war, but usually we get bailed out. Usually. That's not possible now, though."
"Correct," Shiroe confirmed. "The Izumo Knights are not around. As such, they can't be relied on to deal with a fully revived Goblin King. Which means that we will have to go to Seven Falls ourselves to deal with the threat."
Illya frowned heavily. "My apologies. I should have brought this up sooner."
"I doubt that it would've mattered," Michitaka denied in understanding. "If you got that missive a few weeks ago, then by the time we got our act together, it would've already been too late. We now have a goblin invasion to deal with."
Marielle's sudden cry of realization garnered their attention.
"The training camp! The town we were going to is near Seven Falls! Are we canceling it!?"
"Of course we are!" Ichimonjinosuke admonished. "We do not know what the invasion force will hold, especially in this expansion! We cannot risk having our younger players deal with it."
"Just when I was finally going to go to the beach!" Marielle bawled. "I even bought a new swimsuit and everything!"
"W-Well, we can always reschedule," Shiroe comforted. "At least we were notified before we started putting up fliers. A blessing in disguise, I suppose."
"Shiroe," Krusty suddenly called. "I realize this now, but perhaps the reason for the Capital not contacting us is due to this event?"
Illya narrowed her eyes. It would make sense. True, the threat that Akihabara posed to them was high, but in comparison to a potential invasion from monsters like goblins, then that was going to be their priority.
Especially with the absence of their primary way of dealing with the threat, the Izumo Knights.
"No, I doubt they realize it," Shiroe denied. "In fact, I wager they have no idea. The Izumo Knights were only sent to deal with the Goblin King a few days after the event fails after a town is ransacked by goblins. Illya, do the Landers know if any villages have fallen?"
"Fortunately, no," Illya replied. "The merchants are very knowledgeable about what happens to the surrounding villages. Those are still habitable. However, closer to Eastal, they wouldn't know."
"Considering where Seven Falls is on the world map," Krusty added. "If there would be any villages or towns hit first, it would be some of the ones nearest to us. I think it is safe to say that the invasion has not begun, yet."
"So we wait until they attack a town and deal with them then?" Isaac asked.
"No, there would be no point. If we already know where the king resides, why not deal with him before he becomes too much of a problem?" Roderick posed, after being timidly silent for the entire meeting.
"The Capital, remember?" Illya sighed. "Just like Susukino, they'll take it the wrong way."
Shiroe was about to nod in agreement before he paused. "Excuse me."
He stood up and walked far enough that his voice wouldn't be heard. After a minute or two, he returned to the table, but he did not sit.
"It seems as if we have a… situation, at the gates."
"Darn, I slept in again," a certain Tohsaka muttered.
Shirou was busy at the forge, Taiga was mingling with the locals, and Lord El-Melloi II remained at their warehouse. They were all doing something relatively productive. Even Sakura had decided to visit the Bestiary to try and take care of her new pet.
The same couldn't be said of Rin, at the moment.
Her day started lazily, so she hadn't actually done anything yet. That would be quick to fix. She had leveled her Artificer subclass extremely quickly – her worrying methods aside – which meant she had neglected her research. The instantaneous gains from her subclass were a blinding distraction, but she knew that she couldn't put off the research forever.
"Ferlna, are you in?" Rin called out after seeing nobody at the register.
Wait, why did this world have a register in the first place?
"Lady Tohsaka?" Ferlna replied as she popped her head out of the back room. "Ah, perfect timing. I seem to require your assistance."
"With what?" Rin asked as she stepped further into the backroom. "Did an experiment of ours fail?"
"On the contrary, it seems to have succeeded."
Rin blinked as Ferlna held up a crystal that was equal parts red and green. It wasn't like a haphazard combination, but a complete fusion. Flecks of green could be seen within the red and vice-versa.
"So using adventurer blood as a binder managed to help us create a dual-elemental stone?" Rin asked as she held the shining crystal. "Have you tested the output of it yet?"
"Unfortunately, not yet," Ferlna admitted as she fumbled inside her long sleeves. "I was busy reading this letter I received a few minutes ago. The subject matter was concerning."
"Is it something we should be worried about?" Rin asked as she tested the crystal's durability. It seemed just as durable as a regular elemental stone but had twice the magical capacity. A success.
"Perhaps," Ferlna said as she tucked the letter away. "To summarize, I've been invited to showcase the results of our research, particularly the dual-casting of spells, refined method of spell-casting, and adventurer physiology and psychology. Do not worry, I've chosen to omit the frankly miraculous effects of the blood."
That was a relief. However, she supposed that neither of them wanted to be responsible for a hypothetical adventurer farm, even though the magus within her wanted one badly.
However, while it would solve the blood supply issue they would end up having, Illya and Lord El-Melloi II had a plan. They didn't want to leak any details yet, but they seemed fairly confident in the idea.
"What's the venue?" Rin asked as she set the stone down gently. "Maybe I can convince my guild master to let me tag along. It sounds like something I should see for myself."
"Magi Tohsaka was also invited," Ferlna added. Once again, Rin died a little on the inside at the butchering of the term magus. "It seems that the Sage of Miral Lake, in complete disregard to the other scholars, wishes to meet you."
"About time," Rin snorted. "It's been a whole month since I last sent that pseudo-familiar his way. I was starting to think that he forgot."
"If the Sage managed to forget… that, then I'd think he was unqualified for his position," Ferlna muttered. What Rin didn't know, was that Ferlna apparently thought that the creation of a brass-phoenix was just a vivid dream. The letter proved to be both a shocking reminder and a much-needed wake-up call. "Regardless, it would be disrespectful to deny his summons. Even I am unsure if he would send another invitation if we do."
"Was there a date mentioned?" Rin asked once more. "I'll probably need to prepare for a trip. Oh yeah, and get permission from everyone too. Maybe they can come along…?"
"If they do manage to accompany us, then that would be appreciated. The journey requires a few capable guards, at the very least," Ferlna said with a nod. "The venue will be at the Sage of Miral Lake's favored location, the Eternal Palace of Ice. It's a relatively neutral zone, which is perfect for all the various scholars that would surely appear. However…"
"We'd have to be mindful of who we're sharing the venue with. Or rather, who are allowing us to use the venue."
"And who exactly is letting the scholars use the venue?"
A situation at the gates… Illya didn't like the sound of that.
"Don't tell me those goblins decided to attack us first?" Roderick wearily laughed. "That'll be karmic."
"And horrible timing," Woodstock muttered. "That would make Brigandia try their hand at us sooner."
"Fortunately, no," the Villain-in-Glasses replied. "However, it is arguably worse. The Capital sent a messenger. He's outside the gates and requests to meet with the Round Table."
"A one-two-three combo, isn't it?" Calasin chuckled, but there was no mistaking the subtle sweat on his face. "Should we go meet them?"
"Not in a million years," Illya denied before the idiots made a fool of themselves. "They sent a messenger to us. If we went out to meet them, it would mean we respect their authority over Akihabara. That's not the message we want to send, especially if we want to be seen as equals to these Landers. Send someone to guide him and whoever he brought with him here."
The majority of the table looked to the Villain-in-Glasses, but he nodded because he knew what his ally said was true. "If we appear subservient, then the possibility exists that the Capital would order the people of Akihabara around, or demand our technological advancements."
"If they want one, then they better buy one!" Michitaka growled out. "I'm not giving the Ocypete to anyone!"
"We haven't even built it yet," Calasin sighed.
"Fine, I'll have one of my boys bring them up here," Isaac muttered as he opened his menu.
"Please tell them to be respectful," Shiroe advised. "I know we don't want to be seen as lesser, but we don't want to make them think that we think they're beneath our notice."
"This politic shit is really getting on my nerves," Isaac whined as he looked to be modifying his message. "Is everything in politics about appearance?"
"Yes, actually," Illya said. "It's like that in our old world too."
"It is a pain," Krusty admitted. "However, can you trust anyone else in this city to handle that burden?"
"Don't guilt-trip me into doing what I already planned to do!" Isaac berated before sighing. "Alright, they're bringing him in. Should take a few minutes."
"Then also tell your guild members that only two of his bodyguards are allowed in with us," Illya added. Not that any bodyguard would be able to do anything to them, but appearances. "We want to make it seem like we're wary of them. If we let them all in, then it'll be like we don't care."
"Were you fucking raised to do this shit back IRL?" Isaac complained once again as he sent another message. "No wonder this woman caged us before. Crazy ass–"
"Please don't finish that sentence. We need to appear united as well," Krusty added. "Speaking of which, Illya is not the only one with a politicking background."
"What, you too?" William added, but after he studied him for a bit, he shrugged. "You do look the part."
"Thank you, but it was less general politics and more family politics… which I suppose is similar enough," Krusty admitted. "I generally tried to stay out of my family's dealings, but I picked up on a few tips and tricks to know my way around."
"Lucky you," Isaac muttered as his eyes darted to a new message. "Oi, Villain-in-Glasses. They're outside the door. Should we stand or something?"
"I suggest that only Shiroe should stand," Illya said. "Unless you want the messenger to try and address you instead of him."
Like students avoiding going first in a presentation, they swiftly took a seat. Shiroe cast a light glower their way but kept a calm facade to greet their visitor. Typical, but Illya couldn't complain. It's not like she was standing with him anyway.
It wasn't because she felt lazy, promise.
The large ornate steel doors slowly opened and allowed three new people to walk in. Two others were waiting outside alongside the adventurers under Isaac's banner. They seemed wary, which was good. The messenger especially kept his head held high and focused on each guild-master. He finally focused his gaze on Shiroe, who remained standing with an unnoticeable frown on his face.
That hat though. Illya thought that magi dressed weirdly, but that hat looked like it was its own sunroof.
"I am a messenger of Sergiatte Cowen, High lord of Eastal's League of Free Cities! Are you the leader of the Round Table?" the messenger ceremonially inquired.
"I am," he said. Illya honestly thought she'd see at least one or two sour faces on the surrounding guild-masters, but they appeared to agree with the sentiment. Truly, they didn't want to even bother. "What business does the Capital have with Akihabara?"
The messenger cleared his throat and unfurled a large scroll, likely the written words of Sergiatte Cowen himself.
"Greetings to the Round Table Conference of Akihabara," the messenger relayed. "We of the Capital are pleased to see such a budding city take shape. However, we believe that remaining strangers to each other would be detrimental to future interactions. Therefore, by the goodwill of Sergiatte Cowen, the Round Table is invited to the Annual Conference of Lords as guests. The venue will be at the Ancient Court of Eternal Ice. Lord Sergiatte anticipates your arrival."
With that relatively short and straight-to-the-point message, the messenger tucked his scroll away and stood tall and proud. Well, as tall and proud as you can with a pillow on top of your head.
"I see," Shiroe started to process the message. "The Round Table appreciates the invitation, but we must deliberate on the matter. Perhaps you can wait outside?"
The messenger bowed shortly and walked out with his entourage. As soon as the doors shut, Shiroe returned to his seat and groaned. "Sometimes, I think you guys exist to spite me."
"Good job, Villain-in-Glasses!" Isaac cheered, which was followed by a series of sarcastic clapping. Of course, Illya clapped too. "Don't worry. Sure, you looked stiff as hell, but it looked professional and everything."
"Having someone as boorish as you say that means literally nothing," Illya teased, much to his chagrin. Serves him right. If he couldn't take being teased, then he shouldn't be teasing anyone. "That being said, this is just about what we were expecting."
"It is?" Eins muttered. "I had thought we were expecting to prepare for war?"
"Only highly militant countries would even consider that," Illya said. "Also, I doubt that Sergiatte Cowen would have enough power to do that."
"The lord of the most influential house in Eastal? Not enough power?" William snorted. "Are we looking at the same country?"
"You did notice how the messenger said we were going to be joining an annual meeting?" Illya hinted. "Even if he is the most influential, doing something as detrimental as attacking an adventurer city would easily ruin his reputation."
It wasn't like it was easy mobilizing a huge subjugation force anyway. Even adventurers needed at least a few days to prepare for a raid, so Illya imagined it would be the same for Landers, albeit longer due to the lack of long-distance messaging systems… Hmm, there was a thought.
"At the very least, I am glad that the Landers are seeking peace before war. I assume there are no qualms with accepting the offer?" Shiroe asked. At the lack of denials, the Strategist nodded. "Very well, all that's left is to decide which of us will go."
"True, we need to leave some of us here to manage the city," Krusty mused. "Well then, let us highlight the few who are required to go. Shiroe, as our elected spokesperson, I assume you have no qualms?"
Shiroe sighed, but not as inwardly as he would have liked. "As this coalition is my brainchild, it would inappropriate for me not to go… That being said, Illya is also required to go."
"As head of Lander relations, this falls under my responsibilities," Illya affirmed. "However, I trust you haven't forgotten, Shiroe? This isn't the only problem we're facing."
As faces around the table winced in realization, Illya sighed as well.
The potential conflict with the rogue city of Susukino.
The rise of the Goblin King.
And finally, the conference with the lords of Eastal.
"It's almost akin to a war on three fronts," Shiroe muttered. "However, that's only the worst-case scenario. Avoiding it should be relatively simple."
"Simple?" Krusty raised a brow.
"Relatively," Shiroe emphasized. He didn't want it to sound like it was anything close to simple. However, their next steps sort of were. "This conference with the lords is one of our priorities, but there's not really a time limit. We can afford to tip-toe around each other for at least a little while."
"Is that wise?" William criticized. "Should we allow these Landers to worry too long, they might risk war. We all know that regardless of our offensive capabilities, not everyone in Akihabara is willing to actually fight for it."
Rather, it was more likely that these players would see the entire thing as a hassle and try to leave the city. Considering they were trying to make a haven for adventurers, that was an outcome to be avoided.
"We aren't making them wait," Shiroe corrected. "The soonest they expect us to do anything would be during the conference. If we take any action before the delegations, then it would only be seen as potential hostile instigation."
"So we're supposed to let Brigandia do what they want until we get their permission?" William sneered. "Do we really need to lower ourselves that far?"
"We won't need their permission. That is if we play our cards right," Illya decided to correct with an irate look. "While we are worried about confrontation with Brigandia, the Landers themselves see them as a large threat. If we make it seem like we don't care, then they'll be practically begging for us to deal with them."
"The same would go for the goblin king subjugation, or am I wrong?" Calasin added. Although, Illya was surprised he caught onto that. "That being said, handling both at the same time is a bit outside of our expertise."
"So we just deal with the goblins first!" Isaac declared in a moment of perceived genius.
"Then Brigandia will be emboldened to attack us," Krusty surmised as he turned to Shiroe. "This solution doesn't seem as simple as you make it out to be."
"Diplomatically, it is simple, if we can ensure the Landers do not interfere with the subjugation operations," Shiroe declared. "However, the execution is another matter entirely. That, I will admit."
"But we should really reply to that messenger soon," Roderick muttered as his eyes flickered to the door. "It might seem rude to allow the man to wait outside for any longer."
"On the contrary, that messenger likely expected this," Illya said. "I'm sure this isn't the first time a messenger had to wait an hour or two for a reply, but that brings up a topic we seemingly forgot to conclude. While my person and Shiroe are required to attend the conference, what about the others? We will need at least one representative for each facet of adventurer… culture."
It felt off to call what amounted to the societal MMORPG meta-game as culture, but it strangely fit.
"One of the combat guilds, one of the merchant guilds, and one to represent the lesser guilds," Marielle counted.
"For the combat guilds, I elect the crusty glasses over here," Isaac said. "The guy says he knows his way around this politic stuff, so he's the ideal choice."
"Finally, something smart out of you for a change," Woodstock muttered. "I suppose that means one of us, smaller guild representative, will have to go too."
"There's no way in hell you're going anywhere though," Isaac sneered. "If you couldn't handle me, then how could you handle a bunch of noble Landers?"
"As aggravating as he is, he brings up a point," Ichimonjinosuke spoke up, likely to prevent another squabble between the two. "However, I wouldn't elect myself either. As saddening as it is, I am not the most well-spoken. I'd likely find myself stammering like a fool."
"Weren't you a YouTuber or something IRL?" Isaac pointed out.
"A camera and real nobles are very different things!"
"But if not you, and the Villain is already going, then that just leaves…" Isaac continued as his eyes trailed to the last representative of the smaller guilds.
"No. No, no, no, impossible!" Marielle denied. "Absolutely no! There's no way I'm going!"
"I agree," Shiroe muttered with a sigh. "I can easily say, after knowing Marielle for so long, that she isn't suited for the role."
Said guild master was nodding her head enthusiastically at the decision.
"We're going to need one of them to go and do it," William scoffed. "Unless you have other bright ideas?"
"Yes. In fact, I do," the villain-in-glasses smiled. "Marielle might not be suitable, but her adjutant is another matter entirely."
"Ann– er, did you mean Henrietta?" she asked. "She does look the part… I'll message her and see what she thinks."
"Much appreciated," Shiroe thanked. "Now, for the merchant guilds…"
Illya blinked as all of them got up from their chairs and faced each other.
"Damn it…!" Michitaka cried into his chair. "My Ocypete… I wanted to be there for its completion!"
"Idiots," Illya sighed. At the very least, the matter was settled quickly. "Any reply yet, Marielle?"
"She says yes," she replied. "But she wants some kind of compensation. She also said that Shiroe would know what kind?"
"Tell her that I'll give her an hour," Shiroe gave his enigmatically swift reply.
"That was quick– huh? She's onboard?" Marielle muttered. "How in the world…?"
"Do you have some kind of blackmail on the poor girl?" Calasin muttered.
If he did, Illya would be impressed, not that she could judge. Blackmail was simply one of many tools a magus like her could use.
"Not at all," the villain-in-glasses replied. "However, let's just say I know where her interests lie and leave it at that."
Illya rolled her eyes mentally and coughed for attention. "I assume this is everything? Do we have to go over the plans?"
"It's less of a solid plan and more of a framework," Krusty commented. "By the way, should we also bring whoever we want? As an escort. I doubt our members wish for us to embark alone."
"Very well. One or two additional persons shouldn't be too much," Shiroe agreed. "I assume you will be bringing one of your Drei-Klauen?"
Drei-Klauen? Three claws? Illya thought that D.D.D. was controlled by Krusty and his two seconds-in-command. Did that mean Krusty also counted as a Drei-Klauen or was there a third remaining out of sight?
"Yes, Takayama Misa seems the most logical. Rieze is, while reliable, a bit too young to take on the weight of this journey," Krusty admitted as he talked about his trusted members.
Speaking of members…
Illya closed her eyes in thought. Ideally, she'd bring the entirety of her guild, but she knew that was a selfish decision, and not every member of her family would want to go. If she had to pick two, Lord El-Melloi II is a definite pick. She supposed Rin was also a viable pick due to her upbringing, but she was low-leveled and Illya wanted her to gain some more with the other members.
She sighed. There were no other options. It would seem that they'd need to go on an impromptu leveling trip today, perhaps for the entirety of tomorrow, or until a few days before the trip to the Eternal Palace of Ice.
"I suppose I'll be bringing two of my own members then," Illya said. "ConquerorsAdvisor has experience in politics and T0hsaka was practically raised for it."
That, and she'd bring Krentelfal as hidden reassurance. For a proud knight, his stealth skills were certainly good enough to be of use.
"That is certainly reassuring," Shiroe smiled. "Invite the messenger back in. I'll tell him that we agree to attend."
The rest of the meeting went swiftly. Not long after their reply was relayed, the messenger took the opportunity to leave. Fortunately, it seemed that he saw their demands as reasonable and didn't make a fuss. Or perhaps he was capable of hiding his emotions well enough.
Either way, the following week was going to be… incredibly frustrating.
The sooner they leveled up, the better.
Next Chapter: Late April
A/N: Barely made it in time (not sure about my other story though).
So as you can see, this chapter was basically just a lead-in to the next arc. It introduces the main stakes, the pieces on the board, and the plot points moving forward. I know there's a short week before the Round Table actually departs to the conference, so it's going to be a dungeon crawl chapter, alongside some povs from characters other than the Emiya Family. This is mainly to set up future plot points though.
In other news, Melty Blood gets a new fighting game. I never got into the previous one (due to not having a wired connection) so hopefully this one I can devote some time to. You know, once it gets a PC port. Tsukihime is getting a lot of love this year, and maybe we'll even get an FGO event to complement the new VN's release.
Speaking of FGO, the Akihabara event (coincidence? I THINK NOT) is kinda fun. Although, I know that I can literally keep playing the event nonstop because I have a metric-fuck-ton of Servants, so I'm keeping a slow but steady pace. I'm up to floor... 151 as I'm writing this. It shouldn't take long for me to complete. Also, idol costumes for numerous Servants, most of which I seem to have so far, so that's going to be fun. Hololive's influence grows every day MonkaW. Also, the free event Servant MHXXA was announced. Another Saber face for my collection, praise be to Nasu.
But yeah, that's all for now. Let me know if I left a grammatical error in here somewhere, or any plot errors, because Mr. Beta and I aren't all-powerful and all-seeing to notice them.
EDIT: I forgot the parting words.
Until next time,
A/N 2: Multiple people pointed out the Translation Error for Drei-Klauen, the first of which was a guest going by the name 'LP'. This was my bad, but it should be fixed now.
A/N 3: You did not notice the retcon. You did not notice the retcon that fixed a continuity issue. You didn't.
Fun Fact: The third member of D.D.D.'s Drei-Klauen, Kushiyatama, has her own side story called 'Kushiyatama, Do Your Best!' It was originally fanfiction called 'Into a Remote Town' before Log Horizon's author decided to make it canon. Pretty poggers not gonna lie. I feel like it'd be criminal to not use her in some way, but I'll have to see if it can fit into the plot I have in mind.