Finding a person inside the castle is no trouble with the ring of Mitsuki.
I once again felt how fearsome search items are as I found the knight captain Spark Hawk-san and spoke to him.
Spark Hawk turned back with elegant movements and long hair fluttering which stands out even from afar.
“Oh? And here I was wondering who it was. If it isn’t the Hero-dono—” (Hawk)
“I am sorry! There’s something I would like to ask. Is that okay?” (Souma)
I felt bad doing this in our first meeting, but I went for the meat of the matter immediately.
“O-Okay, I don’t really mind. But if it is something too complicated…” (Hawk)
“It is a simple question that can be answered with a yes or no.” (Souma)
“That’s great then. What is it?” (Hawk)
It seems like he was surprised by the sudden situation, but as expected of the knight captain-sama, he agreed with a refreshing answer.
I don’t want to be close to Leila for long, and I would feel bad for taking too much time away from this person.
I took out the Seal Neko Master Swordsman Medal out and a feather pen, and said this in one breath.
“Spark Hawk-san, you have seen a crest with a similar form before, moreover, you have been requested assistance by the owner of this crest, but you are so busy you can’t go, so you thought that it would be fine to pass the letter onto the knight you trust who you have told the password ‘wild rose’ to, and sent that person to the proprietor, but the high quality feather pen you always use has broken, so you wanted to buy a new one at the item shop, right?” (Souma)
The answer of Spark Hawk-san was obviously yes.
He went ‘so this is the Hero-dono that defeated even the Demon Lord, huh’ as he properly wrote the letter while drawing cold sweat.
“Good grief. Why is it that you can’t act normal?” (Mitsuki)
Mitsuki was baffled at the back, but I would like you to spare me on this one.
I myself am aware that I am doing a pretty forceful shortcut here.
But this current situation where I am bringing along 4 girls would lead me straight to death if it were to be found out by Leila.
Just thinking about when Leila will notice this puts me on edge.
After receiving the letter, we gave our thanks to a decent degree, and left the castle quickly.
We head to the outside of the city just like that and explain the situation to our comrades.
“The quest we are about to do is a quest to obtain a required item for the Sealed Dungeon where the fragment of the Evil God is sealed at.” (Souma)
It is not like all games end once you defeat the last boss.
You could even say that, in RPGs, it is more often than not that there will be extra content that’s harder than the last dungeon. Basically a hidden dungeon for the avid gamers.
This obviously also exists in Nekomimi Neko which is one of the recent RPGs.
The Hidden Dungeon: the Sealed Magic Dungeon.
It is a dungeon that is underground of the Sealed Lands that are close to Lamurick, and it is an extra dungeon for after you clear Nekomimi Neko.
But this created a new legend in Nekomimi Neko.
Even after several months, there wasn’t a single person from the group that cleared the game the fastest who had entered this secret dungeon.
The first obstacle was the severe lack of information.
Not even the entrance of the Sealed Magic Dungeon had been found after around 3 days since people who cleared the game began appearing.
It was only after the very few testimonies from NPCs that players learned you have to interact with the relief of the Evil God at the Sealed Lands after clearing the game in order to open the path. But you can’t reach the Sealed Magic Dungeon with just that alone.
There’s a big door with 10 openings underground (by the way, there’s the Master Torches at both sides of that door), and it wouldn’t open unless you place the correct items in them.
It is a warp door, so you can’t use Infinite Mirage Prison to jump it, so you could only go through it the normal way.
Fortunately, one of the items necessary to open that door had been discovered soon after.
The Sunshine Pyroxene, which is the drop item of the Demon Lord, fits right into the circular hole at the center of the door.
The problem is the 9 holes in the surroundings.
Judging from the size of the holes, it was discovered that the Sealed Neko Master Swordsman Medal you get in the conferral of honors event was one of them, so it was now clear that you have to use crest type items, but there wasn’t any player who had gathered 9 crests at that point in time.
Nekomimi Neko has a massive repertoire of items, and there’s also a lot of them that are completely useless, so the items that you don’t know its use of are naturally going to be lower in the priority list.
Even if you wanted to begin gathering things now, at that time, if you were to leave items on the field -even if they were valuable- they would easily disappear, and there was even an event where you had to choose between the crest or a different item, so there were many cases where it would be impossible to collect all the crests once you cleared the game.
However, there’s no way the guys that stayed with Nekomimi Neko for so long would falter at just this degree of adversity.
The fastest players had gathered 9 crests by 4 days of having found the entrance of the dungeon.
—But even when they set all of them up, the door didn’t open.
They thought at first that that was fake, but players who gathered the same crests began uploading videos of them setting the items in the holes and the suspicions were cleared.
And then, someone on the net said: “Could it be that the position of the crests is wrong?”
That was a shocking statement.
It is not because it was wrong.
It is because it sounded right that everyone was speechless.
You might think it is simple to place only 9 crests in the correct place, but they are all shaped the same way, and they are 9 in total.
The amount of combinations is the factorial of 9.
In other words, 362,880 combinations.
It goes over the amount of combinations that you can just place randomly and get the right answer.
Learning about this, the Nekomimi Neko players desperately searched for hints.
The places where the crests were obtained at, places where there might be a connection with the Evil God, knowledgeable people, books that might have a connection; every single thing that might lead to something.
…However, there was no information regarding the order of the crests.
There was someone who even went directly to the company as a last resort to ask about this.
But, at that time, the reception window was on the verge of bursting due to the bug reports and complaints that were pushing hard.
A trivial matter like not being able to enter a hidden dungeon which couldn’t be called a bug…there’s no way the company would pay any mind to it.
And then, 1 week passed without any progress and…
They finally steeled themselves for a despairing fight.
—A round-robin of switching crests.
A total of 360,000 combinations with only a little over 10 who had completed the game at that time.
They didn’t falter even in the face of a difference of more than the tens of thousands.
They first arranged their personal numbers, and made it so that their combinations would be 9 numbers.
They then made a thread in the bulletin board for the sole sake of exchanging info, and would do extremely thorough division of work.
On top of that, volunteers would then update the progress on an exclusive page in the Wiki using that info to make sure there’s no duplicates.
Many Nekomimi Neko players would watch these guys changing the crests single-mindedly over and over, and called them Lockpickers with respect and admiration.
In the frontlines of the bulletin board, the Lockpickers would go: ‘341256789-341598762 were misses. Take over’, ‘Taking over. Leave the 3416 deviations to me’, and ‘From what I see in the Wiki, the 791 series, 7913 to 7915 have holes, so can someone do those?’, ‘Reserving until 791386542’, ‘Can’t be helped. I will do 7914 to 7915’, and ‘563 derivations are all done!!’, ‘W-What?! You conquered the 3 digit numbers on your own?!!’, ‘That’s my way of life!! Praise me!! Worship me!!’, ‘Thanks! With this, we can fight for 1 more yea—no, I wouldn’t want to do this for one more year’. And so, it was lively with a whole lot of conversations that your average person wouldn’t understand at all.
By the way, I wasn’t in the team of the fastest, but I caught up in the middle, and joined in as one of the Lockpickers.
I took around 2 weeks and crushed 8491 to 8496 alone which I am a bit proud of.
And then, after around 4 weeks since this all began…there was this post in the bulletin board.
“I did it! It opened! It opened! It opened! 796285341! It is 796285341!”
It was the historical moment where the tenacity of the Lockpickers had broken through the unreasonableness of Nekomimi Neko.
All the players that participated in this lockpicking were elated by this, and smiles showed in the faces of all Nekomimi Neko players as if that happiness spread.
Even the controversial heroine debate between the Shermia Faction and the Mitsuki Faction, that are said to never see each other in the eye even if racism were to disappear from the world, had forgotten about their differences at this happy news, and we were all in a festive mood.
This grand discovery united the hearts of all Nekomimi Neko players around the world into one!!
“And in this way, they entered the hidden dungeon with great delight and…were massacred by the Hidden Slime that looks completely the same as a Stray Slime. Even that is a good memory now……Hm? What were we talking about again?” (Souma)
I tilted my head and the cold gazes of my comrades stabbed me.
“R-Right, that! The quest we are about to be undertaking! Yeah, I remember, I remember! It is okay!” (Souma)
I hurriedly tried to play it off.
Ina passed the point of being baffled and let out a sad voice, and this flustered me more.
The tendency was there since long before, but after the Fake Prince Charming operation, I feel like the gazes of Mitsuki and the others have been getting more painful lately.
It is as if they are looking at a hopeless guy from the bottom of their hearts, or as if they were looking at the weirdest guy in the world.
In order for my comrades to also learn about my self-evaluation of being the most sane of all Nekomimi Neko players, I feel like I should show them my normal side here, or things might turn bad.
“A-Anyways, the quest we are about to do will get us 1 of the 9 crests.” (Souma)
You only get the Sunshine Pyroxene and Sealed Neko Master Swordsman Medal after clearing the game, but most of the other crests can be obtained from mid game and onwards.
This Aken Family Ring is also one of those crests. Because this quest begins once you show 1 of the 9 crests to Spark Hawk, it isn’t impossible to begin the quest right after arriving at the capital at the earliest.
“That’s why this quest is made in a way that even low level characters can clear it, and there’s no battle in the first place. But once we arrive at the residence, it is safe to assume an event will begin immediately…in other words, an incident.
Because of this, please be prepared to not be able to leave the Aken residence for a while.” (Souma)
I looked at everyone for confirmation, and there wasn’t anyone who said they wanted to go back.
I am thankful for that.
Maki asked me while I was sinking within those thoughts.
“Speaking of which, you were talking about mystery novels and stuff like that before, right? Then, putting it in a smart guy way, it would be a closed circle**?!” (Maki) <TLN: It refers to a situation in which for a given crime (usually a murder), there is a quickly established, limited number of suspects, each with credible means, motive, and opportunity.>
Leaving aside whether it sounds intelligent, I listened to the words of Maki and…
“…Well, yeah.” (Souma)
“Fumu, a closed circle…huh.” (Sazan)
Me and, for some reason, Sazan reacted and nodded.
I don’t know what Maki imagined from there, but she began talking rapidly which is uncharacteristic of her.
“T-Then, it is that! A suspicious western-style house covered in ivy. A bridge that collapsed from a clearly suspicious accident. The dodgy bespectacled mistress laughing bewitchingly. Twins that you can’t tell the difference aside from their hair. A butler whose tone is so gentle that it instead makes their japanese weird. A maid so beautiful it instead makes you suspect her relationship with the lord of the residence. And then, the lord of the household who is wearing a suspicious mask!!” (Maki)
Maki let her imagination run wild.
“There’s way too many suspicious people!” (Souma)
“Y-You idiot! I already filled the role of the masked one!!” (Sazan)
Sazan and I retorted once again.
“I see. Sorry, Sazan-chan.” (Maki)
“Don’t add -chan to me!” (Sazan)
Maki only apologized to Sazan for some reason, and Sazan got even more enraged.
Leaving that aside, let’s continue explaining.
“It is true that we would be isolated, but it is not because of a blizzard or a bridge, but because of magic.” (Souma)
“Speaking of which, the Aken family… It is barrier magic, right?” (Mitsuki)
I nod my head at the conclusion of Mitsuki, who is knowledgeable of the families.
“Yeah. The people of the Aken family have the setting…no, a history of them specializing in barrier magic for generations.
Not only you won’t be able to go in or out from the mansion. There’s a ring there protected by barrier magic.
The quest this time is to please protect that ring since there was an advance notice that there will be a theft.” (Souma)
The moment I said that, Maki tilted forward.
“I actually read quite a lot of mystery novels! It means we are going to be the detectives here, right?! Uuh! My hands are itching!” (Maki)
Mitsuki’s cat ears also flap and show fighting spirit as if stirred by the excited Maki.
“If we are going to be searching for the culprit, it would be the turn for my Explorer Ring to shine. If we have a grasp of everyone’s location, it would be impossible to escape without me noticing. I personally pity the culprit.” (Mitsuki)
Ina and Sazan also speak as if chiming in.
“I-I also was good at finding the hidden sweets of mom!” (Ina)
“Hmph. No one can escape from my Evil Eye!” (Sazan)
It seems like even the Bear showed its hand out from inside the bag probably because it didn’t want to be left out.
Everyone is pretty hyped up here.
There’s little in terms of a reward if the culprit is caught beforehand, so I planned on intentionally having them succeed in stealing it, and then cheat them out from the event item while getting the favor of the lord of the mansion, but I will read the room here and not say it.
Leaving aside the fact that I know the truth of this, it would be better for everyone else to challenge this without knowing about it. That way, there won’t be unnecessary suspicions on us.
“…Souma…are you okay?” (Ringo)
Ringo rubbed my back, worried about me breaking out in a cold sweat on my own here, but her kindness is a bit painful right now.
And then, after 20 minutes of high tension marchwe safely arrived at the Aken residence, and we were safely trapped in it.