The 10 meritorious retainers back at the meeting point were agitated.
“Why is he so late?”
“Did something happen?”
“I can’t get in touch with him.”
It was 15 minutes past the promised meeting time yet Grid still hadn’t returned. Of course, Grid was much stronger than them. A crisis for them would be a small problem for Grid. Still, as his friends, they couldn’t help worrying.
“He will be fine. According to Lauel, the waterfront is safe,” Jishuka tried to reassure her colleagues, but she was visibly anxious. The Ruins of the War God were still unknown. No one knew what dangers were lurking. The atmosphere became increasingly darker.
Then Lauel got a shock, and Faker raised his eyebrows. They detected three monstrous presences with their developed senses. It was a presence that emanated without any concealment. It seemed to be showing off, roaring at the world with no fear. These beings...
“Huh?” Jishuka’s eyes caught sight of a huge rock and beast. No, they weren’t rocks and beasts. Looking closely, they were both beasts.
“Prepare for battle,” Lauel ordered. Faker was already hiding in the shadows. The 10 meritorious retainers noticed the situation and pulled out their weapons in unison. Euphemina, who never fought throughout the sea voyage to preserve her duplicated skills, also activated her orb’s magic.
[You have discovered a strong person of this era!]
[You are overwhelmed.]
[You can’t move, and all stats are reduced slightly.]
They were terrible notification windows. Large footprints were left on the sandy beach. They were the footprints of a two-headed hippo and a sharvel tiger. The body of the two-headed hippo was tightly packed with muscles and looked like a mountain. Meanwhile, the canines of the tiger were long and sharp like knives. They seemed like they could kill a person by skewering them.
The 10 meritorious retainers froze like stone statues. They looked up at the beasts without even being able to gulp. Two men and a woman could be seen. The back of the tiger carried a man who gave off a rebellious impression and a beautiful woman with a golden crown, while the two-headed hippo had a middle-aged man with tranquil eyes. The names were marked as Beast King Morse, Gold Crown Basara, and Immortal King Grenhal, and they were shimmering with gold.
Lauel muttered, “Dukes...”
This was the majesty of the true absolutes. Lauel and the 10 meritorious retainers were troubled just by making eye contact with Grenhal. The latent power in his eyes reminded them of the night before a storm, making them afraid. They were enemies who had to be crossed one day. However, currently, it was so hopeless that Lauel and the 10 meritorious retainers didn’t even dare to fight.
“The moment the status effect is over, get on the ship and run away.” The only one unaffected was Yura, who stepped forward. She was also a legend. Although she was still weak compared to the previous generation, she didn’t shrink back in front of the powerful enemy.
A white armor summoned by the jade magic power wrapped around Yura’s thin body. It was a class specific item, Demon Predator, which she had earned as a hidden piece from hell. The armor had a vicious name that was different from its beautiful appearance. It was only unique rated, but its performance exceeded legendary rated armor. Alex’s Magic Engineering Bayonet, which had been made by Pagma, turned into a sword. It was a perfect battle stance.
Yura was upset because she judged that Grid had already been hit by the dukes, but she didn’t forget to protect her colleagues. She tried to calm down and was determined to buy them time.
Morse made an invidious remark, “Where are you running away to?”
It was a frivolous tone that was hard to believe came from a duke of the empire. Morse’s gaze shifted to Grenhal. To be exact, it was to someone behind Grenhal. The 10 meritorious retainers followed his gaze and were astonished. It was because Grid was sitting behind Grenhal. Grid looked pale.
“Damn scum!” Jishuka raised her eyes and swore.
She wanted to fire her bow, but she still couldn’t lift her finger. Her overall status resistance was approaching 30%, but the rate of recovery from the abnormal status was slower than expected.
“Daring to hold my man captive?!”
There was no time for Grid to shout about why he was her man. Beyond Jishuka, the angry Yura was already leaping forward. She jumped and stabbed her sword toward Grenhal on the two-headed hippo. Grenhal didn’t even bother taking out a shield. He stopped Yura’s attack using his gauntlets and rotated his wrist to grab Yura’s blade.
“...!” Yura bit her lips. By the time she felt the grip that she couldn’t resist, her body was already flying through the air. Yura was thrown onto the sand. There was a despairing gap in power between them. Yura’s obsidian eyes were shaking, but she quickly recovered from her confusion and got up again. Then it happened the moment she was going to use Hell Leap to save Grid...
“W-Wait a minute! Wait! Calm down!” Grid jumped down from the two-headed hippo. His body was free despite being a prisoner. His pale complexion was restored to its original state. No injuries could be seen.
“Ugh, I feel sick,” Grid grumbled. Riding on the hippo was the worst because he had felt like he had been on a roller coaster the entire time. He should’ve stuck to walking instead of riding on this beast’s back...
Grid judged Grenhal inwardly while making introductions to his colleagues, “As you know, they are dukes of the empire. They will be our colleagues while exploring the ruins.”
The 10 meritorious retainers doubted their ears. There had been countless surprises during their time with Grid, but this had the biggest impact. In this short time, he managed to ally with the dukes who were their enemies...?
Lauel’s eyes widened and he muttered, “A human magnet...”
From Piaro, Asmophel, Bland, Sticks, the people of the East Continent to Mercedes, and the dukes—Grid picked up people wherever he went. Lauel applauded silently.
“This type of thing...” Skunk’s eyes flashed as he heard the news from Dog Woman. The followers started to appear on the coast, and the dukes who went to get water hadn’t returned. He’d felt uneasy, but then the Aura Master appeared. Hurent had even helped Dog Woman’s party.
‘He is full of justice. In the worst case, we can depend on him.’
Without strength, they couldn’t explore the Ruins of the War God or cross the Red Sea. If something went wrong with the dukes, Skunk’s group would be trapped in the ruins and could only wait for death. However, there was hope if they could get help from the Aura Master. It wasn’t bad for the Aura Master who needed their exploration skills.
‘Still, that is in the worst case scenario. I should believe that the dukes would return safely.’
Skunk’s thoughts were complicated. There was no need to worry about things that hadn’t occurred yet when he should be focused on finding the location of the key pieces.
‘It won’t be long now.’
There were clues that couldn’t be solved even with advanced archaeological and deciphering skills. Although there were too many unanswered questions about the ruins, things were gradually becoming better. After consulting the old books in his inventory, Skunk eventually found some answers.
A job that should’ve taken decades was performed in a few days while losing sleep. The saying ‘worked hard enough to shed blood’ might be a bit exaggerated, but he was approaching the whereabouts of the key pieces. There was still a problem with the saying, but it was sufficient to use it. Then it happened while he was focused on deciphering.
“The dukes have returned!” Dog Woman shouted, smiling brightly as she rushed over. The inwardly worried Skunk jumped from his seat and ran out of the barracks. The soldiers’ shouts were heard from everywhere. There was a pile of drinking water in front of them.
Skunk approached the dukes and greeted them, “I’m glad you returned safely.”
“You must’ve been worried.”
“I know your strength, but the jungle is extremely dangerous. I was worried the traps would grab your ankles.”
“The traps have already been solved.”
“...?” Skunk couldn’t react to the sudden words. He reflexively checked his ears.
Grenhal’s words continued, “This person of distinction has already obtained the key.”
“...?” The words still couldn’t be understood. Skunk couldn’t figure it out and doubted that Grenhal’s words about ‘traps’ and ‘key’ meant the ‘traps’ and ‘key’ he was thinking of. He didn’t know how to react as Grenhal introduced a person to him, “The Overgeared King.”
“...!?” Skunk finally responded properly. After Grenhal’s introduction, he saw a man with black hair and a familiar face.
“P-Person of distinction?”
The traps were resolved. The key was obtained.
Skunk finally started to accept Duke Grenhal’s absurd words. Grabbing Grid’s hand, Skunk honestly admired him. “I arrived first and haven’t obtained a single key piece. It is surprising that Grid has already completed the key. It is truly amazing. I see you have great exploration skills.”
He had learned from the Sword Grave that Grid’s eyes and ears were likely to be scattered all over the continent. Grid’s talents according to the situation were unfathomable. Even the Aura Master, who was known for his retirement, wasn’t near Grid at the moment.
‘I didn’t think Hurent’s party would be the Overgeared Guild... Many explorer rankers must’ve already been hired by Grid.’
Skunk hadn’t been able to find the key pieces himself, but it wasn’t strange for Grid to have completed it if several equally powerful people had joined forces. There were many talented people in the world.
‘I wonder who they are.’
Skunk asked carefully, “Are you able to introduce them to me?”
“The other explorers who gathered the key pieces.”
“There are no other explorers...?”
“Then how did you get the key?”
“I had the key to begin with.”
The conversation was a bit weird. Skunk was confused! He was shocked. Come to think of it, weren’t the Overgeared Kingdom and the empire at war? Yes, Grid and the dukes were hostile to each other. Yet now they were now together so naturally. Additionally, Grid didn’t seem to know what the key was exactly. If he knew, he wouldn’t give the impossible answer that he had it to begin with.
Skunk became heated up. ‘He used a trick to deceive and approach the dukes!’
What did he use to completely fool the dukes? There must’ve been a battle that he couldn’t imagine.
‘Definitely... He is definitely a wise and careful person...!’ Skunk’s eyes shone brightly like lanterns as he watched Grid.
He didn’t think there would be a day when he sincerely respected someone younger than him. It was refreshing. It was shocking. It was exciting.
On this day...
“Grid, what is your hobby? What do you generally enjoy when you're not playing the game? What is your birthday? Your blood type? Your family relationships?” The highly inquisitive Skunk bombarded Grid with questions.
Skunk felt a great liking toward the person called Grid.
‘This guy is crazy about socializing.’ Grid was feeling baffled.
Meanwhile, Lauel was delighted. ‘Human magnet! Well done!!’