In the inner courtyard of the Hà Giang Empire―――
Dos stands still, watching the unfolding scene before him intently.
Right before his eyes, the emperor of the nation and his guard are locked in fierce combat.
Silently, he suppresses his magic and presence, observing the two from the shadows.
When it comes to concealing his presence, Dos is unmatched even within the dungeon.
After all, he’s learned the art of stealth from Othel, the Shadow Wraith.
Thanks to this, he can observe the progression of the battle without being detected by the two.
From what he’s gathered so far, it seems that the adventurer—Linwu—is being controlled by someone.
It might be because of this, but the emperor’s movements are noticeably sluggish.
His steps are hesitant, and his swordplay lacks precision.
The emperor might brag and say, “I am calm!” But deep down, Dos suspects he’s greatly disturbed, thinking a long-time “friend” (sarcastically speaking) is being controlled.
He’s nowhere near his usual skill level.
Such a show-off.
That’s why Dos doesn’t step in just yet.
If he does intervene, he’ll wait for the most opportune moment.
Elibel had once told him,
―――Listen, Dos. If you’re going to interfere in someone’s battle to gain a favor, timing is everything. Jump in when it’s most critical and force them to owe you big time!
Elibel herself had brilliantly used her skills and intelligence to almost brainwash the Sweet Holy Dragon (sarcastically speaking) into an ally.
Such a masterful move.
And so, Dos plans to follow her lead.
After all, the emperor of this country would be a valuable ally.
Having him owe a favor could be beneficial.
If played right, after the Continental Congress, it might give the dungeon a more advantageous position.
And just maybe, it could work in favor of what Léna-Lloyd had mentioned earlier.
Either way, it would be beneficial to have the emperor owe him big time.
As these thoughts run through his mind, the man controlling Linwu—Joker—makes his move.
Oh, that strike looks deadly.
The emperor doesn’t seem to be able to evade it.
―――This is it!
What a perfect moment.
It feels as though the gods themselves have set up this situation.
Dos quickly infuses his hand with magic.
That strike looks formidable; he must be cautious.
Without hesitation, Dos bursts forth from the bushes.
A crisp sound rings out in the courtyard.
Linwu—or should I say Joker—wears a look of surprise.
His voice tinged with irritation.
Increased caution towards the one who effortlessly blocked his powerful strike.
But Dos remains silent.
He turns his head slightly to look behind.
The emperor stares at him in bewilderment.
Yes, that’s the look.
Remember the one who saved you.
And he asks,
「Who… are you?」
Dos has made quite an impression.
Internally celebrating with a triumphant pose, Dos finally speaks,
「…are you okay?」
With that, Dos inserts himself into the battlefield, armed with ulterior motives.
By the way… only Dos knows the secret that his hand, which blocked the attack, actually hurts quite a bit.
―――Who are you?
Kagrias demands, then realizes he recognizes the face in front of him.
A gender-neutral beauty, hard to determine as male or female.
Eyes that are cold, emotionless.
During the Continental Congress, this person had been the adventurer tensely standing behind the Holy Kingdom’s delegation.
Kagrias had been quite impressed by how serious and dedicated the individual seemed.
「Are you… the ‘Gale’ from the Holy Kingdom?」
Kagrias asks, seeking confirmation.
Dos nods in agreement.
「…I heard a strange noise in the courtyard and got curious. I came here and saw you in danger, so I helped」
Dos briefly explains the situation.
Of course, that’s not the whole truth.
He’s been watching from a distance, waiting for the right moment to step in.
「I see… I’m grateful.」
「…I’ll join the fight too.」
Says Dos, stepping in front of Kagrias.
However, Kagrias shakes his head,
「The one over there is my friend. Apparently, he’s being controlled by someone called Joker. I’m sorry, but… I can’t kill him.」
It’s not that he can’t kill him, he probably just doesn’t want to, Dos thought.
This emperor seems to have a soft spot for his loved ones.
Dos can relate to that.
He’s always had a soft spot for those he considers family.
People like that, he thinks, are the ones you can benefit the most from, especially when it comes to dungeons.
Perhaps, he can lend them money at a high interest rate later on.
Then, Dos takes another look at Linwu— or rather, Joker.
He activates his magic sense.
Seeing Joker upfront, he can clearly sense the magical power.
It’s like a pure paint color forcefully mixed with another.
And that mixed-in color is absolutely disgusting.
He feels nauseous.
It’s as if a beautiful, clear silver color is mixed with a muddied, filthy hue.
「…there’s some weird magic mixed in.」
「You can sense it?」
Kagrias seems surprised by this, but for Dos, such sensing is just a normal skill.
Born with talent and physical prowess, and never neglecting his daily training, such a feat is a piece of cake.
If you can’t even handle this, what good are you?
Dos also got a read on his skills.
With a clap! Dos slaps his hands together, emitting a wave of magical energy that grazes Joker.
「『Well… you’ve got quite the magic, huh…』」
Joker finally takes a clear look at the new intruder.
「『With such a gender-neutral appearance and that unique, indistinct way of speaking… Are you the ‘Gale’ from the Holy Kingdom? I’ve heard you’re pretty skilled. Think you can handle me?』」
「…shouldn’t be a problem.」
Dos gets into a fighting stance and slowly steps forward.
In an instant, Dos quietly moves right in front of Joker, whose eyes widen in disbelief.
Impossible! When did he move?
Joker has never taken his eyes off Dos, yet, out of nowhere, Dos has suddenly “teleported” right in front of him.
「…you’re wide open. ‘Wind Palm Barrage’!」
A combination of martial arts and magic, Dos’s attack fiercely strikes the unprepared Joker in the stomach.
Retreating from the force, Joker tries to regain his footing.
Dos doesn’t let up and launches another attack.
「『You won’t hit me that easily again! You took me by surprise the first time, but now―――』」
The instant Joker says that,
Again, Dos disappears for a moment and reappears right in front of him.
It’s an unbelievable phenomenon.
「『…Wha-what’s that technique…!? How are you suddenly right in front of me!?』」
A voice filled with both surprise and irritation.
Of course, Dos doesn’t reply.
Who in their right mind would give information to an enemy?
「…’Wind Palm Assault!’!」
A flurry of hits.
They fiercely crash into Joker’s body!
Joker tries to distance himself.
But in the next moment, Dos appears right in front of Joker, almost as if slipping through Joker’s consciousness.
（…it worked. As expected, the “Quickstep” technique is highly effective against opponents like these.）
With confidence, Dos smirks.
If he’s being honest, this technique is something he learned from Othel.
Specifically, it’s called “shukuchi”, a unique step where one moves without letting the opponent perceive that motion, closing the gap.
The moment the opponent becomes aware of Dos, he utilizes their “gap” in consciousness―their unawareness―to get closer.
By syncing his breathing with the opponent’s and intervening in their subconscious, he can perform this high-level martial skill.
Dos has refined it and succeeded in making it even faster—naming it “Quickstep.”
In essence, it’s a method where he moves incredibly fast and approaches the opponent without them even noticing.
Frankly, it’s a simple body technique, but its strength lies in its simplicity.
Imagine the shock when someone far away appears in front of you in an instant.
That would put immense pressure on anyone.
Of course, it has its limitations.
One is that you need a certain “distance” for this technique to work.
To successfully perform Quickstep, a minimum of five meters is necessary.
That’s the distance required to divert the opponent’s attention and move swiftly.
That’s why it couldn’t be used in the narrow room where he fought with Rugios before.
He’d approach the opponent before reaching maximum speed or before they lose focus on him.
The second limitation is that it only works if the enemy is in a direct line of sight.
It entirely depends on matching the opponent’s line of sight, movement, and awareness. If the enemy is hidden or loses focus, it won’t work.
However, in this spacious courtyard, those limitations don’t apply.
His opponent stands alone, their attention solely on him.
All conditions for Quickstep are met.
Originally, he mastered this technique to compete with long and mid-range fighters.
The enemy this time is a particularly good match.
It’s almost laughable how well Quickstep works.
And now, Dos gets closer to Joker.
Joker tries to strike Dos with his octagonal staff.
But at this ultra-close range, Dos’s fist is faster.
He slams it full force into Joker’s face!
There’s a SMACK! It’s a sound that you wouldn’t believe came from hitting a person.
Despite the playful shout, its power is immense.
Joker crashes into a wall.
A tingling pain spreads through Dos’s hand.
He had infused his punch with so much magical power, yet he still took damage.
Elibel’s notes mentioned that the demon tribe’s warriors were covered in “Demon Skin,” a tough hide, but this is beyond what he imagined.
It feels like he’s punched a thick log or the vast earth.
From the dust, Joker emerges, his cheek swollen.
He’s not fatally injured or unconscious.
Actually, from what Dos can see, Joker might not have taken much damage at all.
Considering he’s being controlled, it’s no surprise given the body of one of the empire’s top adventurers.
Seems like Dos has to go all out to be just about right.
Joker, spitting out blood, glares at Dos.
「…You’re the ‘Gale’ of the Holy Kingdom, huh. You sure are strong in close combat. Might even be a good match for our Lau. But it’s too bad… This body is ridiculously tough. And also―――』」
Magical power gathers in the octagonal staff Joker holds.
Then, it splits.
Like a collapsible sword, the staff changes and attacks like a storm, and he employs wind magic at the same time.
「『How about this!』」
An all-around assault.
With this, the opponent won’t be able to approach.
This is Joker’s, or rather, Linwu’s specialty: mid-range combat.
Dos concentrates magic all over his body, repelling the attacks.
But he can’t close the gap like before.
「『Ha, what’s the matter? I was a bit surprised at first, but aren’t you just a close-combat specialist like the rumors said? If I maintain this distance, I’ve got this in the bag!』」
While fending off Dos’s attacks, Joker speaks, seemingly regaining some confidence.
「『Look, even if you do get close, your attacks won’t do much damage! I’ll just keep pushing you like this!』」
Joker’s assault grows fiercer.
Dos remains entirely on the defensive.
However, gaps in his defense allow some of the attacks to graze him.
The side of his clothing rips, brushing his cheek.
「『Come on, come on! Can’t keep up anymore, can ya?』」
Seeing himself in a dominant position, Joker seems to have regained his confidence.
Meaning, he’s getting careless.
This is very fortunate.
After all, Dos is already in the final phase of his strategy.
「…soon, no problems.」
Dos’s movements shift.
Countless coming staves and wind magic assail him.
Dos deflects every single one of them.
Without missing a beat, using the “Quickstep” technique, he closes the distance between him and Joker.
Joker stares in disbelief, as if he’s witnessing the impossible.
「『What?! How? How can you see through my attacks?!』」
「…the number of staves hasn’t increased. The total count remains the same. No matter how fast you make them, the maximum simultaneous attacks are unchanged.」
Just as a human only has two arms, the number of segments in the octagonal staves is fixed.
No matter the speed of the attack, the number assaulting at once remains constant.
It seems like a regular weapon, without magical modifications.
It doesn’t have enhanced attack capabilities like the Sacred Sword Leviathan, nor does it possess the souls of monsters like Dragon Sword Ascalon.
Moreover, there’s a certain regularity to the movements of the staves.
Although they’re enhanced with magic, their movements aren’t being controlled from scratch.
If one can decipher their patterned movement, all they’d have to do is adjust accordingly, and they would deflect automatically.
This is a feat only possible because of Dos’s extraordinary magical sensing ability, his golem-homunculus physical capabilities, and his dynamic vision.
No, that’s wrong.
It’s natural for me to do this.
After all, I’m the son of the Great Earth.
If I couldn’t manage at least this, I wouldn’t be of any use to Papa.
「…the battle with Rugios was useful.」
He recalls the battle simulations against Rugios that Gijie had provided.
He’s grateful to Gijie for equipping him with this countermeasure.
Joker’s face shows sheer shock.
「『You’re joking… Seriously?!』」
But then, Joker smirks.
「『You might be strong, but can you really afford to hurt this body? After all, it’s just a borrowed body! I won’t feel a thing———』」
He stops mid-sentence, at a loss for words.
Because he saw it.
He saw Dos’s face.
The corner of Dos’s mouth———it was slightly upturned.
「…for me, it might be a bit… tough.」
Then Dos advises,
「…you should watch your back.」
Joker involuntarily glances behind.
Immediately after, a voice comes from right beside Dos.
「―――’Holy Cross, restrain the one who stands before me!’」
A radiant cross materializes behind Joker.
With a bright flash, the cross binds Joker.
Caught off guard by this unexpected attack, Joker is rendered immobile.
「『What— is this the ‘Crucifix of the Holy Child’…?!』」
In his panic, he shifts his gaze, only to widen his eyes in shock.
Standing there is a blind holy woman in white robes.
The ‘Holy Ark’, Orion Karla.
「…nice one, Orion.」
Dos gives her a thumbs up without looking her way.
「『Why… Why is the ‘Holy Ark’ here?!』」
「…won’t tell you. ‘Wind Palm Barrage’!」
Rapid punches to the gut.
Dos’s fist, cloaked in magic, rains down on Joker.
Of course, Joker, being restrained, can’t possibly dodge them.
He’s free game.
No matter how tough the opponent, continual pounding will surely deal damage over time.
Yet, Dos’s hand aches a bit from the blows.
The reason Orion and the others rush to this location is simple.
Earlier, the sound Dos made by clapping his hands wasn’t just a taunt.
It was infused with magic, serving another purpose: signaling the bird-type golem homunculus waiting outside the castle.
That signal is relayed to Una.
Receiving the cue, Una and Orion rush to the scene, masking their presence and timing it perfectly, communicating through multi-layered camouflage thought transmissions.
Thankfully, their opponent lets his guard down.
If he were more vigilant, like Dos, with magical sensors all around, he’d easily catch on.
But Dos always ensured that his foe’s attention stayed solely on him.
「『Guhaa… Haha, I said, no matter how you restrain and attack, in the end, this body―――』」
Joker laughs even as he spits blood.
It might sound like sour grapes, but they won’t truly win unless they can extricate Joker from Linwu’s body.
And Dos doesn’t have the means to do that.
「…true, neither Orion nor I can pry you away.」
「『If so, then―――』」
Dos easily agrees.
「…but that’s why we have… Una.」
「Of course. ―――’Water, bring forth your untainted stream, and cleanse this body of the false mists.’」
A shining water forms around the crucified Linwu.
「『W-what is this… Gblublublub…!?』」
A woman steps out from the shadows.
「You’re… the ‘Water Princess’ of the Holy Kingdom, aren’t you?」
Kagrias murmurs, watching intently.
「『Is that… Gahaa, the H-Holy Kingdom’s ‘Water Princess’? ―――This water can’t be…!』」
Seeing her, Joker’s voice trembles.
He noticed the properties of the water that enveloped him in an instant.
「Yes, my water directly influences an opponent’s magical circuits. It seems your puppetry is somewhat similar to the magic we deal with…」
「『No way… even you can’t undo this. This spell is the ultimate creation of Senior Rias―――』」
「Shut up. Disappear, you parasite.」
Una’s words are merciless.
Even Dos is taken aback.
Bubbles form around Joker, enveloping him.
「…Understanding the spell… attributes… magic values… abnormal values… normal values… identifying reactions…」
Through the water, information about the spell flows to Una.
「I see. It’s an intricate spell… but I think I can manage.」
Una’s water possesses a high interference ability with the body and magic.
This resembles the “Return X” Elibel once created to disarm Earth.
“Return X” uses alchemical magic to revert transformed elements back to their original state.
Una’s water is similar, measuring the normal and altered values in the opponent’s magic, then forcibly returning the altered portions to their normal state.
It’s a sort of aggressive healing, opposite to the Holy Dragon’s “Purification.”
It’s a supreme interference ability, even acknowledged by Elibel.
That’s Una’s true power.
In direct combat, Una may not match Dos.
However, in areas like dispelling or interference, she’s unparalleled within the dungeon.
Adventurers, with a mix of fear and respect, call her by one name:
―――The “Water Princess.”
「『NOOOOOOOO… YOU CAN’T BE!!! AHHHHHHHH!!!』」
The unsettling sound of something being peeled away echoes continuously.
From Linwu’s body, “something” emerges.
It resembles a black mist.
「Probably, that’s the core of the puppet… Dos.」
「…’Wind Palm Barrage’!」
Dos releases a fist filled with magical power towards the black mist.
Effortlessly, the black mist disperses.
At the same time, the aura of magic fades from Linwu.
It appears he’s lost consciousness.
「…Orion, release the spell, it should be safe now.」
Suddenly, the cross disappears, and Linwu’s body thuds down in the courtyard.
「It’s over… right?」
Kagrias murmurs quietly.
「Yes, it seems so. Emperor Kagrias, let’s tend to your wound first… give me your hand.」
With that, Orion casts a healing spell on Kagrias.
In mere moments, Kagrias’s injuries are fully healed.
Kagrias says, gratitude evident in his gaze towards the group.
Dos can’t help but smirk inwardly, sensing the emperor’s newfound gratitude.
「Let’s move. We can’t rule out another attack.」
「Agreed. And the old man lying there, Orion?」
「…I’ll carry him. Una, please use a restraint spell, just in case he wakes and becomes violent.」
「Understood. ‘Water, bind the sinner’s body.’」
Restraining Linwu, Dos and the others begin to move.
About that spell from before.
About the spell that controlled Linwu.
He had received detailed information about the spell through a thought transmission with Una.
（…that spell, it resembled our… Vessel Golem spell… Too much so.）
The Vessel Golem spell was an exceptional one that Elibel developed using her vast knowledge.
It allowed one to place their physical body in a safe zone and interfere from a distance.
Yet, the spell that Joker used was eerily similar to the Vessel Golem spell.
（..coincidence?… Or has information leaked within the dungeon?）
「What’s on your mind, Dos?」
Lost in thought, Orion asks with concern.
「That’s fine then…」
There are indeed many pressing matters at hand.
Dos sneakily glances at the emperor, who walks several steps ahead.
And just thinks to himself:
―――I’ve given a high loan.
No one could perceive the sly grin hidden deep within Dos’s heart.
「Ouch… Man, I messed up…」
「That’s what happens when you get too cocky. Why’d you even bother using the ‘Silver Demon’? There are plenty of other ways to get ahold of the Gram, right?」
「Well, that method had the least risk, didn’t it? I’m just doing what’s best for senior Rias… Even if I did fail.」
「Come on, don’t go silent on me! It makes it worse!」
「True, that technique is advanced, but it weakens the target substantially. Using such a flawed technique———」
「Hey, say one more word, and I’ll kill you, alright? Even if it’s you, Aoba, if you criticize the ultimate technique senior Rias came up with, I will kill you.」
「Fine, let me rephrase. No matter how supreme the technique, if the user is third-rate, it’s all pointless.」
「…Damn, can’t argue with that…」
「…Whatever. The Gram is just a ‘backup’ anyway. Everyone else is in position. Rias has already moved out.」
「Oh, really? …Hmm, who’s with senior Rias?」
「Wald. No one else was available.」
「What? I’d rather accompany her than leave her with that weakling.」
「Don’t complain. As I told you, it’s not about his power but his abilities.」
「Okay, got it… But, that means everything’s ready, right?」
「Yes. Thanks to you unnecessarily causing chaos in the Imperial Palace, it seems the others can move more easily. In a way, that’s your achievement. Good job, Joker.」
「…I don’t really feel happy getting praise from you, Aoba…」
「Heh, whatever. Lau and Suiren are already headed to the dungeon. All we need to do now is wait for their report.」
「Oh! So that means———」
「Yes. In two hours―――we’ll resurrect the Death Dragon Ouronus.」
Two individuals, a man and a woman, stand before the entrance to a dungeon.
One is a massive man, resembling a bear, dressed in traditional Wano’s clothing—a kimono.
His fierce appearance is further accentuated by his exposed canine teeth.
Beside him stands a petite girl of elementary school age, also in a Wano Country’s attire.
「Haha! So this is that dungeon, huh? I can feel some strong magic from here… This is going to be fun!」
The bear-like man, Lau Lan Fan, says with excitement.
However, the girl beside him gives him a warning look.
「Lau, do you understand? Our mission isn’t to conquer the dungeon. We came here for Rias’s goal. Don’t forget that.」
「I know, I know! Why’s your head so hard, Suiren? No one will marry you at this rate!」
「What’s marriage got to do with anything? And you’re too careless. I’ll kill you, you know?」
A murderous aura leaks from Suiren.
「Whoa, scary! No wonder you’re a confirmed old maid, haha!」
「I don’t care. I’ll have Aoba take responsibility. Come on, let’s go. You did bring ‘that’, right?」
「Yeah! Borrowed it straight from Aoba. Everything’s ready.」
「Good. Let’s go… We’re here to resurrect the Death Dragon.」
And with that, they step into the dungeon.
Next time, the perspective will return to Earth’s view.
By the way, here’s a thought transmission during a battle:
Una: “Dos, is it time yet? Can I come out now? (excited)”
Dos: “…no, not yet. Just a little more.”
Orion: “Uh, shouldn’t we help sooner?”
Dos: “…just a bit more. The timing will be perfect soon.”
Orion: “Uh, okay…”
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