I found a small settlement hidden deep behind the leaves.
At first glance, the dwellings weren’t much better than large tents draped with leaves for camouflage. There were three such tents. Three families, about ten people.
Certain spaces, such as the kitchen, the wood chopping block, or the butcher table, were communal. All were outside.
I caught a few glimpses of the villagers. All was wearing simple flax tunics and leather boots. They lived a simple life, at one with nature.
I couldn’t try to make contact. I had the common language jammed into my brain, but I couldn’t actually speak. And just look at me now – normal animals and humanoid NPCs would just run away from me. I had better chances with players. Well, I was a type of demon, really, that shouldn’t be surprising.
Still, I wanted to continue watching them. Just a bit more.
I couldn’t approach the hamlet, but my guess was that they didn’t have the barrier thing.
I wanted to relax. Somehow, someway. My spirit was being beaten black and blue by the constant unease, like pins and needles in my brain; by the feeling of extreme disconnect to reality; and by so many other things. I was getting used to the feeling itself bit by bit, but I feared that after I’d completely adapted myself to it, going back to reality would drive me insane.
Actually, why did these people decided to live all the way over here?
The world was so real I forgot it was a game sometimes, but they were NPCs. Did they have a particular reason to live here? Did the developers expect the players to go in this deep?
I thought, this could be an event, and approached as close as I dared, then I understood why they were living here. They were elves.
That reminded me of the guide’s words. It said there were ninety-nine human countries around the ninety-nine saplings. Did that mean anyone not human were living in places so remote? I heard human civilization here were rather developed, with trains and everything. So there was quite the economic inequality here.
If this world was as big as Earth, then the developers wouldn’t bother manually placing every villages and settlements. This hamlet was probably randomly generated.
Oh hey, there was a kid. A boy, about 5 years old. The only other kids in this settlement were babies, so the boy was playing alone, looking rather forlorn.
…oh god I want to meet him. I want to meet him so bad!
I never had the best impression of adults and people my age. The only exceptions were little kids.
Was there a way to make him not wary of me…? I couldn’t think of any. Oh, wait. There was those items that player dropped. Maybe I could use them.
One old, un-dyed cloak.
Three small coins, and a few coins of another type. They looked like they were made from silver and copper, respectively.
A wooden stick that looked like a meat skewer.
And the Identification Crystal 5/99 I had since the beginning, plus one dark-red caterpillar fang.
…I could become the most suspicious-looking person ever.
Anyway, first time for everything. Let’s try wearing the cloak. Come… on… god, this is hard. Using my dry-ice smoke as hands was really difficult.
It took me a few more minutes to realize that without fingers, I couldn’t do any fine manipulation. I used nearly an hour just to put the cloak on my body.
…aaand the cloak just slipped through my Ghast body… why?
I could use my body to ‘pick up’ things. It was actually more like enveloping them, but it worked. I could hold small items like the crystal or coins within me, and they didn’t drop. It just felt like holding onto a purse (which meant that if I was surprised, I’d drop the stuff).
The cloak was big, but I could pick it up as long as I enveloped around half of it. It felt like balancing a tray with a dish of soup on top – difficult, but still possible. And of course I’d still drop it if anything happened.
So I could pick it up. I thought that meant I could wear it too, yet it didn’t work. That was one hour stressing my little brain out. Give me back my time. Really…
Normally, monster avatars like mine were only capable of basic, preset actions, like how a normal game character could only do the actions bound on your keyboard. I’d had the chance to use VR a few times before. I’d seen swimming people who sank like rocks in real life, and martial arts masters without a single day of training. Those were all preset actions.
It could be that this game’s developers were also having us alpha testers evaluate what actions were possible for monster avatars, in addition to their stated purpose.
…I should calm down. I felt like I just spent a frustrating hour crocheting with two left feet. I rested, enjoying the debilitating dizziness from seeing beautiful nature with 360 degrees fullscreen vision. After a few hours of incapacitation, I finally found the strength to face reality again.
Oh yes, Ghasts could shapeshift, right? Could I do humanoid shapeshifting?
I thought my current body was a lot nimbler than my previous, doughy one. I had more volume now, I should be able to look like a small kid, at least.
Alright, let’s try.
Greetings, everyone. It’s a beautiful new day today.
True, I could work this body similarly to my previous one. I could stretch and shrink, spread and cover, and more. But that didn’t translate to having complete freedom over my shape.
When I focused on a part to shapeshift, the parts of me I no longer focus on started to warp and pop. Shifting one part a centimeter caused it to somehow stretch by a whole meter. And I had to fight against my own gaseous body constantly drifting and changing by itself.
All those problems took up a huge amount of my time. My mind was being tortured by the feeling of becoming a mass of sticky mud, but I persevered through. Had I manage to ignore the distress in my moment of extreme focus?
Anyway, at about sunrise, I finally managed to assume a humanoid shape, just about as big as that elven boy, alabaster in color and waxy in texture. One problem: my ‘skin’ was constantly melting and dripping.
…what the hell was I? A new type of monster? I couldn’t even fathom how to make contact with people, looking like this.
Let’s think about that later. I should try to move. This should be simple: just move the way I moved my real body. Easy!
Oh, sweet naiveté, past me of a few minutes ago. How you underestimated this game.
Imagine this: you had a human statue, carefully built with iron sand, on a table. And you were only allowed to move it with 10 magnets, all held by different arms behind the statue, without letting it collapse.
And my brain was wailing at me, too. It was screaming from the feeling of extreme disconnect, born from moving a humanoid body with inhuman means. My vision twisted and turned.
[NO NAME] [Race: Ghast] [Low Demon (Low-Rank)] ・A low demon made of dust and gases. A fragile spiritual lifeform. [Magic Points: 160/160] 10↑ [Total Combat Power: 176/176] 11↑ [Unique Skill: Reroll] [Simple Identification] [Humanoid Form (Terrible)]
…and before I knew it, I had a new weird skill. What was this…
[Humanoid Form (Terrible)] ・Transformation of a non-human thing into something humanoid.
[Identification] gave me pretty much what I expected.
Also, I was really bothered by this one thing. By ‘Terrible’, did it mean the skill was at the lowest level, or was it insulting my sculpting skill?
Anyway, so that’s another thing to practice daily – holding humanoid form. I should learn how to walk first. Currently, I was taking more than a minute just to move forward a step.
I practiced until the sun set that day, all the while fighting against the nausea. My sculpting still hadn’t gotten any better, so in the end I switched over to intensive training on wearing the cloak, all the way until morning. Again.
…what am I even doing with my life.
We met when the elven boy was picking fruits and dried branches right near his village.
“…who are you?” He asked timidly, but he hadn’t bolt immediately. That’s good. If he had, I was ready to turn back into gas and ran right away. Also, three cheers for the common language.
Alright, first step cleared. Judging from the way he looked, he wasn’t afraid of me.
I looked about as tall as him at the moment, wearing an oversized coat, the hood hiding my face. Even I had to admit I looked suspicious as all hell. I’d have run away if I saw me.
Coming here, it took me ten seconds just to walk a single step, so really, I was super grateful for the kid’s courage… or maybe NPCs were just that way.
“…do you need me for something?” He asked.
I didn’t. Despite all the effort I put into making contact with him, I actually didn’t.
At any rate, I tried to tilt my head… okay, this was difficult. Couldn’t afford to traumatize him by messing up and looking like an eldritch abomination, though. I tried, somehow managing the gesture.
“You can’t speak?” He looked concerned.
I nodded a fraction. He stepped forward. I frantically shook my head, and he stopped.
“I shouldn’t get close?”
I nodded, affirming. Once again, he looked concerned. I know, right? I wouldn’t know what to do with a kid who didn’t speak, didn’t allow anyone to get close, and didn’t show their face, either.
I just wanted to look at the boy close-up. I never had any plans beyond that.
He went silent, deep in thought. After a while, he nodded, seeming to have come to a conclusion.
“…so, I was helping mom out,” he suddenly started talking about himself, “Dad hunts, and he sometimes brings back monsters too. They look like black caterpillars, but really tasty.”
Oh? Those were edible?
He continued picking dried branches, talking while keeping a 10 meters distance with me. The work was done a while after. He fidgeted, adjusting his basket full of branches and fruits on his back, and looked at me.
“…hey, umm, I’m going back home. Can we meet again tomorrow?” he suggested a most wonderful idea.
“Alright, tomorrow then! I have to go home now, or mom would scold me. We were running from the slave hunters, so I’m not allowed to get back late.” he replied with a beaming smile.
I tried to wave as best as I could. He cheerfully returned with a wave of his own and ran towards to village. AIs these days were really amazing. It felt just like talking with a real human.
So, slave hunters… Those collared elves and beastmen I saw back then were actual slaves, then.
I reached my limits just as the boy disappeared from my sight. I poofed back into gas, then hurried into the forest depths.
Weren’t skills supposed to be handled by the system, normally? My brain been doing all the work ever since the beginning here.
I allowed myself to relax. This was interesting, but really stressful. At least I knew a lot more now.
Even NPCs – adult elves, in this case – could hunt the black caterpillars, despite their strength not seemingly that high.
[Adult Elf] [Race: Elf ♂] [Villager?] [Magic Points (MP): 50/50] [Hit Points (HP): 60/60] [Total Combat Power: 63]
About the same as the black bug, and the same as me just before my evolution. I supposed that was why they could survive here, in this forest.
I’d been practicing my humanoid form for two days straight already. I should get back to hunting, but after knowing their food situation, I was much more reluctant to continue staying here. Was there something for me to hunt further away?
Recent events had shown me the need to be much more cautious, which was why I’d been heavily scouting. And a few organized magical signals was pinging on my radar.
They were… humans? Wait a minute, don’t tell me that kid’s talk about slave hunters just caused a game event to start?