Nine days of borrowed time left.
I was finally on my way to the World Tree, in order to find a way to save my soul back on Earth.
I had to wonder if there really was a way… No. 01 had believed in the faint possibility, and he said as much in his testament. Yet that was no guarantee of salvation.
…at least a bit of hope was better than nothing.
According to the travel guide I read on the airship, there were two possible paths from the Free City of Seis to the World Tree.
I could continue south and pass through Cinqres Academy City, get on a ship to go to the Holy City Ayune, then cross a bit more land and sea to reach the Central Island, where the World Tree was.
The other path was similar. I could go by airship from Seis to Ayune, and the rest would be the same.
The Central Island was surrounded by a donut-shaped mountain range. The only way in was through the Holy City Ayune, which was why both paths required me to go there.
And it was also the most problematic part of the journey.
According to the guidebook, Ayune was the country closest to the World Tree, and at the same time housing the headquarters of the religion revering the Tree. So it must also be the main base of the corporation that was playing God to this world. It would be the most dangerous place in the world for me… and I even heard rumors of ‘Heroes’ there, too.
Besides, that mess with the beta players made it a lot more difficult for me to use public transportation in the first place. If I entered a large town and got discovered, the resulting complications would waste more of my time than simply taking a detour.
So I decided to take the third path: moving by myself.
I would head south toward the peninsula to the western end of Cinqres, cross the ocean by my own power, climb the steep mountain wall surrounding the Central Island, and head directly to the World Tree.
I should be able to make the distance… probably. According to the rough map I saw, at least.
I dealt with the watcher drones tailing me and went south, detouring around towns when necessary.
Within territories that looked like they belonged to humans, I stayed in my human form. Once I escaped the area surrounding the Free City, I could finally turn back to mist.
It wasn’t like there were no downsides to having a body with substance. The biggest disadvantage was that I had lost the ability to partially transform. I could only either be completely mist or completely human.
When dispersed, I became almost completely immune to physical attacks, and absorption would work a lot faster. On the other hand, my own attacks would lack weight, and area-of-effect spells could hurt me badly.
When in human form, I could deal out heavy strikes and change position rapidly, which made dodging spells relatively easier. But physical attacks would hurt me more, my detection range would shrink by a bit, and the most annoying thing was that I could no longer use [Packer] when human. I would have to take what I needed out of my inventory beforehand.
I gained the ability to create mist while human, too, so there wasn’t much of a difference between freezing things in mist form or in human form. And while my human form was better at short-ranged, instantaneous movements, my mist form was much faster at traveling long distance or going through wastelands.
So once I left the lands of humans, I immediately changed back into mist. My speed was probably around the same as an ordinary train’s.
Might as well take the occasion to confirm my power.
[Shedy] [Race: Mistral Neige] [Greater Demon (High-Rank)] ・The demon of tempestuous mist that ravages the northern seas. A canny spiritual lifeform. [Magic Points: 4300/4300] 300↑ [Total Combat Power: 4730/4730] 330↑ [Unique Skill: <Reroll> <Cyber-Manipulation> <Absorption> <Materialization>] [Racial Skill: Fear] [Simple Identification] [Human Form (Wonderful)] [Specialist Packer]
With the acquisition of [Materialization], [Humanoid Form] turned into [Human Form]. I wasn’t just looking like a human; I had gained a real body, one that was practically the same as when I was still a normal human, only more grown-up.
My voice was no longer simply me messing with pockets of air. I was truly breathing now, even if I was actually breathing mana, not oxygen.
In the beginning, I could recover only ten percent of my magic each hour. With the combination of [Absorption] and [Materialization], that number had jumped to thirty percent.
Yet all that did not excuse the use of (Wonderful) to describe me… just what the hell was it assessing? I agreed, [Human Form] was really quite wonderful, but still!
So my body was almost indistinguishable from a real human’s now, but the rabbit ears were still staying… unsurprisingly. Honestly, I was halfway to complete resignation by now. Weird, isn’t it? My brain was supposed to be taking over the job of the System these days, yet I was only evolving in the oddest ways.
Maybe I should just embrace the inevitable already… might as well find myself a bunny suit, in that case.
Anyway, that was about it. From now on, I’d need to learn how to fight with both forms, and how to use them in the right situation.
Three days after I went south from Seis, I finally began to see traces of what looked like human civilization in a forest, so I turned human again.
Whenever I turn human, first, I needed to throw out my clothes and satchel from [Packer] inventory. The moment they appear, I would slip my body of mist into the outfit and change form. Clothed human transformation, in effect.
It took me half a day to learn how to do this… god, so much precious time lost. But this was important. I would never allow myself to forget wearing clothes!
Personal dignity aside, once I started putting one foot after another on solid ground, Blobsy immediately jumped out from my satchel. She hauled herself onto my shoulder, then jiggled in joy.
Cute. I took some jerky from my satchel, fed Blobsy her snack, and began running. My sprint was as fast as a cheetah’s now.
The Academy City of Cinqres was supposed to be nearby. Apparently the country was gathering elite students and researchers from all over the world to do… something.
I only turned human as insurance. I had no plans to get anywhere close to the country. The people there must be doing mana research by orders of the corporation, so I expected heavy surveillance. Which meant I shouldn’t be showing my mist form here. I didn’t want to allow for the possibility of them realizing my link to No. 13.
Well, I had a feeling they already had an inkling of my identity, though… whoa!
The moment I exited the forest, I noticed a watcher drone. I immediately blasted mist from my fingers to freeze it.
I could now expel mist in human form, in exchange for the ability to partially transform. This mist was both me, yet not me. It moved according to my will, but it also had some similarities to spells in that it consumed my magic power.
In the end, it might not sound like much of a distinction. But the important thing here was that if an attack hit the mist, it would only cost me the magical expense of the lost mist. I wouldn’t need to worry about the attack seriously hurting me.
Well, my real body of mist would be able to do absorption a lot faster, though.
Just as I thought, once I left the forest and got closer to the country, I began to see a lot more of those watcher drones.
They hadn’t found me yet. All the same, the corporation would be suspecting something was wrong once they noticed dozens of drones breaking down in the same region within just a few days.
I should be able to reach the peninsula if I turned west here. I focused my eyes on what I hoped to be the right direction. There, so far away, I saw the shadow of a mountain. A silhouette robed in fog, foot resting upon the ocean.
…it was the right direction, then. As I got ready to leave-
-I suddenly detected multiple magical signals. I promptly leaped away.
The ground where I used to stand on exploded, blowing away my cloak of mist.
What was that?! I recreated my mist, checking out my surroundings. Strange monsters were surrounding me. I never even noticed.
They were colored black, with torsos and wings of a cricket and spindly spider legs.
[Cricket Spider x15] [Magic Points: 475/500] [Hit Points: 750/750] [Total Combat Power: 1750]
More secret beta testers?! Different avatars, but much stronger this time.
As I attempted escape from the encirclement, they gave chase, lanky spider legs running like a horse. God, that looked disgusting! And fast too, at that!
I created even more mist to hide myself. Several cricket spiders opened their mouths, wings vibrating at high-speed. Invisible projectiles shot at me.
So this was what they ambushed me with!
Exploding bullets of wind. No direct hits, yet my mist was still blown away. Were they spells? They actually hurt me.
These monster avatars were purely long-range combatants, and their focus was on raw speed rather than agility. Their aim must be to keep me away from melee range, then… how troublesome. The moment I moved, the whole encirclement followed. But that didn’t mean I was helpless…
I dashed toward one of them, my step gouging out the earth.
They all promptly retreated. Still, I didn’t have over 4000 combat power for nothing. My superior acceleration blasted me past my target, and my claws ripped it apart from head to wings. Frost spread from its wounds to turn it into a popsicle.
They were a lot softer than the carapace spiders! I could do this!
Then, just as I got ready to leap toward my next target, it jumped. It began to hover in mid-air, wings flapping.
It wasn’t true flight. It was slowly descending, but I still couldn’t reach it.
A rain of explosive wind bullets came from the other cricket spiders.
[Shedy] [Race: Mistral Neige] [Greater Demon (High-Rank)] [Magic Points: 3860/4380] 80↑ [Total Combat Power: 4290/4810] 80↑
That really hurt. I rolled away, dodging the projectiles. I attempted a dash toward the nearest target, but again, it immediately jumped up. More bullets came.
My suspicions were confirmed. They couldn’t fire in rapid succession, and there weren’t that many bullets in each salvo. The damage wasn’t that bad.
Still, this couldn’t continue. I weaved around the hail of bullets with rapid dashes. An idea came to mind, and I immediately froze the ground.
Yes! One of them got stuck on the ice-covered earth. I instantly changed direction. Before the other cricket spiders could do anything, I tore it apart with claws and dagger, then drained it dry of magic.
A sudden hail of bullets rained down, blowing away both me and my target.
[Shedy] [Race: Mistral Neige] [Greater Demon (High-Rank)] [Magic Points: 3440/4460] 80↑ [Total Combat Power: 3880/4900] 90↑
At least they were killable. Still, they had the advantage, and it was only going to get worse for me. I should try to repeat this a few more times. Hopefully I could get rid of another one-
My thoughts stalled as I witnessed the cricket spiders releasing their encirclement. They stepped back, then faded into nonexistence.
…did they log out? What’s going on?
At least this was better than the alternative. Continuing that fight would have just left me worse off. I departed the area and continued toward the direction of the World Tree.
After that first encounter, their assaults became a regular occurrence. Yet the battles always ended in their retreat, even when they still hadn’t lost.
I see… so they were returning to refuel the magic consumed when they shot those explosive wind bullets. That was just unfair.
After another three days of constant battles, I finally crossed the peninsula. I could see the sea now.
[Shedy] [Race: Mistral Neige] [Greater Demon (High-Rank)] [Magic Points: 2750/4620] 160↑ [Total Combat Power: 3210/5080] 180↑
Across the ocean was a craggy mountain range, towering over a thousand meters. Yet behind it was an even bigger tree. A green colossus, sharing home with the clouds.
“The World Tree…”
Author’s Notes: The secret beta testers’ avatars were controlled semi-automatically.
If defeated, a few hours of calibration and refueling magic would return them back to combat-readiness.
TN: Bigger sized map here.