What was a Demon?
I used to think it was just one of those things no one could prove the existence of, much like God. Just one of the type of monsters I had to choose as a tester of weaponized avatars.
But now, I had been reborn in this world as a Demon.
Miraculously, I still kept my former appearance, if only more grown up. Yet in the end, it didn’t change the fact that I was no longer human.
Still, was I a real demon?
The sort of demons I knew were the type to worm into the hearts of humans, to corrupt them and take their souls. And with my recent experience, I’d come to hold a vague suspicion: could it be that demons were corrupting humans because they gained more experience from souls of evil people?
[Absorption] was how I drained the lives of my enemies. Something that I was now doing without a second thought.
Perhaps human thoughts and desires had come together in a stroke of random chance, and the World Tree had taken it, given it direction, turning it into what I now was. An Artificial Demon.
I was indistinguishable from a real demon, yet at the same time our natures could not be any more irreconcilable.
I was still me, only now playing the role of a demon named Shedy.
Which was why I could become a Demon for another’s sake.
The Principality of Rantetrois was a quaint little pastoral country. Their population was meager, and their main – and only – industry was the cherry plantation on the mountainside used for making wine.
Thanks to the infinite mana coming from the Saplings, no humans ever went hungry. They had no need to steal or pillage from others. It was the reason why Rantetrois could keep their idyllic peace.
The Central Continent might still see conflict of interests from time to time between men and women with unending, unsatisfiable greed for fame, luxury, and more, but here in the Southern Continent, the closest thing to a conflict was the little spat between the two large countries. There was no serious discord. And as Rantetrois itself had no resources particularly worth disputing over, people in the country were satisfied as long as they had demihuman slaves to bring them a bit of profit. They might envy the other rich countries somewhat, but they were happy with the tranquil, effortless lives they had.
Such peaceful countries still maintained armies and knight orders, not to defend themselves from other humans, but mainly to fend off monsters.
Forests and similar places within the mana-rich regions around the Saplings tended to accumulate mana. From these so-called ‘manaswamps’, weak monsters would be born without end.
Towns and villages could make use of the abundant mana from the Saplings to erect barriers around themselves, but the streets between them enjoyed no such protection. Soldiers and knights patrolled daily to deal with any monsters near the roads.
One of their other missions, no less important, was to search for and destroy the manaswamps.
These manaswamps, formed from mana leaking from the Saplings, were sources of nourishment for the forest in which they were created. Once they were destroyed, the mana would then re-accumulate back at the Sapling. In other words, the mana usable by humans would increase.
With that said, the job of knights and soldiers was still a simple, easy one. Just stand around, go patrol, call out if they saw a girl walking around. If dangerous monsters appeared, just get the demihuman slaves to deal with them.
Laurent, born as the fifth son of a family full of that sort of knights, only had the job of the town gate guard left for him.
Just the minimum earning was enough to live comfortably, so he wasn’t particularly worried. Still, if he lost his noble standing – even if that nobility was nothing but an empty title – he’d quickly find out how much ‘minimum wage’ could actually vary. Marrying a good woman or buying a good-looking demihuman slave girl would then get difficult.
But then, he saw a strange girl walking from outside the city.
She was wearing an unassuming cloak, the hood hiding her face. But Laurent could still see her fair, pristine-white skin and the high-heels she was wearing, the kind frequently seen in higher society. Probably a noble girl of some other land on an incognito trip, he thought.
He did think it strange that she had no attendants. Still, the moment he saw her fair features and her hardened eyes of scarlet peeking out from under the hood, he was taken over by a single thought: I wanna make her mine.
Laurent was confident in his looks and his conversational skills, yet it had been half a day and she was still giving him the cold shoulder. When she started talking ridiculous stuff out of nowhere, he got nervous. Just as he was thinking to just forcefully pull her somewhere, she suddenly shot an ice spell toward the front gates of the governor’s mansion.
“Aaaeeyyaaa! W-What happened?!” He screamed.
The resulting wave of frigid wind knocked him to the ground. The whole gate, together with the gatekeepers, froze over in an instant. They were crumbling and shattering from the contraction caused by extreme temperature change. As the world turned into a nightmare in front of him, Laurent heard the spellcasting girl spoke.
“Hurry up, people. Get out of my way if you don’t want to die.”
Her legs and back came into view. A dress, red as blood, covered the white girl.
But neither Laurent nor the onlookers were taking much notice of her strange attire. They were far more occupied with the long, snow-white ears drooping from her head and the small, adorable bushy tail.
For a single moment, indignation overtook Laurent, even pushing aside any thoughts of her magic. Just a common animal dared to deceive me? To deceive humans? At the same time, he also realized that if she was a demihuman, then nothing was stopping him from taking her as his possession by force.
But then, what were those long ears?
They looked just like a rabbit’s. A vague memory niggled at his mind… and then he heard the words one of the onlookers let slip.
“The rabbit… Five thousand large gold coins!”
With the voice came the recollection for everyone at the scene. They remembered how a few weeks earlier, they had seen the bounty dispatched by Touze Empire all the way from the Central Continent.
The white rabbit beastman girl who used mist magic. Whoever caught her would be rewarded five thousand large gold coins.
Large golds. A currency unit the common man would never see even for the whole of his life. Enthralled by greed, the onlookers surged toward her with nothing but fists and knives.
“The bunny!” “Rabbit beastman!” “Five thousand large golds!”
Voices chained from one to another like a game of telephone. The news spread out in an instant. More than just men were joining the crowd of people flooding toward the governor’s mansion; even their wives were joining in with kitchen knives in hands, while the elderlies were grabbing whatever rocks they could find nearby.
“Golds! My large golds!”
A plump woman screamed and charged at me. I jumped off her, at the same time sending her flying with my stomp. I weaved through the sea of people.
I knew showing my ears would cause a ruckus. I just didn’t think even the women and the senior citizens were joining in.
I hopped on their heads, jumping around the crowd but never leaving. After a while, soldiers from inside the governor’s mansion finally showed up.
“What in the world was going on here?!”
Surrounded by the group of soldiers was an important-looking person. The crowd of citizens, nearing a hundred, immediately stopped whatever they were doing at the sound of his voice. A shopkeeper-ish looking person from the crowd hastily ran toward him and started talking. Then, the important-looking middle-aged man smirked and pointed at me.
“I see, so you’re the rabbit beastman girl that boy from Touze posted a bounty for! Just stay right there! I won’t let him have you, you’ll be staying with me for life!”
I supposed ‘that boy’ was Tiz, then. Was this guy this country’s governor? Never thought he’d be showing up right away.
The crowd of people, daunted by his orders, slowly lowered their weapons.
But then I noticed another few hundreds townspeople on the other side of the crowd running toward us. I smiled at the crowd, my ears lightly swaying.
“My, my. Are you sure you don’t want those large gold coins?”
“…” “O-Of course we do!” “Yeah, that’s right! Money’s more important than that stupid governor!”
A few of them regained their courage, their voices slowly getting louder. The governor, hearing their words, widened his eyes.
“Fools, have you forgotten about your own lord?! I was the one to have fed you, to have given you places to live, and you good-for-nothings don’t even have the decency to pay the taxes!”
“The fuck you saying?!” “Shut the fuck up, dumbshit governor!” “Oh, sure, we haven’t forgotten at all how you kept raising the mana price all the time!” “And all that money just goes to your pockets, right?!”
The governor here really wasn’t very popular at all, was he. With the new influx of people, the crowd only got bolder and bolder. They rained down complaints upon the governor.
The governor’s face was turning into an unhealthy red. He pulled out and swung his sword.
“Enough! Cut down whoever stands in my way!”
The moment his soldiers charged at the citizens, I threw out a large, thick cloud of mist.
“Wha-?! Where the hell did this mist come from?!”
“I can’t see shit! Where’s the rabbit?!”
“Wasn’t she just here-”
After I attacked a few of them, the citizens and soldiers began wildly swinging their weapons in terror. More and more of them were hurting each other.
The cold mist could kill all of them at once, but that wasn’t what I was using this time. This particular mist was simply a harmless wide-range smokescreen that would stay for a long time even without my supervision.
I slipped through the chaos and headed toward the mansion. Suddenly, someone blocked my path.
“Found you, damn rabbit!”
The governor came out to face me all by himself. How thoughtless of him… I supposed it was no wonder. No matter how much he touted himself a nation’s king, in the end, he was nothing more than the lord of a relatively big town.
I stopped. His mouth twisted into a nasty smirk, perhaps thinking I was surrendering. He approached.
“Yes… that’s right… I got you no-aaakgh!”
Inside the mist, the governor abruptly fell on his face.
For a moment, I wondered what happened. Then I saw Laurent standing behind the governor, his sword slick with blood. He looked at me with a eerie smile on his face.
“You’re supposed to be mine… isn’t that right?”
I had no idea what he was talking about. Well, I supposed it was about time, anyway. I had already destroyed the watcher drones I found, but if I dragged this on any further, the corporation might just throw some more monster avatars my way.
Laurent walked closer to me, his smile unchanging. I gently raised my palm and blasted off a wave of icy wind. It swallowed him, then continued on toward where I thought the mass of people were.
I left the smokescreen there, outside the mansion. The messy riot was still going on.
Inside the mansion, I only saw servants at most. After freezing just a few who ran up to attack me, there was no longer anyone else standing on my way.
The mansion was quite spacious, about a baseball field’s size. Still, there was no need for me to find a guide. I knew right away where the Sapling was.
It was inside the mansion’s courtyard. There were no locks. Anyone could have come here if they wanted to.
It was a tree over a dozen meters tall. But its bark was stripped off, its trunk was stabbed by stakes of metal, and its leaves were all plucked clean. There were workers standing nearby to harvest any newly grown leaves. They turned into ice statues in an instant.
It hurts, right? I know. People used to do this sort of things to me all the time, too.
It’s okay. I’m here. You’ll be free from the pain soon.
I touched the Sapling’s roots, slowly freezing it. The branches, long-since withered, fell to the ground and turned into dust. Then the Sapling itself followed suit, scattering into the wind.
Immediately, I felt something in the air changing.
Lights and air conditioners inside the mansion shut off one after another. Confusion spread out from the building. Well, they would soon find out that the real chaos was only just beginning.
The Sapling network connection was the last to go. Before it did, I hitched a ride to go to the birthplace of the new Sapling. The destination was deep inside a forest, forbidding trees barring the way of any intruders. Hidden among the greenery was a small, thirty-centimeters tall seedling.
This was quite far away from human territories, so I didn’t think it’s be discovered. Still, just in case, I and Blobsy gathered some mulch to hide the newborn Sapling. As we did, a small, white-colored magic stone appeared from within the Sapling and flew toward me. It disappeared inside me.
Eh…? What was this?
[Shedy] [Race: Bunny Girl] [Lesser Archdemon Lv. 2] ・The rabbit demon of Laplace. Trickster and guide of man’s fate. [Magic Points: 14200/15600] 3600↑ [Total Combat Power: 15700/17100] 3900↑ [Unique Skill: <Causality Alteration> <Cyber-Manipulation> <Absorption> <Materialization>] [Racial Skill: <Fear> <Mist Form>] [Simple Identification] [Human Form (Wonderful)] [Subspace Inventory]
…I just leveled up.