To the south-east of the Central Island where the Tree was, there were three continents around the size of Australia.
Two large countries and five small ones occupied the landmasses. Despite their Saplings being discovered quite a bit earlier than the City of Pleasure’s, they weren’t all that developed. They had nice, comfortable climates, but that was it. They had no special industries. The only thing they had going for them were the isolated ecosystems, which attracted adventurers coming to hunt subspecies monsters.
According to the newest guidebook I bought last time, the large country Quasix always had 400,000 people inside it at any given time, but their actual citizen population was only 150,000. The rest were composed of adventurers of wilder leanings, plus the merchants buying monster materials from them. Tourists were recommended to be careful.
…they were being way too loose with their information. Had the people of this world gotten complacent from the long-lasting peace?
“Well then, let’s go.”
Blobsy jumped on my shoulder, while Panda clung to my calf. Panda’s spot was normally my arm when I wasn’t wearing the cloak, or my hips or legs when I was. The locations themselves weren’t a problem, but Panda eating bananas and littering the peels while clinging to me was.
Stop that. You’re setting a bad example for Blobsy.
My destination this time was the southern continent of the group of continents I mentioned, the one with two countries on it. Xontdix and Quarrevingts, a large and small country, respectively.
I did think attacking two large countries in a row was dangerous, to be honest. All the same, I still chose this region, mainly because they had more adventurers than citizens. Which meant public order there wouldn’t be very good.
Xontdix’s ruler was also called the Mercenary King. Over a hundred years ago, a mercenary had exterminated the lizardmen there and taken the Sapling, and the country had gone into the hands of their descendants thereafter. Even until now, the country still had a meathead for a king. It was an awesome country.
It had quite a lot of powerful soldiers and adventurers, apparently. Of course, I got much stronger myself too, so unless something unexpected happened, I was confident there wouldn’t be a problem.
The lack of public order stemmed from the fact that a large part of the population was composed of thugs and ruffians, and these people tended to solve problems by themselves. It hinted at the fragility of their police force.
The country had a lot of adventurers, true, and I did pick a bit of a fight with the players back then. Still, it was just a small group of players. I thought it was about time the mess was forgotten.
As always, I bounced off the barrier. My landing spot was a dense forest with absolutely zero signs of human civilization.
Before, I would’ve had problems orienting myself. Now, I could vaguely sense the direction of the World Tree at all time. I wondered if it was because I had gained more power, or because I leveled up.
All the same, if I didn’t know where I was, that sense of direction wouldn’t really mean anything. I didn’t know if I should go west or east. West would be the right choice if I had landed in the middle of the continent, but if I landed on the edge, I would have no idea where I’d end up.
“…where do you think I should go?”
The two pointed to the east. No, Panda, I don’t need a banana. I had thought I should go west, but well, they pointed east, so let’s go there.
I put my two Kins into [Inventory], dispersed into mist, and got moving.
One whole day of high-speed flying later, I saw a farming village and patrolling watcher drones nearby. I turned human and followed along the road, hiding in what cover I could find and ignoring the farming village. After a while, a decently large town showed up in my view.
I had no idea what country this was. And as this small continent only had two countries, asking for the name would make me look too shady.
I found a railway track on the way and used it to sneak inside the town. At the station, I finally learned where I was.
“Welcome to Quarrevingts!”
What the hell, this was the exact opposite of where I wanted to go!
Blobsy and Panda, already outside of my inventory, just tilted their heads. Then they started eating bananas.
Oh, fine then… focus, focus. No one was to blame. If I had to, I supposed I could only blame my luck.
This wasn’t what I had planned, but now that I was here, I might as well try to get some information. I headed toward the adventurer’s guild.
…wasn’t the atmosphere of the town a bit weird? Maybe it was just how it was. I’d never been here before, after all. Looked very busy, with all the adventurers running around and making travel preparations. The air felt charged with tension.
…no, something really was off here.
I immediately changed my plan, instead heading for a clothier for adventurers some way away from the guild.
I took the chance to get a few more spare coats and hooded cloaks. The shopkeeper at the counter was a woman in her late twenties. I attempted a casual chat with her.
“Did something happen? The town looks weird.”
“Oh, you didn’t know? Were you on a long hunting trip? If you have any spare materials, you can sell it to me.”
She seemed to be quite a chatterbox. I didn’t have anything good, so I shared with her some of the drugs I got from the City of Pleasure. After a few more meaningless back-and-forth, her lips were loosened.
“A few days ago, the guild in the neighboring country Xontdix just called for a gathering of adventurers. I didn’t know what for. Apparently they were only required to stay there for ten days. Even if nothing happened, as long as they were Rank 3 or above, they’d get paid one small gold coin.”
“Hmmm… I wonder why.”
“Oh yes, that reminds me. I’ve been seeing new adventurers coming to this town recently. Those people were saying something about a bunny trapping… quest? I think it was ‘quest’. The old-timers here just laughed and made fun of them, saying there was no such thing, but when I asked the new adventurers directly, they played dumb in a hurry. I asked a few others too, and the same thing happened. How curious.”
Gotta be me, right…? I didn’t know how large-scale it was going to be, but considering the adventurers were gathered by the guild itself and that the players were most likely aware of the details, there was a high chance the corporation had a direct hand in this.
A trap, perhaps. If I’d gone to Xontdix instead, I might have been caught wholly flat-footed.
I gave Panda and Blobsy a few headpats.
Hey, did you two guide me here because you knew that country was dangerous? …no, not that, I don’t want bananas, that’s not what my headpats meant.
I gave my thanks to the shopkeeper woman. Just as I was about to leave, she spoke out, looking like she had just suddenly remembered something else.
“Oh yes, I heard that the emperor of Touze would be there in Xontdix incognito. Really, with how famous he was, he shouldn’t have bothered trying to sneak about. You’re quite cute, you know? If you catches his eyes, maybe he’ll even let you be one of his mistresses.”
So Tiz was coming? Interesting. Very interesting.
If the corporation also had a hand in this, that meant either he was cooperating with them, or that the two were trying to use one another. I might not know how serious he was, but if he wanted to make me his slave that much, then I had an answer of my own.
“…Blobsy, Panda. You two are with me all the way, right?”
They responded with solemnity. Seemed like they’d realized the subtle change within me.
I waited until dark, then made my move.
The Sapling in Quarrevingts’ capital was inside the governor’s castle, a stone fortress as large as a baseball stadium. It was protected by a surrounding moat and a simple barrier. I didn’t try to go through the barrier, instead infiltrating through the sewers that connected to the moat.
A metal grate with a grid spacing of around 30 centimeters blocked my way. There was no barrier here, so I simply turned mist to go through.
I wouldn’t kill anyone this time. Any demihumans slaves I saw would be ignored.
Not only was the security unusually loose, it even looked like there were less guards around. Perhaps the people were all going to Xontdix.
I moved, keeping myself hidden and away from the eyes of the patrolling guards and watcher drones. After a few hours, I reached the Sapling.
I could only use this sort of plan only once, really. They’d be very careful to not let the same thing happen again afterward. I had thought about keeping this to be my trump card until I had no other choice, but it’d probably be fine. By then I’d have already gotten a lot stronger anyway.
There might not be any workers around to harvest the Sapling’s mana, but there was a watcher drone staying on guard 24/7.
I came as close as I could without being discovered, then slowly reached out to the Sapling with a bit of faint mist. Once the mist touched, I was intensely aware of the horrible condition it was in.
I really want to save you right now, but… sorry. Just a bit longer. I swear you’ll be reborn, soon.
I cut off a bit of my mist, telling it to burrow into the Sapling’s roots. My maximum magic went down a thousand. Still, this was necessary.
Every time my level of Lesser Archdemon increased, I could feel myself changing bit by bit.
Not negatively, no. It felt more like the true self that I’d been burying deep inside me ever since my childhood, so that I could survive, was now being let out. Step by step, it was inching closer to freedom.
Step by step, I was changing.
I was changing into a [Demon] by my own will.
Author’s Note: If her personality looks like it’s getting more and more relaxed now, that’s because she no longer felt trapped. Or maybe because she’s turned into a demon.
Her Kins can’t fight. In exchange, they have pretty good luck to cover for their hapless master.