“All right. Panda, if you’d please.”
The little monkey confidently nodded. He gave me a banana.
It turned out that by leaving a part of me inside the Sapling and having one of my Kins near it, the network link to that Sapling would then be partially available to me. With Panda staying back, I used the now-active Quarrevingts connection to go back to the World Tree.
We immediately left for the continent above Quarrevingts. That one had the large country Quasix, but it wasn’t a country I could conquer quickly enough in a head-on fight. That left the two other small countries.
As usual, I bounced off the barrier and landed somewhere unfamiliar. With the awareness of the Tree’s and Panda’s locations in my mind, I quickly gained an approximation of my location. I moved toward the small country Chisept to the east.
According to the guidebook, the three countries on this continent were allied nations, with very strong ties to each other.
I arrived at Chisept after half a day’s travel. The security they had was still only to defend against other humans, so I easily slipped through. I did the same thing to the Sapling there, sending a part of me inside it to take over the connection. I left Blobsy there, then transit through the World Tree to go to Xontdix.
Finally, it was time to crack the trap wide open.
Inside the royal palace’s guest manor, Tiz was lounging around on a wicker sofa, sending a grumpy look to his ex-classmate sitting nearby. The other man was smiling. Sexily, at that.
“Heeeey, Tizzy. You sure that bunny’s gonna show up? It’s been four days. Foooouuur!”
“According to that Temple researcher, we should wait for ten days at least. If she still doesn’t show up by then, that means she’s going for the other countries high up on the list. Also, can you please speak normally?”
Tiz had come here to Xontdix to set a trap for Shedy, even if he didn’t quite trust the Temple scholar’s vague conjectures and numbers. Still, it was the only lead he had. Plus, Mason had been awfully eloquent in his presentation. Tiz thought it was worth a try, at least.
“That guy was called Mason, right? Yeah, so the guy also showed up at my place and told me the same thing. I thought he looked fishy as all hell, so I kicked him out. Looked mighty fine though. A pity he wasn’t even a little bit scared of me. Like, that’s just rude.”
“…huh, he wasn’t? That’s amazing.”
Tiz looked at his friend. Then he revised his opinion of Mason, just a little bit.
So Mason had come here to Xontdix first, then. The country he had predicted to have the highest chance Shedy would attack.
The Temples were an international power. Xontdix could not ignore them, and so the talking had been entrusted to Tiz’s classmate and close friend, who then proceeded to reject the whole deal on the grounds that it was ‘dubious’. Which was why Mason had come to negotiate with Tiz to get the young emperor’s help in convincing Xontdix.
“Teehee, you know me so well, Tiz!”
“…well, we do go way back, after all.”
Aslan von Xontdix. Crown Prince of Xontdix.
The two had become friends when they were studying abroad in the Academy City Cinqres. At 220 centimeters in height, the dark-skinned man was a giant. Short haired, with an aura of youthful liveliness.
Despite the impression one might get from hearing him talk, he had no interest in crossdressing, nor did he like men exclusively. He was simply in love with all things cute and/or beautiful. Salia, Tiz’s bodyguard, had good enough looks to have been asked out by Aslan. It was one of the few times she showed fear.
And if Mason didn’t even bat an eye at the prince’s advances, the scholar must’ve had nerves of steel.
“And you had such a cute butt back then! What a waste, Tiz. If only you never grew up from being that adorable boy.”
“Shut up… which reminds me, with how much you like cute stuff, I thought you’d be more excited.”
“Shedy… the bunny, I mean. She’s cute too, you know?”
“But she’s a beastman, right? I like playing with slaves, sure, but I’m not interested in taking care of them. Like, if I’m going to have a pet, a lion would be better.”
“Well, yeah, no wonder… you kill your pets all the time.”
The prince kept wild beasts in his room. With the blessed physique he was born with, he would choke them to death whenever they misbehaved. It was his hobby.
He used to have beastman slaves. With how often he was killing them, the king had forbidden him to own slaves.
“She’s mine, you know?” Tiz said.
“Nah, I don’t care. As long as you’re the one paying the adventurers and that the bounty money goes to us, she’s all yours.”
As they talked, the room door opened. The Temple scholar Mason and one of Xontdix’s civil officials walked in.
“Your Majesty, Your Royal Highness, we are sincerely grateful for your cooperation. We have gathered the required amount of adventurers of Rank 3 and above, and they are currently within the knight’s training ground.”
“I see. Got it.”
“Eheheh, this is gonna be fun!”
Tiz and Aslan led their personal knights toward the training ground. Behind Tiz, Salia was tightly gripping her sword, white-knuckled. She looked like a woman heading for war.
There were over a hundred adventurers of Rank 3 and above in the training ground. Nearly a thousand knights stood at attention in a circle, surrounding the adventurers.
Following a short greeting from the Emperor of Touze and the Crown Prince of Xontdix, Mason began the explanation for the adventurers’ gathering.
“Your main mission will be to guard the Sapling. The duration is ten days, just as we’ve mentioned in our announcement. Even if nothing happens, you’ll still be compensated with one small gold coin. In case enemies appear, your reward will be increased depending on your contribution.”
The adventurers nodded. Many among them – players – were looking obviously apprehensive, their weapons ready for combat at any time. Their strange attitude garnered looks of skepticism from the native adventurers.
“First off… please search for anyone around you whose faces are hidden!”
At once, the adventurers blanched.
The adventurers were assembled in order to set a trap for the ‘rabbit beastman’.
She was attacking the World Tree Saplings for reasons unknown. If adventurers were gathered up in the castle, it was likely the rabbit would take the chance to infiltrate. To that end, the country had purposely relaxed their adventurer identity checks for the time being.
The moment the adventurers realized the assailant might be among them, they pointed their weapons to anyone still hiding their faces behind hoods, demanding them to reveal themselves. They complied, except for a single girl.
Several adventurers moved to surround her. The moment they reached out their hands, they were met with an explosion of mist, instantly turning them into ice.
Her claws shattered the frozen sculptures, and she threw off her cloak. Tiz, standing on stage, was greeted with the sight of a bewitching young woman of scarlet and snow. She was no longer that little rabbit girl he saw once before. He stared at her like a man lovestruck.
Upon hearing his voice, Shedy turned her chilly gaze toward the stage. She gave him the faintest of smiles.
With the command of a knight squadron leader, the adventurers shook off their stupor. They charged.
Shedy jumped over the carpet of swords and spears, freezing the wielders. Then she pointed her palm toward the stage and squeezed.
Driven by pure instinct, several knights jumped in front of Tiz’s group to cover for their lords. The veteran knights all collapsed in pools of blood, their old wounds reopened.
“Damn you! What did you do?!”
Aslan roared at the impossible sight.
After her attack, Shedy once again put distance between her and the stage, all the while spreading arctic mist to impede her opponents.
“Do not panic! Our enemy is but a cornered rabbit. The mist is weak to wind, use magic to block her escape!”
Being the person with relatively more experience fighting Shedy, Salia gave her orders to the adventurers. She sent a gust of air to blast away the cloak of mist around the rabbit girl. Seeing the sight, several adventurers followed suit and used their own wind magic. Outnumbered, Shedy stopped moving.
Then she pointed both her hands toward the direction of the castle center. Her palms joined together in a motion to crush something.
Several magicians took notice of the change. They shouted.
The barrier covering the castle holding the Sapling was much sturdier than the one covering the city. Assaults from outside would have to break it, first. But if someone could enter the castle and break the barrier’s magitool, the protection would disappear.
The castle had spare magitools, so they could recover the barrier in just a few hours. The issue here, however, was that they had no idea how the magitool was broken.
The disappearance of the barrier prompted a panic among the people. The girl of white, wielder of powers inconceivable, coolly watched with a demonic smile on her face.
Then she melted into the mist. Everyone, from the adventurers to the royalties, were struck dumb by the sight.
And then, several hours later, news of the destruction of the Sapling of their neighboring country Quarrevingts reached them. Once more, she had made fools of them all.