“Cardi, stop sulking already.”
They’d met with a strange girl and accepted a strange proposal.
A cute-looking NPC girl in her mid-teens had talked to them, and Cardi’s comrades had quickly found themselves in a good mood. They were simply, honestly pleased they got an event quest. Yet looking at the girl, Cardi couldn’t help but be reminded of the monster of mist that had slaughtered him twice. The white rabbit demon. The Dark Lady.
He was intimidated by the NPC girl.
Of course, this was just a game. He didn’t feel the pain that came with death, only the force of the blow. And even then, even when his consciousness was immediately cut off from the Avatar and returned to the Temple to be resurrected, the mind of the real Cardi had still been dealt a severe blow.
He remembered the dull shine of the blade coming for his head.
He remembered those frosty red eyes, looking at him as if he was nothing more than a pebble by the roadside. He should have been using a fictional body in a fictional world, yet the bloodlust that he felt had seemed ready to take his real life. For some time, he couldn’t even look at the VR device without being assaulted by an inexplicable nausea.
All the same, Cardi still continued to play World of Yggdrasia. Not out of enjoyment, no. He just wanted to have the last laugh on the people who had reported him on the forums just because he was having a bit of fun in the game, and the people who had made a fool out of him in both real life and in-game. He wanted to prove himself superior to those who had created this game, as well as those who were enjoying it.
“Yes yes! We’re coming, Mary!”
“Once it’s over, we’re all gonna be heroes too!”
Following the directions of the girl, who had named herself Mary, Cardi’s party headed toward their destination on an express carriage.
Mary’s story was as follows:
Provoked by Cardi’s party, the Troll King, said to be a Dark General, and his subordinates were now encroaching upon human territory. But while the trolls were showing up on the highways, they still weren’t getting close to the human towns, due to the barrier that protected the express railways connecting human countries together.
The magitech railway was one of the means through which trade between rural regions and far-off countries could happen. It was no exaggeration to call the train a cornerstone of the world’s economy. The barrier protecting it was maintained by the vast amount of mana coming from the Saplings. It could handle even a low-ranked dragon.
The barrier was what restricted the scope of activity of monsters, including the trolls. It wasn’t the kind of barriers that enclosed whole cities — it only protected certain lines at risk of monster attack, and it was supported by magitech artillery and soldiers. The Troll King was aware of all this.
However, the railway-protective barrier wasn’t erected from the town. Every few kilometers, at every critical location, there was a station housing a magitool that was the core of the barrier. This knowledge didn’t take much of an investigation — it was the stations’ locations that were the more tightly-held secret. Only the garrison and the engineering magicians in charge of maintenance knew where they were.
Mary’s idea was to find out the location of one station, lower the barrier strength, then lure some weak trolls through the affected barrier segment. Then they would report the “troll attack” to the guards, receive their reward money, and help out the guards before any other adventurers could get there. Their reputation would get a boost.
“…no way are things gonna go so smoothly.” Cardi said. He wasn’t entirely willing to do the quest, partially because of his own discomfort with Mary. On the other hand, the other members of his party held no such reservations.
“This is where our skills shine, isn’t it? Judging from the quest content, it probably needed a ranger and a mage to trigger.”
“Come on, Cardi, what’re you talking about? Weird quest it may be, it’s still an event quest. Just follow along and we’re sure to succeed.”
In reality, they wouldn’t even know if the plan had any guarantee of success. In a game, an event quest would force the NPCs to follow a predetermined course of action.
Once it’s done, Cardi’s party would gain prestige with the guild. No one would suspect them, and they would be heroes of the country… or at least that was the theoretical future.
Their first step was to not get caught by the patrolling guards, and to that effect, they were following along the off-limits railroad.
For the main duration of their travel, they’d used the express magitech carriage paid by the money Mary gave them. Top-grade carriages were really only ‘horse carriage’ in name: they didn’t use horses, but magical engines instead. The jeep-lookalike vehicle worth 20 large gold coins were speedy things. The pleasant ride had gotten his party members even more excited, and even helped Cardi to slowly forget about his mistrust toward the quest.
“Alright, time for me to do my job.”
The ranger — a class composed mainly of assassins — of their party began searching for the barrier magitool as he followed the track.
Around two hours later, just when they’d almost given up, they found one of the hidden magitool.
“My turn… wait, what?”
As the magician got ready to work on the magitool, he soon found out he lacked the required specialist knowledge. But then, just like a game cutscene, Mary’s monkey jumped on the magitool and managed to do something with his flailing around.
Their next step was to find some trolls and lure them here. Cardi remembered Mary’s earlier warning.
“Take notice of their strength. Don’t pick any troll too powerful. You wouldn’t be able to win, and the whole plan would fail.”
“…don’t hafta tell me that.” Cardi replied sullenly.
Mary looked at him, gave a faint smile, then came close and whispered in his ears.
“But the reward money and the prestige you’d gain would also depend on the strength of the enemy. If you want the greatest reward, if you want to be called Heroes, then you know the troll you should target, right? The guards should have magitech weapons. If you can make use of them, you might just win.”
Cardi wondered if they were some kind of quest items to help newbies. With the weapons, even if they made a mistake and actually lured in the Dark General himself, they might still be able to handle the boss.
Cardi listened, his face set in a frown. Yet every time he heard Mary’s voice, every time he saw her face, he felt as if his mind was descending into a deeper and deeper fog.
Cardi’s party separated from Mary after that, then got on the jeep to head toward the troll colony.
“How about those?”
“Really, you think those can do much to the guards?”
They had found a group of several trolls on the way, but the identification crystal revealed their combat power was only about 500. They wouldn’t be able to push the guards into the crisis that Cardi’s party was aiming for.
Groups after groups, the trolls were still lacking the combat power they seek. At first, they had been looking for mobs they could easily handle, but their judgement had gotten more and more desensitized until they were only looking for powerful monsters.
They were approaching the troll colony now. With their fear long since paralyzed, Cardi’s party lay eyes upon a high-ranked monster of 3000 combat power: the Troll General.
“…no. Let’s go a bit deeper.” Cardi said.
Unsurprisingly, his party hesitated. “H-hey, don’t you think it’s getting pretty dangerous already?”
He didn’t reply. All he had in his mind was Mary’s words, cloying, whispering into his ears.
The greatest prestige. The fame of Heroes. Status above any other players. If Cardi could have that, he’d be able to turn the table on all those who looked down on him.
Deep inside him spoke the voice of a rational Cardi, a voice that said things couldn’t possibly end so well, that said he could not trust the girl. Yet that voice was silenced by the strange fog upon his mind. Unwittingly, Cardi stood up from behind the boulders hiding the party from the trolls’ sight.
“I…I’m gonna be a heroOOoO!!!”
He took out a consumable spell scroll of Fireball and aimed the projectile toward the troll colony.
The area attack burned the lower-leveled trolls, and howls of alarm rang out. From the stronghold made out of logs deep inside the colony, a huge troll appeared to answer their calls. The five-meters monstrosity roared at the sky in his rage.
[Troll King] [Dark General] [Magic Points: 1200/1200] [Hit Points: 4600/4600] [Total Combat Power: 36000]
Cardi’s party squeaked, seeing the information the identification crystal revealed. As the King’s roar rang out, all the trolls began moving.
The warrior making a break for it was struck in his back by a flying boulder the size of a man’s head. That single hit was enough to turn him into specks of light.
As one, Cardi’s party all screamed and ran off. They didn’t even have the leisure to retrieve the warrior’s items.
If they could think clearly, they would have realized dying here would have limited their losses. But fear was ruling them. They were guzzling down stacks of precious healing potions that they’d collected and left to gather dust in their inventory until now. All the same, one by one, they fell without a single gain to their names.
Still, Cardi thought he’d be safe as long as he could get inside the railway’s barrier.
Yet all that awaited him was a lack of the barrier segment he was running for.
It was the same place with the magitool that Cardi’s party had found. But Mary should have only reduced the barrier strength, not disable it.
From the other side of the train tracks, a horse-riding man rode up to them.
“Boy, what the hell are you doing here?!” He shouted at Cardi.
Once the man heard of the disappearance of part of the barrier, he had immediately departed, leading a squad of guardsmen. Gold, the Warrior, was here.
“I-I…” Cardi stammered.
“Provoking the trolls wasn’t enough for you, fool?! You’ve even destroyed the barrier! Guards, arrest him!”
Upon the Hero’s command, the guardsmen approached Cardi.
“I… I… aaAAAGHH!”
I should have been a hero. The man of the hour. More than anything those bastards making a fool out of me could ever be.
Cardi’s obsession had blackened his heart and muddied his mind. He used a scroll of Explosion on Gold.
Gold jumped forward to cover for the guardsmen, parrying the explosion. But the deflection put the projectile on a path directly toward the magician who was repairing the barrier magitool, irrevocably destroying it.
Gold was struck dumb by the outrageous happening, coincidence though it might have been. But with the Troll King’s army advancing, he couldn’t afford to waste any more time being surprised.
“W-wait, if we can use the magitech weapons…” Cardi muttered, even as he too was dumbfounded.
“You think we can just lug that stuff around?!” Gold yelled at him. He then gave an order, his teeth clenched tight. “Tsk, dammit… we’re returning!”
Right at that moment, a soldier ran up at him.
“We have a problem, sir!”
“What the hell is it?!”
The soldier gulped, nervous in front of an angry Hero, then mustered up his courage to give the rest of his report.
“Monsters have appeared at the train stations of Torrann Caliphate and the Republic of Savanhuit!”