The Heroes had accepted the request to subjugate the Dark Lady Whitehare from the coalition of large countries, but out of the three, the Warrior had disappeared following the destruction of his home country. For a time, the Blademaster had been pursuing the Dark Lady with his own method, but one day, he suddenly found he could no longer find her tracks. So now the man was busy traveling the world, taking into his care the noble ladies who’d lost their countries and the women who’d lost their husbands.
While the Sage had developed the spell to detect magical signals, ultimately, it could only detect the Dark Lady once she entered combat with someone else. As a result, the Sage was always forced to be reactive, unable to capture the Dark Lady. In the end, three more small countries lost their World Tree Saplings, forcing each and every human countries to strengthen their own defense even further.
The teleportation circle the Sage had invented required a magician capable of casting sixth-rank darkness spells, and so it had been purchased not by the human countries but the Temples. Adventurers were frequently sent out, but no progress was made into apprehending the Dark Lady.
The Dark Lady Whitehare was a unique enemy.
The past Dark Lords recorded in the history books and the current Dark General monsters normally led an army of subordinates, instead of acting alone.
No matter how powerful their personal strength were, alone, they would be defeated by several Heroes or Champions working together. If that wasn’t enough, then they just needed to be dragged into a war of attrition and surrounded by a coalition army, and humanity would have more than a decent chance to win.
Yet Dark Lords were still feared, and the Dark Generals still hadn’t been stamped out. While partly it was due to the lack of unity between the human countries, the main reason was that they were leaders of a large army of minions.
Whether it be the Trolls, the Ogres, or the Orcs, each army had tens of thousands of soldiers.
In pure numbers, the human race had more people with their total population of over a hundred million. But the Dark Generals’ armies had over ninety percent of their members as combatants, and even the weakest footsoldier could put up more than a good fight against a Rank 3 adventurer. The humans had no idea how much casualty they would suffer if their armies clashed face-to-face. They had no choice but to be cautious.
Yet the Dark Lady Whitehare was fundamentally different. She always worked alone.
The strength of the current Dark Generals lay in their armies, but at the same time their advance was forced by the need to defend against low-ranked monsters. On the other hand, nobody knew where Whitehare was. She was a phantom. The city guards couldn’t even slow her down if she appeared, and the Sapling would be long gone by the time the knights arrived.
Assigning high-rank adventurers and elite knights to the Sapling’s defense would buy some time, but they’d lose the ability to defend against the powerful monsters in the countryside in exchange. Humanity was caught in a catch-22.
And to pour salt on the wound, the demihumans all over the world were now rising up in a resistance movement.
They were attacking the remnants of countries that had lost their Sapling — groups of humans who had remained in an effort to rebuild their homeland — and take back the demihuman labour slaves. To combat the problem, the adventurer guilds had been issuing requests to eradicate the resistance, but most of the new adventurers who had been showing up in force in the last six months had refused. The nobility of certain countries had attempted to punish these adventurers, which had only resulted in the high-rank adventurers of the country leaving the border and ultimately reducing the national power.
A group of human countries had offered a peace deal with the resistance, saying “Let’s stand together against the Dark Lady and defend world peace!”, but the reply from the demihumans were just three words: “Go fuck yourselves.”
Yet humanity — or more accurately, the Temples — had still not yet lost.
On the surface, the Temples were cooperating with humans, giving assistance to the Heroes, and sending adventurers all over the world to defend against the Dark Lady. While the adventurers were killing monsters throughout the lands and receiving thanks from the local, their true purpose was to serve as the Temples’ eyes.
The watcher drones patrolling worldwide numbered around one hundred thousand, but not all of them had human supervision. They patrolled in an AI-determined pattern, and they only reported to the corporation once they detected a significant event.
But that wasn’t enough to watch for all the signs of an appearance by the Dark Lady Whitehare, who was not only an elusive phantom but also a cautious one. The 4th research center had made their first move as the newly-assigned anti-Dark Lady department: their plan was to make use of the eyes of nearly three million players, then filtering everything through an AI to search for certain terms such as ‘Dark Lady’, ‘the bunny’, or ‘Whitehare’, in order to look for the Dark Lady.
“Wha-what’s happening?! No, nooOOOO—”
It happened when I was in the middle of conquering another small country. An adventurer party had seen me and was excitedly jumping at me, when they suddenly screamed out in confusion and stopped moving.
By bringing along my lucky charms, Blobsy and Panda, I barely suffered any more Heroic interruptions. These days, I was continuing my trick of luring monsters to attack cities as a distraction to deal with the hardened defense of the Saplings.
I also realized one other thing recently: goblinoid monsters with a certain degree of intelligence, such as the goblins themselves, were hostile to me the same way they were hostile to humans and demihumans, but other types of monsters like the beast-type or plant-type generally didn’t go out of their way to attack me.
Just because I was the Dark Lady didn’t mean I’d get monsters at my beck and call. I’d talked with the World Tree one more time for more information, and it turned out that the reason for the increase in monster population these last few decades, as well as the reason they’d begun to attack human settlements, was because the World Tree was creating them from manaswamps and ordering them to attack in order to free the Saplings.
This was… quite the shocking truth.
No humans would ever have thought that the culprit behind the monster attacks was the World Tree itself: the cornerstone of the world, the foundation of their livelihood, and even the target of their worship.
No wonder Blobsy and Panda got attached to me so easily.
Anyway, so I had been using the monsters as a distraction to draw out the knights so that I could invade the vulnerable city and destroy the Sapling, but then suddenly, trouble happened.
The adventurers in front of me, probably players, had stopped moving. The light of awareness faded from their eyes. Armor of iridescence appeared out of nowhere to cover them whole, and they abruptly began charging at me with surprising agility.
[Iridescent Armor] [Magic Point: 500/500] [Hit Point: 500/500] [Total Combat Power: 3000]
I covered the six charging adventurers in cold mist. They slowed down but weren’t frozen. They continued moving and attacked me with an iridescent spear they pulled from thin air.
I struck their armor with the magic dagger I got from Tiz last time. The blade simply broke off without anything to show for it.
A spell barrier? No, that’s armor specialized against the cold. So troublesome.
But I still had a lot more total combat power. I relied on pure speed to weave through the iridescent armors’ attacks, slamming my claws into one of them.
They flew off with a metallic clang. Yet despite their broken neck and armor torn to pieces, they still stood up without making a single sound and once more headed toward me.
Who the hell were they?! Too damn tough!
With my power, I’d expected them to be vaporized by a single attack. Yet not only did they hold their shape, they were even moving. It must be the armor.
My guess was that they’d used the avatar technology to recreate a metal unique to this world, but had the players really advanced so much? And their combat power were even three times higher. Why?
I took a slow, deep breath, readying myself and taking a closer look at their movements.
There was no waste in their movements. No, that’s not quite right. Their movements were somehow different.
The people of this world, as well as the players, relied on skills and special techniques apparently called [Combat Arts] as the basics for combat, which often made their movements exaggerated and showy. In comparison, these armors looked… how do I say this… plainer.
Ah, right. They were moving like soldiers of Earth. Then why did they change their style so suddenly? Why did their combat power increased so abruptly? The hint lay within their [Identification] info.
[Iridescent Armor] [Magic Point: 210/210] [Hit Point: 328/500] [Total Combat Power: 3000]
Noticing the strange decrease in magic points, I changed my tactics. I fully transformed into mist, diving into the center of their formation and turned back to human. I touched one of them directly and once again began absorbing the armor’s magic power.
It broke apart into clattering pieces. The player left behind began to disperse into motes of light.
[Warrior-ish Young Man] [Race: Human ♂] [Adventurer] [Magic Points (MP): 0/12] [Hit Points (HP): 0/340] [Total Combat Power: 87]
The rest brought up their spears in caution at the sight. But they weren’t so scary once I understood how to deal with them. They’re just annoying.
But right at that moment, I noticed dozens of sets of iridescent armor riding on spidery-looking monsters rushing toward me from the depths of the city.
The battle with the iridescent armors took several hours, enough time for the knights to arrive. It was the first time I had to retreat without destroying the Sapling.
Back at the World Tree, Blobsy rubbed herself on my cheek, while Panda on my other shoulder patted me on the head.
“…thanks.” I said, sitting on a large root and began thinking. Ever since I was a kid, these moments of deep contemplation had been my way of protecting myself from the malice of grown-ups. It was how I had survived.
First off, I believed their drastic power increase hadn’t been because of a technological advancement, but because they’d consumed a large amount of magic.
Then why hadn’t they done that until now? The answer was likely to be related to the drastic change in their way of movement.
First, the premise. For a lifeform to become more powerful in this world, they needed a large amount of mana. But just being granted the mana wouldn’t work: their bodies also needed to acclimatize to it.
It was the difference between a body that had trained for years and a body doped with drugs.
…or wait, maybe that’s not the right analogy? Maybe it’s more like the difference in deliciousness between bread made from baking dough just after mixing and bread made from baking dough that had been allowed to rise… anyway, that’s the idea.
Then probably, the militarized monster avatars that had been attacking me until now were also mainly gaining strength by training up their magic, even if they were already initialized with a certain amount of magic power.
Then I could assume that in order to create those inordinately tough armor and gaining such a drastic amount of combat power, they’d needed to consume the maximum magic points that they’d trained up and acclimatized with. The proof was that the maximum magic of that dying player had been lowered to almost nothing.
That was even less magic than a human baby living in a city, really.
In other words, the corporation was doing the rational thing and sacrificing the players to gain usable firepower, without reducing the power of their personal military that were the monster avatars.
Obviously, the players wouldn’t have done it themselves. In which case the corporation must have taken control of their avatars back then.
“…I have to admit, they’re decisive if nothing else.”
If they’d done it to only a few, they could have waved it off as a bug and apologized and they would have been forgiven. But the amount of iridescent armors I’d defeated was already numbering several hundreds.
If the same amount of player characters disappeared, rumors would have started up in no time at all. Weren’t they worried people would leave their game?
Maybe they were soothing ruffled feathers and silencing the players by real money. A lot of money.
But in that case, they must be thinking the future profit from killing or capturing me must be worth more than the millions of dollars’ worth of profit they’d be losing.
So, that was my attempt to read into what they were doing. I probably wasn’t all that far off.
But then, I’d need to think of a countermeasure.
If the iridescent armors continued to show up in large numbers, it’d be difficult to reach the Sapling. Besides, while I might have managed this time by using my absorption ability, [Magical Defense] still worked to lessen the effect of [Absorption], so if I allowed them the time they might manage to counter that too.
Then should I strengthen my [Absorption] skill? How? Or perhaps I should just raise my total combat power and physically pummel them into dust… but then if they also decided to strengthen themselves, it might just turn into a futile game of cat-and-mouse.
[Shedy] [Race: Bunny Girl] [Archdemon Lv. 21] ・The rabbit demon of Laplace. Trickster and guide of man’s fate. [Magic Points: 85,000/85,000] 14,000 ↑ [Total Combat Power: 93,500/93,500] 15,400 ↑ [Unique Skill: <Causality Alteration> <Cyber-Manipulation> <Absorption> <Materialization>] [Racial Skill: <Fear> <Mist Form>] [Simple Identification] [Human Form (Wonderful)] [Subspace Inventory] [Dark Lady]
“…this is probably enough magic, right?”
I hadn’t been able to stay for long last time. But with my current amount of magic, plus a bit of snacking in the local area, it might just work.
“Alright. Let’s go to Earth and strike at their roots.”
A/N: It was the 4th research center that had done the player character possession. The game development department had known nothing about it, and they’re making complaints.