With the demon Whitehare now heading toward Earth and ceasing her quest for the time being, Yggdrasia should have regained some measure of peace, if only temporarily. But strange incidents were happening, as if to cover for the Dark Lady’s disappearance.
The soldiers keeping watch outside human towns were holding their spears in a death grip, looking inordinately tense. Their vigilance was twitchy, jittery, as if they were terrified by something invisible.
Just a while ago, the Dark Lady had suddenly appeared and wiped out several countries in a blink of an eye, and they had certainly feared her. But as the Dark Lady Whitehare possessed no subordinates, always acting alone, the garrison soldiers in locations other than the capital, where the Sapling that was the target of Whitehare was, would at most only fear the loss of their livelihood that would result from her attack. They weren’t terrified of her.
The large countries had jointly requested the Heroes to subjugate the Dark Lady. Current rumors had it that while the Heroes’ assault seemed to be stalling, just the fact that the Heroes had begun to act was enough to put the Dark Lady on guard, turning the situation into a stalemate.
Then what were the guards terrified of?
“…there they come!”
“Confirmed sighting of dark pixies!”
These monsters had recently begun to appear from murky forests, from desolate graveyards, from crumbling buildings, and from rotting ruins. They were humanoid, twenty centimeters tall, with insectile wings. Their extreme similarity to the so-called ‘pixies’, their dark-red, enormous bloodshot eyes, reedy limbs, as well as their extreme belligerence and cruelty had all combined to earn them the name of ‘dark pixies’.
These dark pixies had one day suddenly appeared all throughout the world to ravage villages and towns without discrimination, killing cattles, demihuman slaves, and citizens alike. Their elusiveness and individual strength that was above a normal soldier made them troublesome foes. Furthermore, every time they showed up, it was as a group from several up to over thirty. Splitting up soldiers into patrolling teams of several men only added to the casualty. The soldiers were forced to huddle up for a chance of survival.
“Where are the adventurers?!”
“They’re on their way, sir!”
In response, the human countries had sent a request for the adventurer guild to focus their hunting upon the dark pixies. The guild was originally an organization set up to deal with the monsters that had begun threatening human cities in the last few decades. This sort of situation was exactly their bread-and-butter.
But no one knew where the dark pixies were coming from. They were forced to be reactive.
“Sir! The adventurers…”
“They had been attacked by an unknown group on the way… no one survived.”
The voice of the despairing soldier echoed in the darkness. Once more, a village was devastated.
Where were the dark pixies coming from? Who was this mysterious group working behind the scenes?
In the beginning, there had been rumors they were the Dark Lady’s subordinates. But once the mysterious group began to act, and from the testimony of the Blademaster who’d fought against the dark pixies and said “The dark pixies don’t have her smell, so not her,” the matter was judged unrelated to the Dark Lady.
Then what was the cause?
“Reporting, Your Majesty! The Third Knight Squadron has successfully vanquished the group hiding in the abandoned ruins!”
A knight came into his office to give the report as Tischlar, the emperor of Touze Empire, was doing paperwork. His hands stopped, and he looked up in puzzlement.
“Vanquish? Didn’t I order them to capture?”
“Y-yes,” the reporting knight paled, sweat beading on his forehead, “Our utmost apologies! Our suspects had not responded to calls of surrender and had fought to the bitter end. Even those who we’d captured had all killed themselves with poison!”
The emperor let loose a heavy sigh.
“…I see. Good job. Have you found out who they were?”
“Our suspects did not carry anything to identify them, except for the usual documents about the magic circle. We had hurried the analysts to reference them against information from all countries as fast as they can, and they had reported that the group heavily resembled Varringt’s prison escapists on the wanted list!”
“Got it. You can leave.”
The dark pixies had also been showing up in Touze Empire.
They’ve roughly determined the cause. There’d been incidents of felons escaping incarceration throughout the whole world before the Dark Lady quietened down. The knights had determined their hideout and had raided the place, and there, they had discovered an evil altar with a large number of live sacrifices, humans and demihumans both. They had also found a bizarre magic circle.
These criminals never surrendered. They would even turn themselves into sacrifices in their final moments. From the documents they left behind, it has been determined that these magic circles was related to the appearance of the dark pixies. However, their true goal was still shrouded in mystery.
“I have brought tea, young master.”
“Drop the ‘young’ already, gramp.” Tiz wryly smiled. The old butler would pamper him until the end of his life.
Tiz relaxed, smelling the fragrant tea leaves. He leaned deeply back on his chair.
“We still haven’t found her?”
“Indeed. And there are no sign her father is hiding her.”
Salia had been Tiz’s personal bodyguard before her egregious conduct caused her to be dismissed and put under house arrest. After her disappearance, attempts to track her had all ended fruitlessly.
The mad criminals that the countries had left alive by virtue of their standing and skill were now being released into the wild by an unknown party. They were plotting something foul.
“So, the ‘Fairy King’…”
Only several instances of the term appeared within the documents that had been in the possession of the prison escapists.
Some experts had said that the madmen’s goal was to summon the Fairy King. But many doubted their existence, and they believed there must be something deeper.
The Fairy King only ever appeared in children fairy-tales. There was nothing to prove their existence even in the whole history of Yggdrasia, a world with elementals and demons.
Did they really exist? If they did, then what were the madmen trying to do by summoning them? Or was it all just a distraction?
“Just Shedy’s already enough of a headache, and now this…”
The peace of this world was being threatened by many.
The monsters appearing and attacking human countries several decades ago.
The Dark Lady Whitehare’s destruction of the World Tree Saplings, and the subsequent collapses of countries.
The insurrection of demihuman slaves, a crucial source of labor.
The increased activity of Dark General armies.
And now, the summoning of dark pixies by criminal-turned-terrorists.
These were the reasons why humanity’s economy, formerly prosperous, was now grinding to a halt. Problems were beginning to appear all throughout the world. The people were still managing with the endless mana from the Saplings, but if trade continued to stall and refugees continued to increase, sooner or later, it would all come tumbling down.
“The cause of the dark pixies… can’t we even disclose the information about the escapists? Just them?”
“I believe it would be… inadvisable.”
Among the escapists throughout the world, there were many guilty with such serious crimes they were supposed to have been already executed. The higher-ups, especially of large countries, would loathe to let the information leak to the citizens.
This was why the only people in the know, even among the knights, were the squadron leaders and above, as well as the spy agency in charge of intelligence and assassination. Consequently, they were forced to be always one step behind.
Tiz stared at the cooling cup of tea and thought.
What was happening in this world? Was there some sort of root cause behind it all?
The last time he saw Shedy’s eyes, there was no trace of madness nor regrets in them. They were filled with a powerful determination. With purpose.
Tiz was thinking. Was he overlooking something? Something important, fundamental?
In the dimly lit subway train, my body swaying along the light vibration, I used [Cyber-Manipulation] on my mobile device to do some information manipulation.
They hadn’t shown any sign of knowing I was here. The disappearance of those guards was simply treated as a case of missing people. Well, not like I really knew how much they realized, though.
While it was necessary for me to steal their lifeforce for my manifestation, selling their items might have been too rash. I should have just hunted for some thugs around town if I needed money. It wouldn’t have left potential future troubles that way.
I wryly smiled as I noticed my thoughts so easily veering in that direction. I was supposed to be a human of this world until just a while ago, and now I was already thinking of them the same way I thought of hunting deers to sell their pelt and antlers.
Was this what it meant to be a Demon?
…no, not quite. No matter what might have happened, I’d never been a decent person in the first place.
The door opened. A black man and a white man, both well-built, entered the subway car formerly empty of people except for me. They were laughing loudly as they walked close to me.
The white man didn’t sit down, instead leaning on the subway door leading outside and looked at me, faintly whistling a catcall. I continued fiddling with my smartphone.
While my blank-white parka was hiding my face with its hood, I was wearing a denim short skirt and sneakers. My choice of clothing had simply stemmed from the thinking that people generally let their guards down to girls more than they would to boys. I’d forgotten that girls would have this sort of trouble too.
“Hey baby, what’s a girl like you doing all alone on a subway? There’re dangerous people around, don’t you know?” One of them started talking.
“Like us, for example,” the other sniggered.
“Yeah. Hey, hang out with us for a bit. We’re off our shift.”
“Scram.” I said, still looking at my smartphone. For a moment, the air seemed to have frozen still. Then it heated up with the men’s anger.
I slightly raised my head. They saw my eyes up-front and visibly paled. They almost stumbled back a step.
“…tsk, let’s go.”
The two got their last words in and left for another car in a hurry.
…I really wished people wouldn’t force me to have to kill more than necessary. It wasn’t like I derive pleasure from killing. Although I suppose part of it was my fault, since I forgot about how I looked.
Maybe I scared them a bit too much? I knew I’d be having trouble reining in my presence, considering I didn’t have the necklace. Oh well.
I took out the ID card and used [Cyber-Manipulation] to read it… yep, I was right.
The card had belonged to one of the men back then. I pickpocketed them. I knew the 12th research center of that corporation was in this area, so I thought that if I was lucky, someone working there would get on the subway. I actually got a hit the first time around.
Sneaking in would be easy if I just completely transformed into mist, but then I wouldn’t be able to enter any airtight rooms, plus it wouldn’t be funny if they knew about me because I thoughtlessly destroyed the place.
…well, if I went all out I’d get found out sooner or later anyway, but I still wanted to try to get as much info as I could before then.
The train slowly came to a stop, the door opening with barely a hiss. I got on the platform, then exited the station. I walked through the town in the dead of night toward the 12th research center.