Due to the appearance of the unknown Unseelie Lord, the MMORPG World of Yggdrasia was temporarily closing down its doors to the players.
The total number of registered accounts all over the world was three million and four hundred thousand players, with over six hundred thousands online at any given time. It was one of the leading large-scale MMOs at the moment.
But more and more people had begun to hold suspicions about its overly realistic world and much too human NPCs, and some had started to search for the truth. In the world of cyberspace now said to be even more vast than the real world, some players had reached a certain website with only scraps of information as their only hints.
Among these players, only those with a clear position in society, a rational mind, and a desire for the truth powerful enough for them to be willing to disclose their own personal information would be allowed to sign a special employment contract. So it came to be that several hundred players now gathered at the website for their backdoor login process.
“Is everyone ready?! Right nyow, there’s a super-duper crazy meownster over there fighting with the Dark Lady! You’ll die if it so much as looks at you! It might even get your real body! So prepare yourselves, boys and girls, and we’ll get going!”
With the overly vivacious announcement of their guide, a stuffed cat in a maid uniform, the players stepped foot into Yggdrasia one after another.
Each driven by thoughts of their own.
Even the central region of the Eastern Continent had not escaped the influence of the large-scale magic circle. Swarms of dark pixies were ravaging the area.
With the downfall of the Torrann Caliphate, Katrosvingt took its place as the new largest country on this continent. The country had coordinated with Marsal Kingdom and other neighboring countries to destroy one of the Origin points of the magic circle, and they had succeeded.
As the Dark Lady was currently attracting the attention of the Unseelie Lord, the current most dangerous threat to the world, Katrosvingt and Marsal were allowed a moment of reprieve after they had killed most of the dark pixies on their lands.
It was not an extermination — the dark creatures were still a threat to these two countries. Yet even so, they were already beginning to shift their focus away from protecting their citizens, instead making military preparations to defeat the Unseelie Lord and the Dark Lady.
“…what is that?”
The soldiers standing guard on the walls of Katrosvingt’s capital city noticed a group of dozens of monsters of all types approaching.
Monster attacks had gotten much worse ever since humans began to gather mana from the World Saplings, and so this attack was, in a sense, a common sight.
“What the hell…?”
But leading the monster group was something very much uncommon. It was a bicorn the size of a donkey, on top of which was a hellhound as large as a medium-sized dog, and on top of that was a chicken-size cockatrice.
The guards even forgot to ring the alarm in front of the absurd sight.
“What’s that thing?!”
“Hey, the alarm…”
Soldiers gathered as more and more of them noticed the abnormality. Then, to their surprise, the monsters all effortlessly jumped over the ten-meters high walls as if they were just stepping over a fence, ignoring the magic barrier.
They were players using the non-militaristic, general-use monster avatars.
The magic barrier normally only allowed humanoids to pass through while repelling monsters. The barrier discriminated between the two not by the amount of internal magic, but by magical pattern.
The magic of humanoids was fundamentally non-elemental, and other elements would only be added afterward. On the other hand, the magic of monsters was fundamentally elemental. This difference allowed the barrier to repel the vast majority of monster types.
The exceptions were monsters under 20 combat power. They had their uses in human society, and so they were exempt from the barrier.
The monster avatars currently logging in through the backdoor program had been reconstructed to be based on the humanoid avatars that the players had as their main characters. Their magical patterns were now indistinguishable from that of humans.
The band of monsters had entered the urban area. Among screams of running citizens, knights and soldiers appeared to intercept them.
“The guards are here! Remember, don’t hurt them!”
“Yeah, of course!”
“I’d rather just die than hurt actual people!”
“…I killed some bandits once, you know… the bodies were censored, but I still feel sick once in a while when I remembered how they’d been real people…”
“Must be rough… I feel you, man. I still regret that I didn’t stop those idiot players from abusing the demihumans.”
“We gotta make up for all those times we’ve been thoughtless… hey, over there! Spell’s coming!”
“Got it! Heyyah!”
A skittering spider-type monster somersaulted to dodge a flame projectile, then shot out adhesive strings to tie up the magicians.
“Ueergh… I’m gonna puke…”
“Obviously. That’s what happens when your auto-control’s down below fifty percent.”
“What else can I do? I can’t be that agile if I don’t control the avatar myself.”
“Why don’t you do what they do? I heard they pretty much leave everything on auto-control except for reaction speed, you know?”
The monster avatars turned their gazes toward the Bremen musicians that were the cockatrice-hellhound-bicorn trio. The totem pole were weaving through attacks, playing with the knights as if the humans were bumbling children.
“Nah, they’re just freaks of nature.”
“They’re the devs, right?”
“Yeah. The topmost’s Jennifer, I think?”
“Wow… just absolute madlads.”
The cockatrice petrified only the weapons of the knights and soldiers. ‘Cock-a-doodle-doo!’ it crowed loudly on top of the hellhound. Only the players could hear the human voice behind it: the voice of Jennifer, the self-proclaimed number-one worshipper of the Dark Lady.
“Just a little bit more, everyone! We’re not just liberating the Saplings to save this world, we’re also helping our goddess Shedy the Dark Lady! Come on, let’s show them the power of the unofficial Dark Bunny Lady fan club! Show them the power of the Dark Army! For the Dark Bunny Lady!”
“”””FOR THE DARK BUNNY LADY!!!”””
Soon afterwards, the monsters of the self-proclaimed Dark Army successfully captured the palace and destroyed the Sapling in a landslide victory. The closest it came to casualties on the humans’ side were some injuries among the evacuating people.
The Southern Continent of Yggdrasia had not suffered much damage from the dark pixies. Instead, the demihuman resistance had taken advantage of the narrow window of opportunity to attack the small country of Quantecarl.
The leader of the local demihuman resistance was a feline beastwoman named Selille. She was cooperating with the Dark Lady, but that didn’t mean she was her subordinate.
Selille’s purpose was to make the world right once again, and to prevent its collapse.
Once upon a time in the distant past, her ancestors had pitied the fragile human race, allowing them to leech upon the World Saplings. In doing so, they had inadvertently let loose the plague called ‘mankind’, driving multiple races toward extinction and bringing Yggdrasia into a crisis. It had been her forefathers’ crime, and it was what she was now trying to atone.
Many within the resistance had had their families or people they cherished killed by humans. They had sworn revenge in their intense hatred for the human race. Selille, however, did not allow them to kill anyone that hadn’t taken up arms.
The sin did not lie in the human civilians. It lay in the weakness of mankind.
Yet at the same time, Selille knew that it was that very same weakness that could give birth to kindness.
The Dark Lady of the current generation, the girl of white, had been fighting alone, taking into herself all the hate, the crimes that should have been theirs to bear instead.
According to the demihuman information network across the lands, the foolish humans had summoned a monster as terrible as an Evil God from the Netherworld, and the Dark Lady was now fighting it by herself, keeping its attention solely on her.
There had been another piece of information: the Dark Lady’s power would be strengthened as Saplings were destroyed and revived.
If they wanted to aid the Dark Lady in her lonely battle, the resistance could no longer afford to be fight cautiously, keeping their losses at a minimum as they’d done until now. They had to liberate Saplings as quickly as possible.
Selille had to put together a force to free the Saplings as fast as she could while keeping losses low.
Perhaps that was what had made her impatient. Perhaps the thought that the enemy was only a small country had made her careless.
They had succeeded in invading the palace, but not yet in breaking through the door leading to the Sapling. The delay had given the surviving enemy soldiers a chance to surround them.
Selille had under her command five companies of resistance soldiers. At the moment, the fifth company was tasked with breaking down the door, while everyone else was defending the four corridors that led to this place.
“Commander! The second company had sustained heavy losses, and platoon leader Roden had fallen in battle!”
“One of the third company’s platoons had been attacked. No survivors. The northern corridor won’t hold!”
The number of surviving resistance fighters had dropped below fifty, while the human soldiers and knights gathering outside the corridors were several times that.
Selille too had tried to warn the humans about the disaster that would befall the world if they continued to monopolize the World Saplings. But the humans seemed to equate ‘world peace’ with ‘human prosperity’, and they hadn’t listened to her.
“I never had a chance, do I…”
The human race had tasted the forbidden fruit of unlimited resource. They and the demihumans were irreconcilable. Perhaps there were some humans willing to listen, but it might take decades, maybe even centuries, until the whole of the human race made up their mind.
There was no guarantee the world could last until then. The Dark Lady had understood that, and it was why she had quickly given up on talking with the humans. Instead, she fought by herself, turning all of the humans’ hatred toward her and her alone.
Selille made a decision. She turned around to her comrades.
“Shall we have a final gamble, everyone? All of us go for the door. It won’t matter how many of us die. As long as the Sapling is destroyed, it will still be our victory.” Selille said, confirming her comrades’ resolve. The beastmen, elves, and dwarves around her simply smirked and readied their weapons once more.
“Then let’s go!”
Selille’s plan was to leave only several people to delay the enemies, fully aware that they’d most certainly die, while everyone else gathered to break open the heavily-secured barrier-door.
But just as she was about to give the order, sounds of a sudden uproar echoed from the northern corridor.
Had they broken through? She thought, pulling out her weapons and hurrying toward the area. A pink-colored smoke was filling the northern hallway. Both enemies and allies were coughing, rolling on the floor, their faces wet with tears and snot.
“Not really. Just some tear gas.”
A voice rang out from within the smoke. Six person-shaped silhouettes appeared, their faces covered with strange masks.
“Who goes there? Human adventurers?!” “So the humans have hired you to come kill us, have they?!”
As the resistance fighters raised their weapons in wariness, Selille stepped forward.
“Hold!” she ordered her men and turned toward the newcomers, “are you… Isaac?”
She remembered that voice. It had belonged to a young human who she had once crossed blades with. A good man, albeit ignorant.
The group pulled the resistance fighters outside of the cloud of gas. While several of them were applying what looked to be medicine to the downed resistance fighters, Isaac, standing at the front of the group, took off his mask.
“Long time no see.”
“Wha?! What happened to you?!”
On Isaac’s head were animal ears like those of a wolf’s. His fellow comrades followed suit and removed their own masks, revealing the faces of beastmen, elves, and dwarves.
“Weren’t you humans…?”
“Umm, well…” Isaac mumbled, looking uncomfortable and seemingly unsure how to explain. One of his comrades, the scout named Weed with a face now elven, replied in Isaac’s stead.
“Weeell, you see, so we joined the Dark Army, yeah? And we got a chance to recreate our cha-uh, I mean, a chance to reincarnate into a new life, so we did!” Weed said, a frivolous smile on his face.
“What nonsense are you speaking?!” Selille shouted, her bewilderment shared by the resistance fighters.
Isaac walked before Selille and looked into her eyes.
“I’ve been looking for you.”
“We know the ‘truth’ you spoke of now. We also understand why you and Shedy were trying to destroy Saplings.”
“…do you mean to ally with us, then?” she asked hesitantly, “you would fight humans?”
“No, we’re not going to hurt them.”
As soon as Isaac made his declaration, the hitherto silent demihumans once more raised their weapons.
“Hold, men!” Selille ordered, and she turned to stare at Isaac, taking his measure, “…what will you do, then?”
Isaac met her eyes. He spoke without a hint of hesitation.
“I want to protect your people. I want to protect you.”
The conversation stilled in awkwardness. Moments later, voices rang out behind Isaac to interrupt the silence.
“Hurry up, Isaac! The smoke is running out soon! Don’t we need to deal with the other corridors too?” Weed said.
“We need to open the door, right? Come on, I’ll handle this!” After Weed was the voice of Sandrea, the magician.
The resistance fighters lowered their weapons and sighed in relief, seemingly to have accepted the newcomers as their allies, even if these strange people seemed to be… somewhat lacking in gravitas.
Isaac wryly smiled at his friends’ antics. He turned back to look at Selille, the woman still flustered.
“We’re a bunch of misfits, as you can see. Would you still accept us?”
And before they knew it, there was no longer the gloomy air of the last stand they’d readied themselves for. A faint but distinct twitch of a smile showed on Selille’s face.
I panted, my breath heavy with exertion. I’d managed to somehow cancel out Fiorfata’s magical blast before it could hit, but half of Sautonn’s capital still vanished.
But it wasn’t the end yet. Fiorfata was still getting closer to me.
The surviving sleipnir once more told me to get on with a painful groan, even with the deep wounds he’d suffered from the humans’ attacks on our way here.
“Don’t, you’re hurt.”
He suddenly kicked my foot and glared at me with reproachful eyes.
“…I guess you’re right. Okay.”
Intimidated by his gaze, I once more jumped on his back.
I supposed it really wasn’t the time to be worrying about his health when the apocalypse was coming. The world would end if I ran out of strength mid-way through, after all.
As I felt Fiorfata’s presence coming closer and closer, my steed once more carried me onward. And then, as I was caressing his mane, I suddenly received two more white magic stones one after another.
Was someone helping me…?
A/N: The players have joined the battle. They have an intelligence analysis team to search through everything that every players worldwide have said, and they also have a decent grasp on the resistance’s own information.
World map update. The red line is Shedy’s path from the beginning of this arc (chapter 80 onward).