Turf War – Chapter 31

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Chapter 31 – Edim’s secret was leaked (Opening)

Dryas-kun’s advice had reassured me somewhat but…

In the end I couldn’t leave it alone.

How could I sleep soundly knowing that Edim was risking her life out there?

I left my bed.

I couldn’t sleep while I was still worried for her safety. Who knew that it was so difficult just to have faith and wait for somebody.

I had to find something to do.

Perhaps I could pray for her safety. I wasn’t exactly the religious type though.

While I paced my room I suddenly heard some kind of racket.

I decided to leave my room to check it out.

No sooner had I investigated did I find the members of the Evil God Army running about, and shouting rather dangerous things as well.

“Raze it to the ground!”

“Fire together as a volley!”

Not to say that they weren’t usually causing a commotion anyway, but what I was hearing was a step above normal.

What the hell were these guys planning to do in the middle of the night?

If I wanted answers then I needed to find the person in charge… so it was Dryas-kun that I headed towards.

“Dryas-kun, what on earth――hau!?”

I had entered the Strategic HQ only to find…

O-O-Oh my god!

Garbed in a white robe, Dryas-kun was kneeling on the floor, apparently about to commit seppuku. Grasped in his left hand was a dagger that he was pointing at his stomach. He looked just about ready to gut himself like a fish.

Why was this happening?

I gasped as I realised something.

Dryas-kun was surely as anxious as I was. How couldn’t he be, with Edim having been sent off to assassinate the Fiend of all people?

What I was seeing was Dryas-kun preparing to take responsibility if Edim didn’t come back alive. Because he would have been the one to have sent a friend to her death.

What was I going to do with him…?

I walked deeper into the room and patted him on the shoulder.

His eyes went wide.

“W-Why if it isn’t Tilea-sama!”

“Just what do you think――Actually, forget that. I know what you’re thinking, after all.”

“I am afraid that I have shown you something unsightly,” he admitted, shame-faced.

“You’ve shown me your resolve, is all. You’re planning to die if Edim doesn’t come home alive, aren’t you?”

“Yes, milady. As the strategist, I must take responsibility for my words,” he explained.

“…I can’t stop you can I?”

“Please forgive my impudence… I have no wish to live with shame after failing so.”

I took in his forlorn countenance for a while. He truly was a caring friend.

There was no reason he had to take his life for this.

The one who requested the Fiend’s death was me. If anything, the responsibility weighed much more heavily on my side of the scales.

If Edim died then it was I who deserved to die.

Right. All of the responsibility lay with me.

I had to di――――A-Actually I can’t do this.

Dying was scary, sure, but dying and leaving Timu behind was much, much scarier.

I was so selfish. Edim was out there risking her life, but I was too afraid to risk mine…

Damn it.

In that case, the only thing left I could do was head there myself.

Perhaps I would just get in the way, but there was a chance that I could help in some way as well.

“Dryas-kun, don’t do anything hasty,” I told him.

“H-However…” he tried to object, but I spoke over him.

“Don’t argue. You told me yourself, right? With Edim there, this mission would be a guaranteed success. Just believe.”

With those parting words, I rushed out of the room.

My goal was the Fiend’s estate…

Perhaps Edim and the Fiend had both knocked each other out. Or perhaps Edim had been defeated and was lying helpless right now. I could at least carry her and run.

I can’t believe I only thought of this now. If there was something I could do, I ought to be doing it.

Determined, I picked up the pace.

Ah, wait, wait. Almost forgot…

In the worst case scenario, neither Edim or I would come back. What if Dryas-kun decided to follow us into death and killed himself?

As if I could let that happen!

I looked for someone in the Underground Empire for someone I could hail. Unfortunately everybody was running about rather busily.

Come to think of it, I never did find out what the racket was about.

Hmmmm, wasn’t there anybody I could ask…?

Oh! Pervert(Nielsen) spotted!

He was jogging down the hallway looking rather rushed himself.

“Niel, could I have a moment?” I called to him.

Pervert(Nielsen) changed course and headed to me.

“Terrible news, Tilea-sama! Dryas has exercised his authority as Chief of General Staff to order a Bazooka Call(Magic Bullet Salvo Fire).”

“A Bazooka Call?”

I gave him a look of confusion.

“You must not be aware of the tactic. It has been discussed at the War Councils.”

“Yeah. It’s my first time hearing of this,” I admitted. “What on earth is a Bazooka Call?”

“It is, milady, the codename for a tactic where every member of the army fires a simultaneous volley of magic bullets. If executed, we estimate that it has the power to raze the Capital to the ground.”

Hmm, more chuuni talk.

Did these guys really think they could raze a city to the ground whenever they wanted?

Besides, if somebody overheard them they could really be thrown into prison.

But still, I could understand why everybody was so excited now.

“In other words, this Bazooka Call is the reason for all this fuss?”

“As you say.”

“And the one who ordered it was Dryas-kun?”

“It is as you say. I do not understand why he has decided to take such drastic action. I am intending to find out.”

I understood the situation now.

His explanation was brimming with chuuni, but translated without the exaggeration it was basically something like this: the “Bazooka Call” was a codename for avenging Edim. If Edim died, everybody in the Evil God Army was going to charge into Fiend’s manor together.

I could understand, of course. If it ever came to that, I would want revenge too.

But this was the wrong move. It wasn’t right to get everybody else mixed up in this.

Wait, no!

Was I really understanding their feelings?

If their friend died, then of course they would want to take action to feel better. And if Edim failed to kill the Fiend, I was going to be raped. That was what everybody was trying to stop.

Even if it meant fighting a titan who a vampire failed to match. To think that they would resort to such a reckless move…

When all was said and done, you could see that the Evil God Army truly loved Timu, me, and of course Edim as well.

“What will you do, Tilea-sama?” he asked. “At this rate, the Capital will truly be turned into a field of ash. This will surely be a set-back in the plans of the Evil God Army.”

“We’re stopping it, Niel. I won’t let them do something so stupid.”

“By your will. I will have them immediately order them to cease and desist.”

“Ah, also, I’ll leave out the details but basically Dryas-kun might commit suicide when dawn arrives.”

“W-What did you say!? Is this related to the Bazooka Call(Magic Bullet Salvo Fire)…?”

“Yeah, most probably. Niel, I have two orders for you.”

“Milady.”

“First of all, call off the Bazooka Call. I forbid them from doing something so stupid.”

“I understand.”

“The second thing is to keep an eye on Dryas. In the worst case scenario, stop him if he tries to take his own life.”

“Yes, milady. I will not allow Dryas to die.”

“I’m counting on you,” I said before heading for the Fiend’s manor again, leaving the details to Pervert(Nielsen).

The darkness of the deep night was a big help.

I was a complete amateur at this kind of stuff and would have just gotten in the way in battle, or in spying.

I wasn’t even sure how far away from the actual manor I was supposed to stop. Getting too close would end in being spotted, but too far and I’d have no way of knowing what was happening.

While I paced about and considered what to do, I noticed another person.

“W-Who is it!?” I blurted unconsciously.

O-Oh no! If this was one of the Fiend’s men then I was going to be caught for the stupidest thing ever.

“Is that you, Tilea-chan?” came a familiar voice.

“Eh!? Is that you, Bizef-san?”

“It’s me. What are you doing here in the middle of the night?”

“A-Ah, umm, I uh…”

Who would have thought that I’d meet Loser(Bizef) here.

And what was he doing here in the middle of the night? If this loser ended up getting mugged then he’d only have himself to blame.

“Haah. Just when I wondered who it might be…” came another voice.

“Ugeh, you’re here too, Ojou?” I groaned. “I should be asking what you guys are doing here.”

To think that she’d be here too…

Standing in front of me was a certain ojousama, with her trademark golden curls.

Rozetta Pratoline, the filthy rich daughter of Rozetta Stole, a powerful aristocrat. The self-styled Gourmet Hunter, an adventurer in search of new foods, she was someone even I had to take my hat off to.

Since our first meeting we’d had the occasional squabble about cuisine. I suppose you could call us rivals.

“Tilea-san, I simply cannot approve of you being here,” she said. “This place is dangerous, so please go home.”

“Sorry, but I can’t do that,” I replied. “I have something I need to do here.”

“Tilea-chan, what’s this about?” Loser(Bizef) asked me. “There’s someone really dangerous around here, you know? It’s not safe.”

“The Fiend, right? I know.”

“Then why are you here!?” he demanded. “The rumours are true. That guy is dangerous. He’ll attack any woman who catches his eye.”

“I know. You see…”

“D-Don’t tell me he summoned you here? I know it’s scary, but you can’t just do as he says. I’ll protect you,” Loser(Bizef) said seriously, giving my shoulder a gentle shake.

Mmn, I appreciated his feelings but if he tried to fight the Fiend wasn’t he just going to faint again…?

“It is as Bizef-san says. The Fiend will no longer be a problem. We shall do something about him, so in the meanwhile please try and hide in the countryside.”

“Are you two going to fight him?” I asked.

It was Loser(Bizef) that answered.

“We really shouldn’t be telling you this, but as a fellow member of the Loyalist Committee for the Extermination of Demons, I think we can explain. As we speak, the Loyalist Committee has been split into two forces. One of them is tasked with rescuing Remilia-sama. The other is to destroy the fiend.”

“Eh!? Something like that was going on? I had no idea.”

“You are only an intelligence operative, Tilea-san. As a non-combatant on top of that, we chose to keep it a secret from you.”

“We didn’t want to get you involved, Tilea-chan. But if the Fiend has summoned you here, then you’re already involved. I’d prefer you knew what was going on. Our group is to assassinate the Fiend, and gather what information we can from his estate.”

So that’s how it was. I thought it was the end when Remilia-san was imprisoned, but… it seemed like I wasn’t giving the Loyalist Committee enough credit.

With things as they were, maybe there wasn’t a point to me being here. It would be better for the amateurs to get out of the way, and leave things to the professionals.

Loser(Bizef) was a point of worry, but Ojou was renowned for her exploits as the Gourmet Hunter.

I hoped she could help Edim.

“I see. I understand now. The truth is that the Fiend has had his eye on me.”

“I thought so! Don’t worry, I’ll protect you.”

“Thank you very much. But the problem is that my friends are already trying to resolve the issue,” I explained.

“That is dangerous, so please ask them to stop,” Ojou objected.

“Well… the thing is that we ran out of time, so my friends are actually inside the estate right now,” I said awkwardly.

“Eh!? What recklessness!”

“Ah, well, you see, that’s why I was worried and came here to see and…”

Ojou exhaled worriedly.

“Aahh~ Why are you are such a… Just how foolish can you be! There is not anything a normal person like you could do here.”

“Mmn, I know. That’s why I was hoping the two of you could help my friend, but…”

“Honestly…” she sighed. “I suppose our plans have gone to waste then. Come, describe your friend to me.”

“Ahh~ Well, she’s a student at the Magic Academy…”

“Excuse me? You sent a student to battle the Fiend!? That is most certainly sending her to her death.”

“N-No, I mean she’s a student but she’s not just a student. She’s really strong.”

“No matter how strong she is, she is still a student. How could she possible compare to the Fiend?”

“N-No, I mean, she’s really…”

Unable to continue listening, Loser(Bizef) spoke up.

“I think we get it, Tilea-chan. If your friend is really as strong as you say then she’ll have a way to protect herself. I doubt she’d fight anybody too powerful head-on. We’ll meet up with her and help her.”

They were words you’d expect to hear from a reliable man.

As for Ojou, her tongue was harsh but I could tell that she was worried for my friend. She even started planning a way to rescue her.

Geez, what a tsundere!

“I’ll enter from the right then.”

“Then I shall disguise myself as one of the women he has summoned and enter from the centre.”

Mmn, mmn. As long as adventurers got serious there was nothing to fear.

Loser(Bizef) was one thing, but Ojou would make this work.

While the two of them were planning away…

“Hm!? Somebody approaches.”

Ojou seemed to have sensed somebody.

The two of them stopped talking and warned me that somebody was coming from behind.

When I turned around I noticed a figure running our way.

“C-Could it be one of the Fiend’s lackeys?” I asked.

“Hurry up and hide over here, Tilea-chan!”

I did as he told me and hid inside a nearby thicket of bushes.

Uu, we were so far out and there was still a patrol. You could see just how paranoid the Fiend was.

After spending a few minutes inside the bushes… it seemed like my eyes were starting to adjust to the dark.

I could properly see the scout now.

“Who――wait, Edim!?”

“Why if it isn’t Tilea-sama.”

What the hell was this timing!?

Just as I was wondering about her safety she just appeared in front of us?

I ran up to her and hugged her softly.

“I’m so glad you’re safe. I’ve caused you trouble, Edim.”

“Tilea-sama, just hearing those words makes me… makes me…”

Oh, and now Edim was crying.

It must have been terrible. From her tone it sounded like she had been been struggling in solitude.

Don’t tell me… Had Or not been doing his job properly?

Hang on! Come to think of it, where was Or? Was he acting separately to her?

“Is this girl the friend you spoke of?” asked Ojou.

She and Loser(Bizef) had left our hiding spot when it became clear that this wasn’t one of the Fiend’s men.

“Yes, it is. Because I was in danger, she infiltrated the Fiend’s estate for me.”

“Then I’m just glad she’s safe. But it would have been better for her to have stayed away,” Loser(Bizef) chided. “I honestly wasn’t sure if she was still alive.”

“Tilea-sama, who might these two be?”

“They’re――Hang on, Edim, I just noticed but, what’s that in your hand?”

“Milady. Please confirm the kill.”

With that, Edim unwrapped the cloth bundle and showed me what was inside.

Hyoooeeeeh!

T-This was…!

I beheld the terrifying sight of the Fiend’s severed head…

Its expression was contorted in agony, and even now its eyes glared in hatred. A fitting end for the fiend.

Both Ojou and Loser(Bizef) seemed taken again.

“T-That is certainly him. “I would never forget that fiend’s face.”

“I-I can’t believe it. The legendary Fiend was taken down by a student…”

I was a little antsy too. I know it was weird for me to say, but Edim really was amazing.

“D-Did you truly defeat the fiend!?” Ojou demanded.

“I’m finding it hard to believe too. It’s too sudden. It couldn’t be that somebody else defeated him and she came along and lopped off his head, right?”

“What are you two saying!? My friend would never do something so sneaky. Bizef-san, is this how you should treat somebody who risked their life to take him down!?”

“But she’s got so little mana. I’d even suspect her of not being enrolled in the Magic Academy.”

“Quite. It is as Bizef-san says. While I have no wish to malign any friend of yours, Tilea-san, I can only suspect that she is lying due to ambition.”

Kuuuu! Those are fighting words.

Stop looking down on my friend! Edim risked her life to protect me, you know!

Edim deserved praise here. She hadn’t done anything wrong.

“They’re calling you a coward, Edim. Honestly, just how wrong can they get?”

Edim gave me a blank look.

“I see. I usually keep my mana suppressed, after all.”

“Right? You should let it all out. This is a matter of honour, you know? Show them what’s what.”

“I-I really don’t understand what is happening here…” Edim said hesitantly.

“Don’t worry about it. Just show these stubborn idiots how powerful you are.”

“Will that be all right?”

“Of course it will!”

“I-, I understand. Well then, I will release my mana as instructed… Haaaaaah!”

Ooh. I wasn’t sure what was happening exactly, but it seemed like Edim’s battle strength was rising.

Huh. Was the ground shaking a little? I guess her mana aura was having an effect on our surroundings.

If I was remembering right, the last time I asked she said her mana level was over 10,000. From the looks of things, was she around 15,000 now?

“Well? Do you still want to call Edim a liar?”

“W-, What mana…” Ojou said, shocked.

So a vampire’s power really was well above the norm. With this they wouldn’t doubt Edim’s strength any more.

“Do you two understand now? There’s no way that Edim stole somebody else’s glory.”

“…”

“Hm!? What’s wrong?”

Oi, say something! Like “I was wrong” or “Edim-san is so dreamy!” or “Maybe I’ll have Edim-chan train me”. Aren’t there heaps of things you could be saying right now!?

“I-It seems that we’re in danger.”

“Yeah. At that level of power, only somebody of Remilia-sama’s class could stop her.”

What were these two talking about? There wasn’t any danger to stop, right? The Friend was dead, so the peace had some back. Couldn’t they be a bit more positive?

“Why are you two being so gloomy all of a sudden! Come on, let’s go home,” I said. “Oh, I know. Come by my shop first. I’ll treat you as thanks for worrying about me.”

Ojou sighed.

“I wonder if we should consider that airheadedness of yours a virtue.”

“What are you talking about?” Loser(Bizef) interjected. “That’s what’s good about Tilea-chan!”

Mu!? Could it be that they were making fun of me?

I’ll get annoyed, you know.

“You two are being awfully rude. Anyway, the battle is over so let’s go home!”

“Please wait. This is not over yet,” Ojou stopped me.

“Yeah. There’s still something we need to know.”

“Honestly you two, just――”

“You said your name was Edim, correct? Are you truly a human?” Ojou demanded.

Eh!? D-Did we go too far?

Just when the panic about the vampire crisis had been dying down, too…

Aah, I’m so stupid!

Abababababa, w-what was I going to do?

Because of the Fiend stuff I had totally forgotten. Edim was still on the wanted list!


<Previous Chapter | Imouto | Next Chapter>

15 – Bandits and Traders – B

I watched Blobsy hop off after the bandits.

…my request was just a spur-of-the-moment thing. Would she be fine? Too late for takebacks now, anyway. I floated off after the merchant’s carriage.

I didn’t think I could lose track of them, considering we were all on the same road, but I had to wonder how fast a human running – my top speed – could be comparing to a horse carriage. With the existence of railway technology, I feared carriages might have gotten some measure of improvements, too.

If they could manage to get inside a village – it didn’t even need to be a town – before I caught up, I’d lose. The strange barrier would hold me off. There was likely no way for me to get in.

I wasn’t so delusional as to believe that I was doing this for justice, that this was fitting judgement for the kind of person who treated their slaves’ lives as a game and then vented his anger on the deceased after he lost.

I just wanted to avenge them. To at least lessen their regrets.

 

Luck was with me. A few minutes later, I found the carriage parked by the wayside. The irritated merchant and his driver was checking their losses.

“Come on, boss, it’s good enough we got out of it safe and sound. It’s just some food and slaves we bought from the village, isn’t it?”

And the horse and carriage! Those weren’t just slaves, fool, they’re expensive ones! Damn demihumans got a lot sneakier these days, you can’t legally buy any new ones on the official markets! Scamming bastard fucking lied to me. They weren’t ‘combat-capable’, they were wastes of air, that’s what!”

I was… pretty sure the merchant was an exception, not the rule to this world’s humanity… right?

The inspection seemed to be over. The merchant urged the driver to hurry, and the two set off. The trader was sitting next to his driver, instead of his usual spot inside the carriage.

“Boss, you should get back in. It’s dangerous here.”

“Shut your trap. It’s your fault you didn’t notice the bandits early enough. I can’t trust your eyes.”

The driver didn’t bother hiding his distaste at the insult.

 

Right. How do I want to do this?

Originally, my plan of only aiming for the outlaws was to avoid having soldiers and beta testers sent after me. In that case… would an accident work?

 

I took off the cloak, released my humanoid form, dispersed just enough to blend into the scenery, then moved in front of the wagon.

The two still hadn’t noticed anything wrong. But the horse did sense my attention, and fear began to permeate into its steps. The wagon started to swerve left and right.

“H-Hey, what’s wrong? Calm down!” The driver was nearly panicking.

“Do something already!” The merchant screamed, desperately holding onto his seat.

 

Walking and playing with Blobsy weren’t the only things I did these last few days. I’d been experimenting with [Reroll] too, and I now had confirmation of the skill’s success rate when used on others.

It had a high possibility of failing if the target was focused. Which also meant that if they were surprised or agitated, it’d work most of the time.

That first time with the beta tester, I could chalk it up to chance. The second time I succeeded against the slave hunters, even I started to think it was too convenient.

And after a few tests, I’d determined that my chances would go up if the target saw me. My supposition was that using the skill was easier on targets under the effect of the [Fear] demon racial skill.

Well, those tests were with weak monsters, though. This would be the first time I tried it on humans.

[Reroll]

Despite the horse’s fear and the swerving, the carriage was still somehow avoiding the rocks littering the road, but the horse didn’t notice the Identification Crystal I dropped. The wagon lurched.

The nearly obese trader lost his balance. He scrabbled, trying to grab onto the edge of his seat. I used the skill while throwing my presence at him.

[Reroll]

Terror flashed on his face for a moment, and his hand grasped only air. He fell gracelessly on his head.

“Boss!?” The driver noticed, but too late. The moment his scream rang out, the merchant’s neck was already broken.

[Shedy] [Race: White Ghast] [Low Demon (High-Rank)]
[Magic Points: 256/335] 5↑
[Total Combat Power: 289/368] 5

My, that was a very unlucky fall. Also, apparently the more difficult the check, the lower the consumed magic cost.

And it turned out I still receive experience from an accidental death… I was a bit too far away, though. I got his lifeforce, but couldn’t recover any magic. I’d have to write the crystal off as a loss, too. Well, it only had three uses left anyway.

I felt Blobsy stop moving. She must have found the bandits’ lair. I hurried to her, the merchant and his driver no longer in my thoughts.

 

My mind was whirring with thoughts even as I flew.

That scene back then, when I used [Reroll]… I’d seen something like it before.

Ever since I was a little kid, the people who bullied me, with deeds or with words, had always met with constant misfortune. Mysteriously.

One had a broken arm just from tripping. One slipped on the stairs. One cut her fingers multiple times with the kitchen knife. Were those all my fault?

Strangely, [Reroll] always felt like the most natural thing in the world to me, even from the very first time I used it. Was it because I had always had it, ever since I was born?

 

When I arrived, it was already dark. Blobsy bounced out of the field of tall grass and cuddled up to me. Cuuuute…

Oh, whoops, I forgot the cloak…ah well. I commanded her to lie down – since she no longer has the safehouse that was my cloak’s pocket – and she splatted into a disc, completely hiding herself inside the grass… whoa. She’s a very skillful blob.

I didn’t need her to show me where they were. Some distance away was a hole leading into what looked like an exploratory mine. A man wearing grungy clothes was on watch, looking bored.

 

I was going to attack their base. That thought sent shivers through me.

Not the kind of shivers associated with that Disconnect with reality. If anything, it felt like excitement. As if I only just came to myself, my true self, in that moment. I moved, my body feeling more natural than ever.

 

I approached as mist. For a moment, the watchman frowned at seeing a white mist under the moonlit, cloudless night. His expression quickly turned to [Fear] at the sight of me.

He was about to scream. I immediately rushed into his mouth before he could, then apply a bit of [Humanoid Form] to fill up his lungs and stifle his voice.

…it actually worked. I thought it might, yet I still surprised myself.

He went blue in scant seconds, his face set in a rictus. Once his lifeforce was drained, I wafted through the cracks in the worn-out, rickety-looking door.

I saw light leaking out from my side just after entering the abandoned mine. I peeked through the hole and saw two men, looking like the quintessential bandits, gambling over a card game. Probably the other lookout personnel waiting for their shift.

[Bandit x2]
[Magic Points: 20/20] [Hit Points: 60/60]
[Total Combat Power: 48]

Weaksauce. But, well, if they had the strength of mind to train themselves, they wouldn’t be serving as bandit underlings like this.

The only light source I could see was a single candle-looking thing. I shot out two copper coins I’d been storing inside me.

[Reroll] [Reroll]

One coin missed even with the skill, but the other hit. It snuffed out only the fire, leaving the candle perfectly intact.

“Huh, what happened to the light?”

“Did you drop a coin? I heard something like it.”

The men were startled, but not alarmed. They started to fumble around in the dark for matches. I snuck up to them and choke them out the same way. Their lifeforce was taken without trouble.

This was so much easier than doing combat absorption. Well, the idea might seem ingenious – even I almost thought so, at first – but in hindsight, if I could invade their mouths like this, I might as well stab them in the neck. Simpler that way.

[Shedy] [Race: White Ghast] [Low Demon (High-Rank)]
[Magic Points: 245/353] 18↑
[Total Combat Power: 280/388] 20

A quick magical ping revealed around twenty other signals inside the mine. Some of them must be the slaves. I wonder how many were bandits? Around six of of the signals were immobile, so I headed there first.

In the darkness, I saw a large wooden cage. The bars were logs, around as big as a human adult arm. Inside were beastman slaves, lifelessly sitting on the ground. Two of them were kids.

I felt my heart harden upon seeing the bruise marks on those two.

 

I couldn’t release them right this moment. They still had their chokers. I couldn’t be sure what they’d do.

The other ten signals, most likely the bandits, were all in one room. I was considering how to take them down when two of them started to move this way.

I rose to the ceiling. The two of them, red-faced and stinking of alcohol, entered a side path and headed towards a barred, dilapidated-looking room. Seemed like a storeroom this time, not a prison. They opened the padlock and brought out a wooden crate, full of bottles of some kind of alcohol.

They were about as strong as the underlings before, so I ambushed them from behind. And just like before, I choked them before they could scream. They started to thrash around upon realizing they were being attacked. Their faces gradually turned blue from the lack of oxygen.

The crate of bottles met the hard ground. Surprisingly loud.

I hurried to absorb their lifeforce as fast as I could. Another bandit showed up, probably due to the noise.

“You two, what were you…”

The middle-aged bandit looked at the two with exasperation, perhaps thinking they were only up to some drunken hijinks. Then he saw their discolored faces, and he shouted.

“Enemy atta-agh!”

I rushed forward to mute him, but too late. A group of bandits arrived, and the first thing they saw was a white mist desiccating their comrade.

“It’s a monster!”

 

One versus seven. Balance would be subjected to further changes depending on who had how much magic and enchanted weapons.

“Damn, a wraith! Rabid thing!”

The bandit leader unsheathed a fancy-looking short sword that was hanging from his waist. The blade shone with a faint magical light.

[Bandit Leader]
[Magic Points: 40/40] [Hit Points: 90/90]
[Total Combat Power: 116]
[Middle-Aged Bandit x3]
[Magic Points: 30/30] [Hit Points: 75/75]
[Total Combat Power: 65]
[Underling Bandit x3]
[Magic Points: 20/20] [Hit Points: 60/60]
[Total Combat Power: 50]

The only ones with enchanted weapons were the leader and the three middle-aged men wielding shortswords as old as they were.

My honest opinion? Those slave hunters were way more powerful. Just the lack of a magician already cut down a lot of danger for me. And now I was even stronger than back then.

I immediately charged towards the three underlings and envelop them. But they weren’t to be killed, not just yet.

 

“Waaagh!” “It’s on my head! Help!”

“Stay still, you fuckers!”

One of the middle-aged bandit swung his sword. I maneuver to hide behind an underling, and the blade bit deep into his shoulder. He screamed.

“Fuck!”

“It’s just a wraith! Stop pussying around and kill it!”

Another middle-aged bandit charged in and slashed. I didn’t try to dodge this time, instead pouring myself into his mouth and suck dry his lifeforce from the inside.

“Poison?!” The leader exclaimed.

Nope. He just drew the wrong conclusion from seeing the man’s rapidly paling face. I rushed towards my next target, the leader, and he lost his calm. He started to swing his sword with wild abandon.

“S-Stay away! You lot, do something already!”

A few of his swings hit. I endured, holding on and draining his life bit by bit. One of the old bandits seemed to have run out of patience – he charged with a powerful thrust.

[Reroll] [Reroll]

“Wha…”

“Aaargh! Damn you…”

I failed at making the stab miss me, but it also cut deeply into the leader’s stomach. He held his wound and dropped to his knees.

I see. Even if the [Fear] was affecting them, forcibly failing a focused attack was still difficult.

But, well, the most dangerous threat had been disabled. I gently rose into the air. Their faces contorted in terror.

Right. Time to clean house.

***

A key clattered inside the cage. The beastman prisoners exclaimed in surprise, swiveling their eyes between me – wearing a baggy robe I ‘borrowed’ from the storeroom – and the key in incomprehension.

Some distance away, I gestured for them to come to me. A man, perhaps the leader of this group of beastmen, seemed to have realized it was the key to the cage. Yet his suspicions hadn’t abated.

“…who are you? What’s a kid doing here?”

I shook my head, then beckoned them one more time.

He came to a conclusion some moments later and nodded to his comrades. They unlocked the cage door and got out.

I repeated the gesture. They were tense, but still nodded and followed me. On the way, they saw the dried-out bandits. Some of the women and children gasped and squeaked.

And we arrived.

“It’s him…!”

The bandit leader was lying in a pool of his own blood, a hole in his stomach. Still alive, if barely. Surprise and hatred colored the prisoners’ gazes.

I pointed towards the weapons gathered in a corner of the room. The beastmen smiled savagely. The dying man’s face warped in despair.

 

“We give our thanks.”

Once they had achieved their vengeance, I showed them the way to the storeroom full of clothing and food. They bowed deeply, then headed off on their own journey.

Apparently this group was a tribe that used to live in the northern forest and grasslands. Human slave hunters found them a few months earlier, and almost the whole tribe was caught. They said most of the humans living in cities only ever saw beastmen as slaves, captured for free labor.

…what the hell was this world’s humanity?

Couldn’t get more information from them, though, considering my muteness. And I didn’t want to stay in contact for too long, lest my true nature got revealed.

Well, I didn’t quite mind. I’d know, sooner or later.

That aside, I think I could use this mine as a hidden base for a while. The beastmen didn’t actually take that much from the storeroom, saying it was supposed to be mine since I was the one who dealt with the bandits, so I think I’d be spending some time auditing.

There were a lot of corpses… but not anymore. Blobsy had a feast. I thought she liked doing laundry, but maybe she was actually aiming for the blood splatter…?

Also, I gained another curious skill out of nowhere.

[Shedy] [Race: White Ghast] [Low Demon (High-Rank)]
・A low demon made of dust and gases. An intelligent spiritual lifeform.

[Magic Points: 216/392] 39↑
[Total Combat Power: 255/431] 43
[Unique Skill: Reroll] [Racial Skill: Fear]
[Simple Identification] [Humanoid Form (Apprentice)] [Skilled Packer]

What is it now…?

***

<<The Guidedog>>

Hello, everyone. Thank you for continuing to support World of Yggdrasia. We have wonderful news for all the beta testers who’ve been with us all the way until now.

A new event is coming: <Subdue the Berserkers>

During the event, fast travelling between Temples within a single country will be free. Locations of the berserk monsters will be updated every 10 minutes. And finally, there will be a special item reward for the entire party for successful subjugations!

Let us all fight for the prizes!

Previous Chapter | Index | Next Chapter

14 – Bandits and Traders – A

I had a new comrade on my journey of pain. It’s a jelly slime. Her name’s Blobsy… wait, was it a her or a him? Pretty sure slimes didn’t have that sort of distinction anyway, so I say she’s female from now on.

Hey, Blobsy. Say hi.

*boing!*

[Blobsy] [Race: Jelly Slime] [Kin of Shedy, the Demon]
[Magic Points: 10/10] [Hit Points: 10/10]
[Total Combat Power: 10]
[Special Skill: Laundry]

She could handle a squirrel at most.

Her special skill was to disintegrate any stubborn stains she touched. A terribly tiny blob. I couldn’t even imagine how she’d fight.

…what should I do? Apparently she’s my kin now, but it seemed next to impossible for her to do anything besides being a cute mascot and washing clothes. Well, the cuteness already made her indispensable to me, though.

Like right now. While I was resting a bit to recover from the stress, Blobsy started to bounce after some grasshoppers, probably for food. Then she returned, giving up after catching nothing, and began munching on some wild grass.

Cuuuute…

I started walking again. She jerked in shock, then panic-bounced after me. Once she caught up, she circled around me in excitement, tired herself out, then desperately climbed me. Now she was blobbing out on my shoulder, resting.

Cuuuute…

I might not know what she was thinking, but she seemed to understand what I wanted. Plus somehow, I always had a sense for her location.

 

And so I continued my journey to search for a human country, with the salve for my bruised soul sitting on my shoulder.

Once we left the horned wolves’ territory, the forest turned out to be surprisingly peaceful. Nothing was jumping out at us every few steps. There were only squirrels, rabbits, deers, and other such animals.

No wonder Blobsy could survive.

But even in such a peaceful forest, there still existed that weakest of monsters: the red caterpillars. Surprisingly ubiquitous, these bugs. They weren’t worth anything to me at this point, and even Blobsy could probably outrun them. It’d be troublesome if they picked a fight, though, so I took off my hood and scared them off with my natural face.

My head was just a blank oval. If I didn’t have the rabbit ears, it’s be just an egg.

Two days since Blobsy came with me, my [Humanoid Form (Amateur)] skill leveled up again.

[Shedy] [Race: White Ghast] [Low Demon (High-Rank)]
・A low demon made of dust and gases. An intelligent spiritual lifeform.

[Magic Points: 330/330] 5↑
[Total Combat Power: 363/363] 6
[Unique Skill: Reroll] [Racial Skill: Fear]
[Simple Identification] [Humanoid Form (Apprentice)]

The amateur was an apprentice, now.

I knew it. Once I acquired the foundation for shapeshifting, it’s a lot easier to improve the skill.

The dishwasher had graduated into the potato-peeler. My food’s good enough for me to eat, but not enough to serve any customers.

I didn’t need to build my sandcastle barehanded anymore – the rise in skill rank gave me a ‘trowel’, so to speak. My hands, once mittens, could do rock-paper-scissors now.

 

I hadn’t been idle with my hunting, either. There weren’t any strong monsters, but I did get attacked by a bear. Not a huge one, just around 120 centimeters. It had some weird white markings around its neck.

It had around 150 combat power, but in the end, it was just a normal animal. Pitiful, both in terms of the damage it could deal to me – which was none – and the experience I got from drinking it dry.

Out of everything, it was Blobsy processing the bear that was most surprising.

She squished herself, spreading out on the carcass. I left her alone for a while, thinking she was just nibbling. 30 minutes later, the whole bear was gone.

Wait a minute… why was she still tiny? Where did all the meat go? She still looked like a 20 centimeters ball of jelly.

I identified her again, but nothing had changed. I suppose it wouldn’t, considering that I was the one who killed it. She only ate the corpse. If you could raise your level just by eating, then all the people of royal and noble families would get crazily muscular the older they get.

 

I walked, inane musings in my mind, and stepped past the forest border before I knew it.

Trees were still there, but sparse. Most of the land was grass. I scouted the area for human presence, thinking I might have finally gotten close to civilization. No signals I found resembled them.

There were a few herbivores dotting the grasslands. They looked like plesiosaurs. Seemed quite docile, and they had slightly higher combat power than me anyway, so I elected to stay away.

I kept along the boundary between the forest and and grassland. It didn’t take long for me to find a well-trodden road. Finally! About 5 meters wide, so it was probably a highway between towns.

Humans recognizing me would be bad, so I put up my hood and detoured away from the road, wading into tall grass and copses of trees. Then I heard sounds of fighting from somewhere far off. I put Blobsy on my head and hurried.

 

A while after, I saw two horse carriages being attacked by a small group of people. A perfectly clichéd scene.

Horses? So this world had trains, but not cars? A closer look revealed a group of spear-wielding men surrounding the carriages, wearing crude armor, numbering ten-odd, and looking much like the typical bandits. The defenders were dog and cat-eared beastpeople wearing ratty clothes.

 

“Don’t let those damn bandits get any closer!” A chubby human shouted from the back of the carriage. Three beastpeople readied their handaxes, faces close to tears, their necks bound by the same kind of choker that I once saw in the hand of the magician who attacked the elves.

I supposed that proved my slave-choker hypothesis, then. And that was some seriously impossible orders. Three slaves with handaxes and knives, wearing nothing but rags, couldn’t possibly hope to win against ten-plus decently equipped bandits.

As I got closer to the scene, Blobsy hid inside the cloak’s pocket. She seemed scared.

 

“With just those few chumps?!” A huge bandit, probably their boss, laughed uproariously. “Leave a carriage for us, and we’ll spare your life! Come on, you lot, deal with them!”

He gave the order to his smirking underlings, yet the men didn’t move. Instead, four well-armed beastman slaves came forward, their neck bound by the same kind of chokers.

…both sides were fighting with slaves? Just giving orders?

Once the bandits’ slaves found out they were about to fight their own people, their faces stiffened in anguish, and they feverishly shook their heads.

 

…was this another game event? I only ever saw demihuman slaves. If this wasn’t an event, then what the hell was this world’s ‘humanity’?

I was dumbfounded, my eyes glued to the scene. Apparently the chokers could compel the slaves – they began fighting with tears in their eyes.

 

“D-Damn animals, protect the goods! If you lose, I’ll send your kids to the mines!”

“Come on, fight harder! What, do you not care for your precious friends and family?”

 

Both the carriage owner and the bandit leader didn’t spare a second thought before using intimidation as their first choice of motivation.

I didn’t even have the chance to interfere before all the trader’s slaves were stabbed to death. None of the bandits’ died, and only one had a rather serious wound on his arm. The battle was over in a blink of an eye.

 

“Damn useless vermins! Waste of money!” The trader swore obscenities at his dead slaves while kicking their corpses.

The bandit leader looked satisfied. He ordered his men to appropriate one of the carriages.

“Bwahaha! Alright, I’ll take that one. Better get some better slaves next time, merchant, or hire adventurers…” He glanced over the wounded slave and nonchalantly mutter, ”Oh, right, you. Can’t use you now, can I?”

 

He stabbed a spear right through the bleeding slave.

 

“Hey, merchant! Compensate for that one too!”

The trader reluctantly acquiesced, his mouth twitching. He handed over several gold coins.

 

…an unspoken agreement, perhaps, between the merchants and the bandits. To turn banditry into a proxy battle, with slaves the only one getting hurt.

The group of bandits leisurely walked off with one carriage. The merchant, unharmed, kept on cursing his slaves for quite a while. His driver had had to calm him down, and they left the area with their single carriage. The four dead slaves were thrown to the roadside and ignored.

 

…was this really a game event?

My original plan was to aim for the bandits preying on travelers. But now, I couldn’t pick a side. I didn’t want to pick a side.

The merchants were pissing me off more, but if I let the bandits go, there was no guarantee I could find them again. At least I remembered all their faces.

‘Hey, Blobsy. Which side should I go for?’

She crawled out of my pocket and bounced in the directions of the bandits.

I see. The more the merrier, right?

‘Hey, can you track the bandits without letting them know?’

She bounced her reply.

 

‘I’ll be dealing with the trader, first.’


Previous Chapter | Index | Next Chapter

13 – First Friend

One day had passed since the encounter with the probable alpha tester. Leaving the territory of the mad wolf seemed prudent, so I turned my back on the mountain range and walked.

Yes, I walked.

I’d been constantly using and practicing my [Humanoid Form (Crude)] since encountering the wolves. Reason? I just realized, perhaps all too late, that encountering strong monsters out of nowhere was a very real possibility when you live in the mountains, forests, basically anywhere without human presence. So I thought that if I made my living just barely near the border of a human country, I wouldn’t be meeting any monster too terrible.

And I could start hunting humans, too, not just monsters… What, attacking travelers? No way. I’d just get adventurers and beta players after me. I was actually aiming for the bandits attacking those travelers.

…there are bandits, right?

So I wanted to look close enough to humans to fool them. It was why I was cutting up my own mind just for the practice.

…wait a minute, wasn’t this exactly how camouflage predators evolved?

That insane wolf… if they really were an alpha tester like me, then there wasn’t much I could do. I wasn’t remotely mentally healthy enough to try to save someone stronger than me, without even knowing how.

That time with the elven village was different. I had an actual chance of victory back then, the solution was simple, I was sort of fired-up after meeting a little kid – they were all reasons, but perhaps the most important one was that in a way, I felt… excited at the prospect of attacking humans.

Crap, was I turning into a deviant?! My mind didn’t seem to be heading down the insanity route, nor any other route too terrible, but I had a feeling the path it was currently on would lead to some serious trouble down the line.

Well, whatever.

So yeah, I’d been mentally processing the [Humanoid Form] skill while walking for a whole day and then some. My latest check showed a change.

[Shedy] [Race: White Ghast] [Low Demon (High-Rank)]
・A low demon made of dust and gases. An intelligent spiritual lifeform.

[Magic Points: 325/325] 17↑
[Total Combat Power: 357/357] 19
[Unique Skill: Reroll] [Racial Skill: Fear]
[Simple Identification] [Humanoid Form (Amateur)]

Surprise! The [Humanoid Form] skill got better… that’s better, right?

So I think that by ranking-up, the quantity and quality of my magic got better, which afforded me the foundations of [Humanoid Form]. ‘Crude’ became ‘Amateur’. To use a cooking analogy, it’d be like I had finally graduated from making charcoals into making something barely edible.

I checked for hostiles nearby. With my privacy confirmed, I dropped the cloak and took a closer look at myself.

I looked better, I think. My skin wasn’t melted wax anymore. Much smoother. No drifting or flowing either, even if behind the skin layer my gaseous body was still circulating.

My body composition finally got good enough so that I could handle it like sculpting clay now, but for some stupid reason, that pair of rabbit ears was impossible to mess with.

…why?

I tried to force the ears to shrink, and my eyes jumped out of their sockets. Then, while I was reeling from the sight, the eyes slowly returned to normal, and the ears popped out again.

why!?

Being called ‘a rabbit’ due to the albinism was, to me, nothing but an insult, no more. At least, that’s what I thought. I never expected it had actually gotten to me so much…

On the bright side, they weren’t the pointy kind of rabbit ears. They were droopy – lop ears, in other words – which meant that the cloak should hide them just fine.

If I ever managed to fully humanize myself, I’d have to pose as a rabbit girl. And I didn’t even know if that particular beastman race existed.

With the improvement in [Humanoid Form], I could make fingers now. Oh, I’d missed actually picking things up. Wearing the cloak came a lot easier… hey, didn’t it look kinda dirty?

Not surprising, I supposed. It had looked old even when worn by that weird beta player. After the many times it was  dropped on the ground from my practice, exposed to the rain and wind for over a week straight, and dragged on the dirt and rocks due to my lack of height when shapeshifted, now the undyed garment was no better than a rag.

I mean, I used to have one like it in real life, but this was a game. No need to keep it dirty. Actually, this was pretty amazing technology. The game was realistic enough to simulate the damage and dirt when you abuse it. I’d known this was cutting-edge technology, but the realism was still astonishing.

I focused all my attention on my hearing. Hmm, nothing here… I moved away, checking from time to time, until I finally found what I’d been looking for.

The splashing of a river.

Yes, I’d been planning on washing the cloak.

It was a rivulet of spring water, trickling through rocks and pebbles, just about 30 centimeters wide.

I made my bipedal body squat down near the stream, which took a surprising amount of effort. Remember when I described the similarities of moving myself to puppetry? Well, I wasn’t sure if it’s because my skill level went up or if I simply got used to it, but it felt like I had more strings to control, now.

You couldn’t do this kind of stuff in normal video games! I was just enjoying the true VR experience!’ I thought, trying my best to convince myself that the scene of a demon doing laundry wasn’t the stupidest thing in the world.

I sighed. I’d been sidestepping the stress and irritation by latching onto new thoughts as soon as they came. Apparently, that had the side effect of loosening my personality into something a lot more inane.

I kept on trying – and failing – to wash the stains off. After a while, I saw something in the corner of my vision (well, I had 360 degrees vision, so it wasn’t like there were corners; more like the part of my vision that I didn’t actively pay attention to) moved.

*boing*

…what was this? It looked like a translucent mass of light-green, about 20 centimeters. It was camouflaged pretty well with the amount of green around me. When I saw it, it was bouncing around about 2 meters downstream from where I was, looking like it was trying to scoop some water.

…a ball of jelly? I think it was a slime, but not drippy and gooey like I used to be. This one looked far jigglier and bouncier.

Was this rivulet where the local docile monsters came to drink?

It didn’t show any sign of fear, so perhaps it hadn’t noticed me yet. Let’s keep it that way.

I continued *boing* scrubbing *boing* the cloth… why was the (possible) slime bouncing? Why did it look like it was having fun?

Well, whatever. I had to admit, the cloak just didn’t want to get clean. Maybe some detergent would’ve helped, but it’s not like I could get any.

I held up the soaked cloak and checked my work. Fine. This was good enough. Too much scrubbing would just damage the fabric, and I cleaned off most of the dirt anyway. There were still a few tough black stains…

*boing*

The (possible) slime was bouncing right below the garment, drinking up the dripping droplets.

Since when?! And it wasn’t afraid of me? Was it actually super powerful?

[Slime?]
[Magic Points: 5/5] [Hit Points: 5/5]
[Total Combat Power: 5]

That’s… weak. Even weaker than I was when I started. Perhaps it wasn’t even smart enough to know fear.

Other possibilities included… alpha testers? Nah, no way. I didn’t want to entertain the pitiful idea that there was a human being inside of a monster so stupid as to be happy just from drinking laundry water.

So a real monster, then… such a weird one.

…wait a minute? Maybe it wasn’t playing with the droplets. Maybe it liked the grime in the water?

I moved the soaked cloak closer to it. The (possible) slime hopped in excitement and latched onto the hem of the garment.

I see, so it’s really the grime, then… hey, no! Stop that! Don’t melt my cloth!

I hastily pulled the cloak up. It boing’ed in protest.

…at least, I thought it was protesting. All the bouncing looked the same to me.

I didn’t mind it cleaning the dirt, but this was the only thing I had to wear. It wasn’t allowed to eat it.

I patted the wet cloak a few times while shaking my head, and then I pointed to the dirty part and nodded once. Hopefully it understood my miming. It probably did, since it replied with a few more bounces.

…again, I was just guessing here. I didn’t speak Bouncese.

Once more, I slowly lowered the cloak. This time the (probable) slime latched onto the correct part of the garment. It dissolved only the dirt, while leaving the fabric unharmed. Wow, that is amazing.

I signaled it to stop, pulling the cloak away. It did, jiggling and quivering, somehow looking like an obedient dog. I firmly nodded, then pushed the garment back. It merrily crawled all over the cloth, wiping out the black stains in mere seconds. The cloak now looked just like new if you ignore the tears.

The ball hopped, in what I was assuming to be a moment of pride in its work. I petted it as praise-oh wow this is totally jelly. Super jiggly.

After some struggling, I got back into the half-dried cloak – did it absorb the water too? It saw me dressing, and again it bounced in excitement.

Well, my limbed form only had the height of a five-years old. The cloak was going to get filthy again soon, considering I was dragging it everywhere, but this wasn’t a problem I could solve.

Right, clothes cleaned, plus a cute mascot to relax to. I was feeling good.

Let’s get going. I wanted to bring it along too, but I didn’t think a wild monster would be tamed so easily just by feeding it (if I counted ‘dripping dirty water’ as ‘feeding’). And it was weak as heck. I’d be worried if it tagged along.

I waved goodbye to the jiggly ball and began another session of intense puppetry. It didn’t take long for me to realize, from the corner of my eyes, that the bouncing ball was still following me.

I stopped, questions popping up in my mind. You’re a slime, you’re supposed to be crawling… no, wait, that wasn’t what I should be thinking about. Why was it following me?

Hey, I didn’t have any more food for you, you hear me?’

It took the chance to approach my feet and start jiggling, waiting for me.

…god that’s cute.

What was going on with this creature? This (probable) slime… okay, that’s just too verbose of a name.

Alright. I was in a good mood – a rare happening these days – so you’ll be Friend Number Two (Number One being the elven kid). Let’s name you.

It’s a slime, so… hmm… Slimer? Nah, that thing’s ugly, and I didn’t have a proton pack. It’ll be my friend-slash-pet, so Fido… rejected. It wasn’t even a dog. Oh, whatever, it’s a blob, it’s “Blobsy” from now on.

The very moment I made the decision in my thoughts, Blobsy suddenly started to wiggle and hopped in a circle around me, looking overjoyed.

What…? Did something happen to it? I identified Blobsy once more.

[Blobsy] [Race: Jelly Slime] [Kin of Shedy, the Demon]
[Magic Points: 10/10] [Hit Points: 10/10]
[Total Combat Power: 10]
[Special Skill: Laundry]

…more lines in the description. And it was my [Kin] now.

At least I was sure it was no alpha tester, but what?!


AN: She’s got a friendpet now… this novel’s getting a lot more Animal Planet, isn’t it?

It’d lose a lot of a slime’s cuteness if it turns human or talks, so it’s not going to do either even after growing up. Maybe. Who knows? :D

First arc’s about to enter the climax soon.


Previous Chapter | Index | Next Chapter

12 – Secret Alpha Testers

“Secret alpha tester No. 44. Time elapsed: 317 hours, 18 minutes. Cessation of neural activity confirmed. As per procedure, requesting dispatch of disposal team.”

“Secret alpha tester No. 62 and No. 71. Time elapsed: 317 hours, 20 minutes. Confirmed logout from mental collapse. As per procedure, requesting transport to the collection facility.”

“Secret alpha tester No. 99. Signs of mental collapse confirmed after evolving to the second stage.”

 

The 7th research center was monitoring the alpha test subjects within the MMORPG, World of Yggdrasia. Monotonous announcements of the test subjects’ terrible fates rang out, one after another.

At the 100 hours mark, ten percent had dropped out. Once the subjects began to reach their first evolutions, the number of survivors plummeted.

It was the 13th day since the start of the experiment. Seven subjects died from cessation of brain activity. Thirty-one in a vegetative state after their mental collapses and subsequent forced logouts.

 

“Oh wow, a bunch of them at once.” Brian said, bemused.

This man was the deputy director of the 7th research center. The actual director was an ex-politician appointed to the position through a revolving door, and so the facility’s leader was effectively Brian himself.

His secretary-cum-researcher nodded and replied softly, “Our psychologists proposed the following theory to explain for the occurence: these particular subjects had chosen to start with demihuman and animal-type avatars, which had basic actions programmed. However, upon evolution and reaching the second stage, their avatars lost most of the programmed actions, only retaining the bare basics, due to their shapes and range of movements being incongruent to normal living beings. The mental pressure compounded with the Disconnect to elevate their distress and fear, and this could have quickened their collapse of the psyche.”

“Right. So did the doctors mention any solution?”

“Yes. According to the medical team, the easiest solution would be medication, or log the subjects out and stabilize their minds. The game development department suggested analyzing the action feedback from the subjects in order to update the programmed movements for monster avatars as soon as possible.”

“So only impractical solutions, then,” Brian chuckled.

 

Investigating the limits of mental stress that the human mind could handle was one of their purposes, that was true, but not the most important one.

Put a person with a broken ego into a monster vessel, and chances are high operation of the avatar would be near optimal. To investigate how much mental stress resulted from what actions, it was most efficient to push the subjects’ minds as much as possible. Nearly 40% had dropped out after just 13 days, despite the original plan calling for half a year. At the same time, the results they gained was commensurate. The top brass was very satisfied with their progress.

The project’s next test subjects would be actual soldiers. Partially to prepare for them, and partially since the center had managed to acquire test subjects with no official presence in society, Brian planned on squeezing every last drop of science from the orphans.

 

“Right, aren’t there still a few stable ones?”

“Yes, Deputy Director. We retain seventeen relatively stable subjects. However, the majority of them were laying low, far away from human civilization, only barely active.”

“Well, we can’t have that. Ideas to deal with the problem?”

“Reports from the data processing department said they’ve been leaking the testers’ locations to the local adventurer’s guild in-game, plus several online forums and wikis anonymously. Shall we keep it going?”

“Yeah, that’s good. Keep it up. That reminds me, what happened to the berserkers?”

“Over half have been killed by beta testers. 6 subjects had deteriorated into mental collapse from the fear of being hunted by humans.”

“Any of them stable, active, and evolved?”

“Yes. Their stabilities varied, but No. 01, No. 08, No. 13, and No. 17 have been actively entering combat, and also reached the third stage, the rank-up,” the secretary said. She looked at the screen showing the surviving subjects and continued, faint admiration in her words. “The first twenty-three truly lived up to expectations. Only five had dropped out, and it looked like they’d been making good use of their inborn abilities.”

 

***

 

The elves had left for a new land, and the boy had given me a new name as the guardian spirit of this forest.

But I was a demon, not a spirit. And I didn’t even live here!

[Shedy] [Race: White Ghast] [Low Demon (High-Rank)]
・A low demon made of dust and gases. An intelligent spiritual lifeform.

[Magic Points: 303/303] 3↑
[Total Combat Power: 333/333] 3
[Unique Skill: Reroll] [Racial Skill: Fear]
[Simple Identification] [Humanoid Form (Crude)]

Oh, whatever… I’d have to drop my real name sooner or later, anyway.

In hindsight, picking that fight was a pretty harebrained idea, but it turned out well in the end. I got so much stronger compared to the first day of the game.

I was quite sure I had reached the top of the food chain in this forest by now. Even killing black caterpillars only gave me a pittance of power. And not just that, they were running from me the moment they sensed me, now. Considering all that, I supposed killing humans really was the most efficient way.

Or maybe the bugs were running away because of the new skill I got from the rank-up…

[Racial Skill: Fear]
・A passive skill of the demon race. Terrifies the weak.

…wow, how the hell did that boy not run away from me?

Could I still disguise myself with the cloak? If someone with good presence-sensing skills was to see me, wouldn’t they feel the fear?

Damn it, this was the most obnoxious skill ever. At first glance it might seem useful for combat, but it only worked with enemies so weak as to be inconsequential in the first place, and anything I wanted to hunt would just run away from me.

I supposed I really should leave, then.

But it’d be really awkward to pop up in front of the boy again after that tearful goodbye, so I traveled in the other direction. Those elves cleaned up everything belonging to the slavers I killed. All I had was the usual cloak and my miscellanies.

 

Floating for a while reaffirmed my realization that yes, I had to focus my mind on something, otherwise the discomfort would rear its head again. I had been forcing myself to believe that the discomfort and everything wrong I felt was just the brain’s hallucinations, but reality’s never as easy as you’d like.

But, well, I didn’t need to crawl along on the ground anymore. Just drifting along didn’t provoke the sense of disconnect too badly, and my mind didn’t melt as much. This was pretty much the only good thing in choosing the Ghast.

At least, it was a lot more comfortable than moving with legs.

…could I ever return to a normal human life? I wanted to get in some practice for shapeshifting too, but those rabbit ears just did not go away.

Fine, let’s leave [Humanoid Form] for later thinking.

Got a bit faster, too. I crossed forests and mountains at a power walker’s pace, and three days later, the scenery finally changed.

The thick, gloomy, broad-leaved forest gradually gave way to a bright, open woodland of needle-leaf trees. Far away, a humongous mountain range dominated the horizon.

…so turned out I just got even further away from human civilization.

Well, whatever. I slightly increased my scouting range and found a few magical signals, somewhat stronger than the monsters and animals living in that elven forest. Might be perfect for me as I was now.

I started to move towards them. The signal was rather fast, but stopped midway, as if to feed on something. Then I saw it.

[Horned Wolf]
[Magic Points (MP): 58/70] [Hit Points (HP): 116/120]
[Total Combat Power: 112]

Stronger than a black caterpillar, so it must give decent experience, right? High magic plus the horn meant it should be a monster.

I estimated around 5 to 6 experience points for each wolf. Thankfully, there were a lot of them. I could cover the quality with quantity.

…how did I get so much experience from humans when they were so much weaker? Was this why monster attack people?

Let’s think about that later. I snuck up behind the wolf, currently busy devouring a rabbit, and struck.

It howled in pain, struggling violently in my grasp, then chomped at me. Ouch! That hurt a bit more than non-magical attacks from humans.

[Shedy] [Race: White Ghast] [Low Demon (High-Rank)]
[Magic Points: 298/303]
[Total Combat Power: 328/333]

I was careless, relying on my physical resistance. Perhaps the claws and fangs of monsters were magical, like enchanted weapons.

The wolf kept on raging against its restraint and howling. Stop that already.

But well, as I was, the most it could do was just prickling me, so I kept with the absorption and desiccated it. The experience received was just as I predicted.

[Shedy] [Race: White Ghast] [Low Demon (High-Rank)]
[Magic Points: 302/308]  5↑
[Total Combat Power: 328/338] 5↑

I wanted that horn too, but I wasn’t as corporeal as I used to be pre-evolution. I couldn’t exactly do physical attacks, and thus, couldn’t take the corpse apart.

Seemed like I’d gotten quite used to fighting and the gore, now. I’d managed to learn how to sidestep the constant mental ‘pain’, but I also felt more aggressive from time to time. Problematic.

Alright, anything else to kill? I re-expanded my detection range. A few magical signals were speeding towards me.

…wait, what?

 

A chorus of howls answered me.

 

Shit, that was a wolf pack! More than ten of them. The howling when I was fighting that wolf must’ve had summoned the pack!

This was bad. Their hits could only scratch me, but considering the number, I’d be dead of a thousand cuts. And I couldn’t recover mid-fight like that time with the slavers – individual wolf kills gave me too little.

I ran, floating up high enough so their fangs wouldn’t reach me. Discretion is the better part of valor. I wasn’t going to die and get my magic cut in half again after all this work.

My best speed was just around a human runner’s. The wolves were faster. ‘But they should give up once they saw that they couldn’t reach me’, I thought, and that was when they started to run up a tree and follow me from the branches.

Oh that was just unfair. I could just about imagine them laughing at my thoughts. What sort of super-wolves were these?! They weren’t even scared of me. Was mob psychology bolstering their courage? Shit, what to do, what to do…

 

Then I heard another far-off howl, reverberating from the depths of the woods. I shivered.

Another wolf? The boss of this gang? But then, why did I feel like that howl came from two different voices? And even the wolves feared it. What was that…?

 

Some distance away from us, a tree cracked, falling to the side to reveal the beast.

It was an azure horned wolf with a flaming mane, twice as big as the others. But those eyes. They were steeped in dark hatred, cursing all of existence. Two pairs of eyes on two heads.

…what are you?

 

The two-headed horned wolf approached in an instant. And then – I couldn’t believe my eyes – it began to rip into and tear apart the other wolves.

The wolf pack scattered in panic. I was watching the carnage from above, stunned, when the two-headed wolf pounced at me, despite me being five meters off the ground.

No, shit, wait, owww!

[Shedy] [Race: White Ghast] [Low Demon (High-Rank)]
[Magic Points: 270/308] 
[Total Combat Power: 310/338] 

Holy hell! It took off ten percent just by scratching me! Right, what about you…

[Two-headed Horned Wolf]
[Magic Points: 143/170] [Hit Points: 263/280]
[Total Combat Power: 466]

What was this power?! That was fifty percent more than mine!

Nope. No fighting this. The normal horned wolves were still yelping, tails tucked between their legs. I immediately dove into the pack, mingling, trying to get the two-headed to target one of them.

Terribly cruel, even if I say so myself, but it wasn’t the time for that sort of thinking. Luckily it worked, and while the mad beast was ravaging the wolves, I took the chance to retreat as fast as I could.

I was out of the fight. I was pretty sure I didn’t have any sort of smell for it to track me, but I couldn’t take chances here. I kept flying, blindly, without a thought as to my destination. After a while, I thought I heard a howl of sadness, of resentment, coming from the distance.

…were you… an alpha tester?

 

I thought all the other testers were fine, considering how I had managed to endure… but maybe that wasn’t true. Maybe they were suffering.

I looked up at the moon, my mood introspective. A mental sigh resounded in my mind.

I just want my spot of solace…


Author’s Note: Main character’s pretty much the only one who seemed easy-going…


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11 – A New Name

I fought to prevent the hunters from reaching the elven village, and now the villagers were pointing their arrows at me. They likely found out about the battle from all the fire magic and the shouting. And it seemed like they realized the men were slave hunters, judging from the arrow through the goon’s chest.

Three men. Likely, they were all the fighting force the settlement could muster.

[Adult Elf x3] [Race: Elf♂] [Hunter]
[Magic Points (MP): 50/50] [Hit Points (HP): 60/60]
[Total Combat Power: 63]

The women had to stay back for their kids. Against 9 slavers, the settlement would’ve had no hope..

And now they had to contend with a single monster who wiped the floor with those slavers.

Yes, hello, it’s me. No wonder they were on guard. The bow-wielding elves weren’t so much wary as they were terrified. Likely, it was the reason why they didn’t shoot me directly – instead of risking my anger with a hit, they were warning me that they had their eyes on me, that I’d better go somewhere else. No, not a warning. A plea.

Okay, fine…

I drifted off, as non-confrontational as possible. The elves still had their bows trained on me, but relief was clear on their faces. I continued moving deeper into the forest. Once they disappeared from my sight, I hurried upwards to the canopy of a nearby tree and let loose a sigh of relief of my own.

God, I thought I almost had a heart attack… Well, my body was in cold sleep, but still.

I barely had any magic left. If their bows were magically enchanted, a volley could have killed me.

[NO NAME] [Race: Ghast] [Low Demon (Low-Rank)]
・A low demon made of dust and gases. A fragile spiritual lifeform.

[Magic Points: 24/238]
[Total Combat Power: 47/262]
[Unique Skill: Reroll] [Simple Identification] [Humanoid Form (Terrible)]

[Rank-up Available]

I practically had one foot in the grave already.

Now, this Rank-up thing. I understood that it was different from an evolution. Did it mean becoming a stronger kind of Ghast, then? I couldn’t even begin to imagine what the result would be.

Well, let’s try some [Identification].

[Rank-up Available]
・Transform into a higher-ranking race.

Exactly what it said on the tin, then.

I supposed ranking up would make me immobile again? This probably wasn’t going to be as large a change as evolving, so I might as well try…

Just as well that my magic was near empty, then. If ranking up put my magic back to 1 again, it wouldn’t make much of a difference. And I should be getting as strong as I can, in preparations for any more unforeseen battles.

I started the process.

………

……

Morning of the next day. My magic was back to full. He should be out helping his family around this time, so I headed towards where we promised to meet.

The rank-up worked, nothing particularly noteworthy happened. Didn’t have to recover my magic back from 1, and my body didn’t change much, either. At most, the gas just looked a little thicker. I moved somewhat better in [Humanoid Form] now, so that was good.

After last night, perhaps the elven boy wouldn’t even show up.

On the way, I detoured to where the fight happened to recover my cloak. It was still there, for some reason, but the corpses were gone. Perhaps the elves buried them, perhaps just throwing the corpses somewhere far away, or perhaps like most other games, corpses disappeared after a certain amount of time. At any rate, it had been a whole night. The elves should have gone back home.

I arrived, peeking into the meeting spot from behind a tree. The boy was standing there, alone, a few fruits stuffed in his pockets.

Hey now, that’s very dangerous. A little kid all alone in the forest. What if there were monsters?

I turned humanoid, wore the cloak, and moved towards him. He flashed a smile the moment he saw me.

“Hey. You’re here.”

Yes, I am.

I ceased my sluggish steps and waved. He didn’t get any closer. Good, seemed like he remembered our talk yesterday, as one-sided as it was. He looked relieved, but at the same time, grimaced slightly.

Hmm, what’s this? He looked… somewhat different? Ah, right, no basket on his back today. Why?

“Umm… So, uh… We’ll be leaving this place soon…” The boy said, forcing the words.

What? I asked him with a head-tilt.

“Some scary humans came yesterday. They were slave hunters. The grown-ups said we’d ran away from them once, when I was younger, but they found us again.”

Yeah, but I dealt with them, though?

“And then this ‘white monster’ killed them all. It’s dangerous to live here now, so we’re leaving.”

…right.

I supposed I shouldn’t be surprised. No slavers could be as scary as a monster.

“H-Hey,” the boy interrupted my thoughts, his voice resolute, “You killed those bad people, right? You must be this forest’s guardian spirit, I knew you were!”

…what?

“I told the grown-ups so, but they didn’t believe me. They said you were a scary monster. But I know that’s not true, I know you’re a good spirit!”

No no no, I was worse than monsters. I was a demon.

“Sorry, I have to go soon… Ah, can you tell me your name?”

I thought you knew I couldn’t speak?

I tried to pantomime my muteness, pointing fingers towards my mouth and shaking my head with jerky movements, like a puppet on strings. Realization dawned on the boy’s face.

“I see! You don’t have a name yet! Alright, I’ll name you then!”

…no, seriously, what?

“Let’s see… Right, there was this elven legend about spirits living on cold mountains called shedim1. And you’re like the white snow, too! So I’ll call you Shedy! It’s perfect!”

Hey, no, wait, what about my opinion…

The naming seemed to have satisfied him. He gave a few vigorous wipes of his face with the shirt’s sleeves, hiding tearful eyes, and before I could do anything, ran off towards the hamlet.

“I’ll see you again, Shedy! I’ll come find you once I get older! I promise!” he turned around and spoke to me for the last time.

I gave a wordless cry.

The elven boy, born and raised in the forest, disappeared in scant moments. He hadn’t even told me his name.

I wasn’t an actual spirit, nor was I bound to this forest. I could follow him, but after that farewell full of emotions, it’d be awkward as all hell if I just show up in front of him again so soon.

He was an elf in the first place. How many years would it take for him to grow up? Time passed at the same rate both within and without the game, right?

Such a pity. I finally found a spot of solace in the kid, and now he’s leaving.

Well, whatever… I got more information, and the rank-up strengthened me. That was good enough.

[Shedy] [Race: White Ghast] [Low Demon (High-Rank)]
・A low demon made of dust and gases. An intelligent spiritual lifeform.

[Magic Points: 300/300] 62↑
[Total Combat Power: 330/330] 68
[Unique Skill: Reroll] [Racial Skill: Fear]
[Simple Identification] [Humanoid Form (Crude)]

…I suddenly had a craving for canned white asparagus. So weird. And I had a name, now…

Managed to dropped one of the ‘low’ in my rank, plus the ‘fragile’ in my description… was this the actual starting point for monsters?

New racial skill, more magic, more strength, and I think I could move faster now. The ‘Terrible’ in my shapeshifting skill turned into ‘Crude’. That’s… better, right? So I guessed it really wasn’t the rank of the skill, but an evaluation of my own design skill.

I tested it out. Driving my humanoid body used to feel like moving iron sand with magnets; now it felt like pulling puppet strings instead. I still only looked like a human if you squint really hard, though.

Before, I could only barely hold my form into a melting wax statue. Now, the melting had stopped, and I felt like I had actual joints. Still wasn’t good enough to appear in front of other people without my cloak.

But I had a more important problem – that wasn’t to say that my waxy look wasn’t a problem, mind you.

For some reason, my bipedal form now had long, droopy ears.

I had had bullies picking on me since a long time ago, and one of their nicknames for me had been ‘Rabbit’, for my white hair and red eyes. Yes, okay, sure, but that was not a good reason for me to be growing rabbit ears.


1. In Jewish mythology, shedim was a kind of spirit or demon. Several sources gave conflicting descriptions, but this particular one stood out for the similarities to this novel:

“…In Nahmanides’ opinion the demons (shedim) are to be found in waste (shedudim), ruined, and cold places such as in the North. They were not created out of the four elements but only out of fire and air. They have subtle bodies, imperceptible by the human senses, and these subtle bodies allow them to fly through fire and air. Because they are composed of different elements, they come under the laws of creation and decay and they die like human beings. Their sustenance is derived from water and fire, from odors and saps; hence necromancers burned incense to demons. Despite the element of subtle fire which they contain, they are surrounded by a coldness that frightens off the exorcisers (this detail is singled out only in later sources)…”


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