Chapter 54 – THE CHAMPION – 1
54 – THE CHAMPION – 1
Torrann Empire was a large country right in the middle of the Central Eastern continent.
It was a relatively new country, with not even a hundred years of history under its belt. Its emperor claimed to be a descendant of a Hero centuries ago, and the country revered Heroes as its religion… well, at least that was what the guidebook said.
Apparently, that first emperor of their line just showed up out of nowhere and said so, so who knew if it was true or not. Although supposedly, one of the actual Heroes of the current generation had been born in this country.
“A Hero, huh…”
I had to wonder if they really existed. Rumors had it they were stronger than a dragon, but as a human-turned-monster, I really couldn’t believe someone could be that powerful while still staying human.
“Alright then, teacher, let’s begin.”
And this was where Panda, the monochrome monkey, came in with his knowledge of this world. He began his history lesson with a textbook we pilfered from the castle of ex-Quasix.
Generally, the strength of a lifeform on this world depended on the total amount of mana they possessed. Excluding spiritual lifeforms like me, as long as they were flesh and blood, the amount of energy they could contain would depend on their physical size, just like normal animals.
And dragons were monsters among monsters. They were big, tough, and due to the elemental power residing inside their bodies, they were especially magical, which made them powerful.
Then that meant spiritual lifeforms unrestricted by the physical form like me would be the strongest, right? Not quite. For example, elementals couldn’t exist in locations lacking their constituent element, and demons required a ‘reason’ for being, like ‘contracts’.
But well, apparently demons living for a few millennia knew quite a few loopholes like acquiring different attributes, so they didn’t have a problem there. And I got a Contract with the World Tree anyway.
“That’s quite the clever pet. That’s a monochrome monkey, right?” The peddler next to me said, sighing in admiration.
The man was bored, so he had joined in Panda’s lesson (which was really just the monkey opening the book and pointing at pages).
We were lining up for border control in order to get inside Torrann Empire.
One reason why I came here was, of course, due to Blobsy and Panda’s suggestion, but another reason was that I wanted to see what sort of defensive measures a large country was taking. I’d been blowing up Saplings quite spectacularly, after all.
That, and I wanted to actually do some serious intel gathering. The situation’s changed quite a bit. I couldn’t afford to keep relying on just the guidebook.
“With their intelligence, monochrome monkeys are really popular as pets, you know? Young lady, would you care to part with him? I can pay you ten small golds.”
“Don’t wanna.” I shot him down.
Apparently Panda’s fellow monkeys were quite popular, but their native habitat was the Southern Continent and the Southwestern Continent. I’d heard that ever since I went on my enthusiastic walks in that direction, it had gotten a lot more difficult for the humans to find any monochrome monkeys available for sale.
And that was just Panda. Blobsy was a lot rarer. I wondered if she would be targeted.
“I see, what a pity. Well then, it’s nearly your turn.”
The man seemed disappointed, but readily relented. I walked forward to the border control guards.
From my experience, newcomers to a city in the countryside generally didn’t have to deal with very strict immigration, comparing to a capital city.
The magitech trains handled some of the shipping, but for the medium-and-small scale merchant companies who dealt in goods for commoners, many still preferred magitech carriages over trains due to their lower fees.
Besides the merchants, the rural cities also saw heavy traffic from adventurers who were hunting nearby. This was why the lackluster security of rural cities, wherein the gate guards didn’t bother with anything more than just a peek at an identity card, was considered something desirable, rather than a flaw. Yet just as I feared, even towns in the boondocks were beginning to seriously look over my card.
“…alright, go ahead.”
Not like they were using magic or anything more meticulous, though. Thanks to Blobsy’s ‘Fashion’, I now looked like a chestnut-haired human girl. I showed them my adventurer’s card, and they let me in just like that.
Not the card Tiz had made for me back then, obviously. That would just be asking for trouble. The resistance’s demihumans had helped me make another one in an adventurer’s guild empty of any humans.
“Well then, miss adventurer, may we meet again.”
The middle-aged peddler, the man who had helped me kill some time with his talks, said his goodbyes and left.
Even after I took off my hood, both he and the gate guards displayed no suspicions. My disguise was holding. At this rate, maybe I could even enter the guild.
Ever since I came to this world, I hadn’t had a single moment to relax. Might as well have a tour around the town, then.
This Torrann Empire — or rather, the whole Eastern Continent — looked like Earth’s Middle East. According to a new book I bought, Lonely Yggdrasia, which was a series of guidebooks about each of the continents, the reason this country had developed so much despite existing for only around a century was due to their access to a kind of black oil coming from underground, entirely different from animal fats or vegetable oils. The common name for it was “Burning Water”. Processing it with mana resulted in a material that was both light and strong, and this was the source of their wealth.
…that’s plastic, right?
And so, due to what I guessed was an overindulgence in mana consumption, over the course of a century, their forests were being replaced by deserts. This led to plastic replacing wood as the main material for their products, and it all turned into a never-ending spiral of desertification, which had led to the current climate.
The guidebook just waved it off as a “strange” and “troubling development”, but really, I gave it a few more centuries before the whole place became an actual desert.
With how things were, the country was relying on food imports from other continents. Looked like their plastic products were fetching a good price thanks to the lightness and durability, but to search for and to dig up the raw materials that was the Burning Water, they were using up a vast amount of mana. Once the Sapling disappeared from this land, the country would collapse in no time.
Well, my goal was “the destruction and rebirth of Saplings”, not “human genocide”, so honestly it was all the same for me.
Looking around town, I’d had thoughts such as ‘this looks nice’, or ‘that building’s cool’, but that was all. I surprised myself with my own lack of emotions.
I never had any memories of going out with my family. The world I’d known was just a bubble: a closet and a balcony at first, and then after I moved to the orphanage, a room packed with bunk beds, and the facility for the experiment. I first thought that perhaps my lack of interest was because I had only ever known the outside world through library books, but after some time walking around town, the answer came to me unbidden.
I felt cold when I touched ice and felt hot when I neared flames. Obvious, perhaps, but what’s different about me was that fire couldn’t burn me, nor could the cold freeze me.
Outside, the townspeople had to cover themselves with fabric to prevent sunburn, while inside, the heat forced them to dress lightly. Yet to me, they felt like characters on a screen. ‘Must be tough’, I thought blandly, and that was the most sympathy I could dredge up for them.
At first, I thought it made me similar to those players who hadn’t realized this world was real, but then I realized the main reason for my attitude: I had become something different from humans, something more. I was a High-ranked Demon.
And now that I had become a true demon, what I considered to be ‘happiness’ was no longer the same as a human’s.
When I was human, I wanted food when I was hungry, I wanted a bed that wasn’t cold, and I wanted my wounds to heal faster. I wanted a lot of things.
But now, my desires had gone… and with them, a few other things.
As I walked around, idle contemplations in my mind, Panda on my shoulder told me we were being tailed by some strange people.
Both I and Blobsy had realized their gazes and their presence, but the annoying part was that we couldn’t know whether it was simple interest, or actual malice.
Before, I would have hidden myself somehow. This time, though, my curiosity led me toward an alley to lure them in. I wondered if ‘fear’ was one of those things I’d lost together with my humanity.
Out of the presence nearby, one of them had quite a bit of power. I was interested.
“Hey there, little lady, don’t you know it’s dangerous around here?”
A short while after I entered the alley, the three men tailing me approached. One of them spoke a line so trite it wouldn’t have been out of place in a museum.
“What do you mean, misters?” I replied.
“Oh, just a bit of a warning. That’s a monochrome monkey there, right? It’s quite a rare thing around here, surprisingly. You should know bringing it along out in the open like that’s gonna attract some… unsavory people. But don’t worry, we’ll take care of it for you.”
“And we know a good job for such a cute lady like you, too. Oh, it’s nothing difficult, you just need to spread your legs for a few old men.”
“We’ll just be taking your pay as the referral fee, though.”
The three laughed in sync, as if something was funny about all this.
So Panda’s pretty popular. That merchant guy offered ten small golds for him, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he’d fetch for twice the amount.
Normally, I would have frozen them all right away and let Blobsy snack on a few popsicles, but not this time. I stayed quiet, waiting for their move.
They must have thought I was tongue-tied out of fear. The three smirked, swaggering forward, posturing for intimidation.
“That’s right, just follow us and you won’t get-”
One of the approaching men suddenly screamed and dropped to the ground.
As the first man turned around in surprise, another one groaned and collapsed in a heap. The last man remaining whipped out his dagger in a panic. Something fast flew at him, shattering the dagger’s blade and smashing into the man’s head, sending him to unconsciousness.
The three men were dealt with in an instant. And then, a man hidden in the alley’s shadow squeaked and dashed off toward the main street.
Huh, that was the nice-looking merchant guy. I’d thought it strange he relented so easily. Turned out he had a hand in this.
Again, something flew forward and slammed into his back, effortlessly taking his consciousness. It was a small thing, perhaps just a rock, and it had sent all the men into dreamland in a blink of an eye.
I stayed still. A man, tall and broad-shouldered, showed up at the alley entrance, the glare of the sun behind him. He barged his way into the alley and suddenly yelled at me.
“You! Young girls shouldn’t be going inside alleys so carelessly! At your age, you should already know how to avoid fishy men like that. How old are you?!”
“Fucking way too young?!!”
He showed up out of the blue to save me, and he began his lecture just as abruptly. And when I gave my honest answer, he was so surprised he staggered backward a few steps.
This was my first encounter of a man that I would be seeing time and time again.