8. The Reaper
“Please take a seat. We’ll prepare some of our village’s smoked pork.”
Danny, the oldest son, wore an ingratiating smile and placed a plate covered with meat on the table. The change from his earlier haughty attitude was so great that Kei almost laughed.
Bennett said, “This is quite tasty,” as he picked up a knife and began carving it up. “And this here is some wine made from the grapes of a neighboring village. It’s been aged almost eleven years. In recent years, it has not turned out very well. Please, give it a try.”
“…I appreciate it.”
Danny set a full goblet of wine in front of Kei.
This much was to be expected of that devious old man and his son. They weren’t overly pushy and managed to avoid creating an awkward atmosphere; truly splendid coordination between them. It gave off the impression that they were used to entertaining guests. Treating someone who showed up suddenly this late at night as skillfully as they had made it feel as if they had a great deal of practice.
…Although, I wonder if it will be alright if I drink this.
Kei involuntarily picked up the goblet and hesitated for a single moment, gazing at the red liquid as it swirled around inside.
The only alcohol that Kei had ever consumed was limited to amazake.
…Well, I’ve had drinks in game before, and with this body it should be fine.
No matter how much he pretended to enjoy the smell it would be strange if he didn’t drink it. Suddenly, he drank with determination. The sourness of the grapes and the taste of alcohol spread through his mouth.
“How is it?”
Danny and Bennett watched Kei with their heads slightly inclined. They certainly didn’t look alike, but seeing their smiles made him think they were father and son after all.
“…It tastes very nice, it’s easy to drink.”
“Is that so? I’m glad to hear it.”
They seemed to be relieved by Kei’s answer, but this was probably an act as well. Danny and the village mayor exchanged glances.
That was close, I almost choked there.
The alcohol content of the wine was quite low, but the fact that he wasn’t used to alcohol hadn’t changed. He felt like gagging.
He was somehow able to get used to it as he rolled it around in his mouth, so drinking it little by little was fine, but he couldn’t drink it like a cup of juice.
“If you try some after the meat, the flavor will change.” Bennett smoothly placed generous pieces of meat in front of Kei.
Since coming to this world, he still hadn’t eaten anything; he’d only had water, a healing potion, and wine. Now aware of his hunger, he gratefully picked up a piece of meat.
“Ohh, this is…”
The good, concentrated flavor of the pork with a perfect amount fat danced on his tongue as the smoky smell tickled his nose. It was a little too salty, but then, if he drank a little wine at the same time, the flavor really did change, just as Bennett suggested. Using the alcohol to wash down the rather strong flavor of the fat left in his mouth was satisfying!
Something that VR technology couldn’t replicate; the real sense of taste.
After having been able to savor something he hadn’t in a long time, he felt emotionally moved as he smacked his lips.
“…Hey, mayor,” a deep voice reverberated next to the relaxed Kei. “I want to ask something… Why did you call me for this?” The good looking man, Mandel, inquired as he faced the village mayor and sleepily rubbed his eyes.
A brief moment of silence. Kei felt feeble bloodlust from the smiling Bennett who held a knife in his hand.
“…What, from what I heard, Kei-dono was attacked by thieves. Also, it seems it happened not too far from here. You’re the most skilled fighter in the village, so just to be sure, I wanted you to be a part of our talks.”
“…I see.” Satisfied with his answer, Mandel, still wearing a sleepy expression, proceeded to glance over at the meat in front of Kei. “I’m hungry. Do you mind if I have some too… Kei-dono?”
“Sure, I don’t mind. Also, you can just call me Kei.”
The two ate their fill of smoked meat. Eating by himself felt awkward, so Kei welcomed Mandel. Mandel seemed untroubled with joining in.
“Hm… This certainly makes me want to drink,” was the first thing to come out of his mouth after wolfing down the meat.
Danny pressed on his brow as if he had a headache, and next to him the corners of Bennett’s never-changing smile twitched.
Bennett ignored Mandel magnificently and asked, “Well… now, would you mind sharing with us the story of these thieves, Kei-dono?”
“Of course, but I ran away immediately so I don’t have too many details.”
Kei took sips of the wine as he summarized the attack. The place, their numbers, and their equipment and proficiency.
Everyone present listened quietly, but once Kei mentioned that a tamed wolf had chased him, the color drained from their faces.
“…Ah. I killed two of them. One got lucky but its nose was crushed, so I don’t think it could come all the way to the village.”
Kei assumed that they were afraid of the wolves’ tracking ability with their sense of smell, so he tried to alleviate their fears, but the faces of the mayor and his son remained dark. Even Mandel stopped eating and wore a serious expression.
It feels like I stepped on a landmine.
The atmosphere around them had become heavy.
“Is something wrong with the Hound Wolves?”
“N-no… taming them is difficult; if a band of thieves used them, well, that means… right?”
Bennett and Danny exchanged looks wearing awkward smiles as if saying, you understand, right?
Even if you look at me like that…
I don’t understand, I don’t know.
Kei honestly had no idea. He’d only arrived in this world mere hours ago. There’s no way that he would know about the thieves or other circumstances.
“…『The Ignaz Thieves』,” whispered Mandel in a low voice with his arms crossed.
“Certainly, you must know of them?”
He hesitated, trying to decide between pretending to know and outright asking about them, but Bennett saw through him.
“It’s embarrassing, but I’ve never heard of them.”
Taken aback, the father and son looked at each other.
“The Ignaz Thieves are a large group that operates out of the center of Ri’leir. As of late, they’ve been quieter but… even so, their reach is huge. Even now, they seem to have their hands on some feudal lords… Around here, there isn’t anyone that doesn’t know them,” Mandel quietly explained with a serious expression.
The question, where did you come from, was vaguely implied, but Bennett and Danny couldn’t read between the lines and wore baffled expressions. It was obvious from the faint bloodlust being directed at Mandel that they didn’t appreciate being left out of the conversation like this. The fact that they managed to keep their expressions neutral in spite of this was impressive.
That aside, something bothered Kei. “This area is Ri’leir?”
Mandel made a strange face at his question, but nodded an affirmative.
The Ri’leir area.
In the game, that referred to the entire southwestern region of the map.
It encompassed the plains, the meadows, the hills, the woods, and other such abundantly green terrain, the stronghold Urvan, the port city Kitene, and other important grounds for activity. It could even be said to be Kei’s home.
“…Village mayor. I apologize for asking something strange, but…”
“Could you please tell me the name of a large town near here?”
“Town, huh?” Bennett folded him arms and exhaled audibly in thought.
Danny raised a finger and answered in his place, “Satyna, perhaps…”
As expected, Kei hadn’t heard of it before. His face fell.
“And also, if you go north, there is Urvan.”
“Urvan!?” Kei’s reaction to Bennett’s latter words was quite the opposite. The other three tensed up in shock at Kei’s loud voice.
“Ah, excuse me, I lost my composure. Urvan… it’s a stronghold—”, he was about to say ‘village’, but stopped himself because something felt odd. …I thought I asked them to tell me of a large town.
In the game, Urvan was certainly large for a village constructed by players, but it was small when compared to the NPC towns that were in the game to begin with.
Danny nodded, “Yes.”
“—It’s the fortified city Urvan.”
It took a few seconds for things to sink in.
“Yes, fortified city.”
“…Not a stronghold village?”
Bennett and Danny both let out a laugh.
“Hahaha… That’s quite amusing. If Urvan were a village then we would be something like a dog house.”
“No, seriously. It would be absurd to compare our size and population to theirs.”
The two of them waved their hands back and forth as if to say, no, no.
It seemed that, unlike the game, Urvan’s scope had changed to that of a city.
Kei rocked the goblet back and forth as he thought. If Urvan exists then that means—
“In that case, if you head straight west there is a port town called Kitene, right?”
“Yes. You are aware of ‘Port City Kitene’, Kei-dono? I’ve only visited it a few times, but it was a good city. Especially the pleasure quarter.” Danny made a lewd expression and he gave a dirty chuckle.
Kei quickly looked away from the plump man’s disgusting smile. “Village mayor, if it’s not too much trouble, could you show me a map of the area?”
“A map… Please wait one moment.” Bennett stood up with a grunt, picked up the candlestick on the table, and disappeared to the far end of the room. “…Unfortunately, we only have a roughly sketched one.”
Kei took the parchment from Bennett and spread it out over the table.
It certainly was a rough one.
It must have been sketched quite some time ago. With Tahfu as the center of the map, roughly sketched topological features were drawn of the surrounding area. Also, various locations such as castles and houses were marked throughout the map.
“To the east of here is Satyna, huh. The castle in the north is Urvan, and the port in the west is Kitene… This house mark here is a nearby village?”
“…How far is it? A rough idea is fine.”
“About… huh. It probably wouldn’t take more than half a day to walk to the town of Satyna in the east. Kitene is double the distance so it would take a full day.
“Hm…I see. Thank you.” Kei once again dropped his gaze to the map.
If it took half a day to walk from Tahfu to Satyna and a full day to Kitene, then after taking into consideration various towns and their distances, walking to Urvan, which was kind of far to the north, should take around three days.
Of course, since there were obstacles such as mountains, valleys, and forests on the way, it would take a little extra time to actually get there.
He measured the distance between the fortified city Urvan and the port city Kitene on the map.
“It looks like walking from Urvan to Kitene should take about three or four days.”
“According to the map, yes, it would.”
“This is just what I was told by a peddler’s bodyguard but, according to him, it would only take half a day by horse if you galloped,” Danny butted in after coming back to his senses.
The necessary time to travel between Urvan and Kitene by horse was exactly what Kei wanted to know the most.
“I see, thank you.” While rubbing his chin he thought to himself, the scale of things certainly is larger than when this was a game…
A stronghold village became a fortified city, a port town became a port city, and a thirty minute journey by horse became a half day journey.
The interesting thing about travelling by horse was that, just because the travelling time was twenty-four times longer, didn’t necessarily mean that the map became twenty-four times larger.
There was a large gap in travel potential between a horse and an automobile; since the horse could not maintain its top speed for long periods of time.
In the game, to speak to a bowser horse’s performance, Mikazuki and Sasuke were able to continue galloping at a regular horse’s pace for thirty minutes nonstop. The fastest a regular horse could gallop was 30KPH. Therefore, in the game, the actual distance between Urvan and Kitene was a little less than fifteen kilometers.
But no horse, not even a bowser horse, could maintain a gallop for an entire half day. They needed to take breaks and slow down at times in order to maintain a decent pace. Taking such impediments into consideration, the distance between Urvan and Kitene in this world was slightly over 150 kilometers.
In other words, the scale of this world was most likely ten times that of the game world.
If the 『Demondal』map expanded tenfold…then this place is probably, at most, the size of the British Isles?
The British Isles. It was difficult for a horse to go across that vast land, but even then, from the perspective of it being the whole world it was much too small.
If this place was a parallel world that appeared similar to 『Demondal』, then areas which had been out of bounds due to limits imposed by the game, should now be accessible. Even the ocean and places behind mountain ranges.
“…” Hesitant to say anything to Kei who had kept silent and wore a worried expression, the room remained silent.
Kei thought to himself, Once Aileen recovers, first we ought to head over to the scaled up Urvan to check it out…
He snapped his head up after hearing a faint voice from outside, “…Someone’s coming.”
Mandel and Kei both noticed it at the same time and turned their attention to the door behind them.
They could hear the light sound of someone’s footsteps as they half ran toward the village leader’s house.
“—Pardon me!” The door was roughly shoved open and crashed into the wall with a loud bang.
Just outside, a young, freckled girl with an ashen face stood breathing heavily.
“Tina, why are you in such a panic?”
“Mayor! There’s a huge problem!” She shouted hysterically in response to Bennett, before suddenly turning to Kei, “Traveler! It’s bad, please come quickly!! Right now!” Looking as if she was about to cry, she tried to forcefully pull Kei outside by the sleeve.
“W-wait a second, Tina! Just what is going on?!” Roared Bennett.
The frantic girl paused for a moment to say, “The girl he brought with him, Aileen-sama…” she timidly looked at Kei, “She—she isn’t breathing!”
† † †
Kei felt the color drain from his face and broke into a run. “Aileen!” He smashed into the small room, shoving the door open with a bang.
Inside were two people. Aileen, lying on a small bed, and Cronen, looking flustered and shaken up in front of her.
“Move!!” He violently shoved the confused Cronen away and rushed to Aileen. “Aileen…! Hey, pull yourself together, Aileen!”
He lightly hit her cheeks, but there was no response. He held his hand in front of her mouth, but he didn’t feel her breath.
Now bathed in the warm candle light, Aileen’s face was paper white. It felt unpleasant; she looked just like a doll. He smacked her chest with his hand.
It can’t be. Why. Her face didn’t look good, but the wound should already be completely healed, “—Fuck!!”
He pressed his ear to the left side of her chest. “…” No sound… no. Bathump, it was a beat so small it seemed as if it would disappear at any moment.
“She’s still alive…!” He felt around in her waist pouch and pulled out a small potion. Calming his impatient, shaking hands, he removed the cork and poured it into her mouth.
After a few seconds, “…Kehu!” Aileen grimaced and moved slightly, choking on the liquid. Her cheeks turned a faint red once again.
“Wha-, she revived…!?” Croaked an astonished voice from Cronen, who looked as if he’d just seen a miracle of God.
Kei turned, piercing him with a sharp glare. “…You bastard, what did you do?”
Kei’s voice carried a penetrating cold that felt as if it came from the depths of hell; the air itself seemed to crackle with his bloodlust. Cronen began trembling and fearfully stammered, “I-I didn’t do anything!!”
In reality, he really didn’t do anything; either to hurt her or to help her.
“I-I just, she was sweating so, you know, she had a fever too, I was trying to bring it down with a wet cloth…” He showed Kei the small wet towel in his hand. Flustered, Cronen continued, “It w-was really only a short time! She didn’t look too good to begin with, but after stepping away for a moment she got weaker and weaker… By the time Tina left to call for you her breathing was already almost…”
Kei regained some composure after witnessing Cronen’s dismay, and while giving Aileen more potion he reconsidered the situation, it looks like he didn’t do anything bad to her.
“…Sorry. I got a little upset.”
“No, it’s fine if you understand…”
Relieved from the pressure of Kei’s bloodlust, Cronen sighed and relaxed.
…Regardless, why did this happen?
Involuntarily, Kei bit into his lower lip. Her complexion was returning but sweat began to bead up on her forehead again causing doubts to well up once more.
Her wound healed completely. That’s for sure.
He reached into his quiver and pulled out the arrow she’d been hit with to examine it. There was no way that the arrowhead broke off and was still inside her.
Maybe she needs more potions? No, drinking one bottle should restore full HP. Driving one to the verge of death, even after fully healing—
—Driving one to the verge of death.
Kei suddenly raised his head to stare at the assailant’s arrow clenched in his right hand.
“—Really now, just what is going on this late at night?”
“—Sorry, but it is what it is.”
Outside had suddenly become noisy.
The door squeaked open and an old woman wearing a robe and holding a cane came in. “Really, a traveler, how botherso—Hiieeiieiieee!!!”
As soon as the old woman who had been complaining walked in and met Kei’s gaze, she lost her balance, and fell over backwards.
“Anka-san, what’s wrong?!”
“N-nothing, this…” Ignoring the panicking Cronen who rushed to her side, she opened her eyes and a look of fright appeared on her wrinkled face.
“What’s wrong, old woman?” Bennett came into the room just after her, looking slightly worn out.
“T-they are the travelers, Bennett?”
“Yes, yes… Kei-dono, this old woman is our village’s shaman.”
“Heheheh, shaman is a bit of an overstatement, I just specialize in curses. My name is Anka, I am pleased to make your acquaintance…traveler.” The old shaman woman shakily stood up with Cronen’s help, and unsteadily approached the bed. “…What in the world happened to this young girl?”
“Well…” Cronen described the situation roughly.
“Hm…traveler, do you have any insight on this?”
“…A little while ago she was shot by a thief’s arrow.” He handed the arrow to the old woman.
“This… However, I don’t see any trace of a wound…”
“It was here.” Kei indicated Aileen’s chest to the old woman, who looked perplexed as she gently brushed the arrow. There was new, white skin left as a scar from using the potion to heal her. “I used this to heal her.”
The bottle he held still contained a small amount of the blue liquid. Anka gasped, transfixed by the sight.
“It seems you’re familiar with it. It’s a High Potion.”
“A High Potion!!” Anka loudly parroted back at him and once again weakly fell to the floor. “…Please don’t startle me so, traveler. I thought my heart was going to stop.”
Aileen’s complexion worsened slightly. Thinking to himself that a High Potion wasn’t something to be that surprised about, he dribbled more of the potion into her mouth without a moment’s delay.
Almost in a moan Anka said, “Although, this arrow and these symptoms…” She wiped some of the sweat off of Aileen’s forehead and put it in her mouth. “…Bitter. It seems pretty likely it was the Ignaz… I see.” She suddenly turned her attention to Kei, “This traveler,” correcting herself, “This girl’s condition…I believe the arrow was poisoned.”
Kei let out a deep, heavy sigh. That’s what it was after all. Of course it was.
Naturally, ‘poison’ existed in『Demondal』. There were many poisons with a wide range of effects, from instant death to paralysis, which activated either instantaneously or had delayed effects. Poisons took an active role in duels and monster hunting.
Kei felt around in his waist pouch and pulled out a small metal case.
“This contains antidotes specifically for 『Enslavement Poison』, 『Breath of Nightmares』, and『Monochrome Sight』.”
‘Enslavement Poison’, ‘Breath of Nightmares’, ‘Monochrome Sight’. These three were considered to be the top three poisons used in player versus player combat.
“This girl, Aileen, looks like she has quite the resistance to poison.”
Aileen had a 『PHY DEF+』crest engraved on her body which greatly enhanced her resistance to poisons and toxins.
“Half-assed poisons won’t work on her. Only one of these three poisons could possibly bring her HP down this much with just the small amount smeared on the arrowhead.”
And so, if she were to drink the appropriate antidote then the poison would be immediately neutralized.
“…In that case, if we had her drink all three antidotes…”
“She can’t do that,” Kei interjected, “If she drinks the wrong one…she’ll die.”
At least, in the game there would be a violent reaction to taking the wrong medicine. That rule existed to prevent the creation of cure-all medicines.
“Therefore, we need to find out which poison it is.” Desperately hoping, he asked, “Old woman. Which one do you think it is…?”
“…” Anka’s mouth hung open. She quickly averted her gaze and cast her eyes downward.
Kei grit his teeth. So she doesn’t know after all.
Inside the game. If it were inside the game. Telling apart these poisons would be a cinch. Just by watching the periodic damage one could differentiate them.
‘Enslavement Poison’ caused a person’s senses to dull and their body to feel abnormally heavy.
‘Breath of Nightmares’ immediately caused a state of stupor.
‘Monochrome Vision’ caused the color in one’s vision to fade away, and narrowed their field of view.
There were also poisons that caused paralysis, but in the game even if an avatar’s movement was restricted, the player wouldn’t lose consciousness.
In other words, the person could explain the symptoms themselves. If they felt heavy, it was ‘Enslavement Poison’. If their vision narrowed, it was ‘Monochrome Vision’. And if they couldn’t speak for themselves, that is, they couldn’t logically converse, it was ‘Breath of Nightmares’.
The strategy worked well. As long as the surrounding people gave them the appropriate antidote it was all fine.
However, now, Aileen’s consciousness remained cloudy. There was no way to have her tell them what the symptoms were.
“…Personally, I think that, since she’s unconscious, ‘Breath of Nightmares’ is the most likely,” quietly, Kei continued. “Although, I can’t confirm it. It’s also possible that the ‘Enslavement Poison’ changed to cloud her mind rather than just dull her senses.” Ruling out ‘Monochrome Vision’, the odds were fifty-fifty. Kei muttered, “…Just what should I do?” but the small room remained silent.
After a few minutes—or perhaps just tens of seconds—Aileen’s color drained and Kei gave her the rest of the potion that he was holding and then suddenly stood up.
“Wait here for one second, please.”
He ignored Cronen and jogged back to Bennett’s house.
Tied to the post in front of the house, Mikazuki greeted Kei with a snort, “Bururu.”
“…It turned out to be something big. I’m such a dunce… If I even thought about it a little, I could have realized that it was probably poison…” Kei sighed in exasperation.
Sasuke worriedly peeked at Kei’s face, as if to ask, “Is she okay?”
“…Don’t worry. I’ll save her.” He smiled stiffly while stroking Sasuke’s nose. He removed the leather bag attached to Sasuke’s saddle, and headed back to Aileen’s side.
“…Youngster. What are you planning?” asked Anka in a sorrowful voice as sat near Aileen’s head and wiped away her sweat in the flickering and swaying candle light.
“Old woman. I have a small favor to ask.”
“…If it’s something I can do, I will do it.”
“Give this to Aileen whenever her complexion worsens.” He placed the bag at Anka’s feet.
With a puzzled look, she opened the bag to check the contents—she gasped in shock and her eyes grew wide. There were more than 10 high potions inside.
“And this too.” He pulled the small metal case from his waist pouch. “…If I don’t come back, give her one of the antidotes.”
Everyone was wide-eyed after hearing that.
“Youngin’, you don’t—!?”
Kei chuckled. “If you don’t understand… It’s quickest to ask the ones who used it,” he said in a tone that brooked no argument. He ran out of the room, ignoring the voices behind him.
† † †
“H-hey, Kei!!” Cronen called after Kei, who was pulling Mikazuki’s reins along in front of Bennett’s house. “Don’t overdo it! It doesn’t matter how well prepared you are!”
Without responding, he lightly jumped onto Mikazuki.
“…It’s rather noisy.” Mandel appeared from the shadow of a building. “Kei… You’ll be facing near ten people, will you not?”
“Yeah, that’s about right.”
“That’s too much! No one can beat those numbers alone! Moreover, they’re the Ignaz Thieves’ Group, you know!?” Cronen shouted, waving his spear.
“So? What of it? Are you coming with me?”
“Eh—That’s…” His response to Kei’s jest choked off partway.
“I’m kidding. I alone am enough. I’m a cavalryman and their numbers mean they’re on foot… It’ll be good target practice.”
Even with his optimistic words, Cronen and Mandel’s expressions were gloomy.
“But, tonight is a new moon…”
Cronen furrowed his brow and unconsciously looked up to the sky. In the utter darkness of the night, it seemed as though only the faint starlight illuminated the area.
Galloping alone in this darkness was nothing more than an act of suicide.
—At least, it was to Cronen.
However, Kei smiled. “Like I said, there’s no need to worry. Look.” With his off-hand Kei pulled an arrow from his quiver, and nonchalantly turned the bow skyward, firing with a twang.
Just as they thought they heard a shrill cry overhead, a black mass fell heavily to the ground.
It was a bat pierced with an arrow.
It struggled in pain from the arrow piercing its body, flapping its wings audibly. Cronen and Mandel’s jaws dropped open; both of them were speechless.
“I told you, right? I can see well in the dark.” From atop his horse, he retrieved the arrow from the bat and the corners of his mouth rose into a smirk. “…Well then, I’ll be going.”
Kei lightly kicked Mikazuki’s flanks and left the two still dumbfounded men behind.
Without so much as a whinny, the dark brown horse glided away into a canter.
Atop the jolting horse, Kei pulled his face cloth over his mouth and adjusted his grip on the vermillion bow in his left hand. “…Hurry, Mikazuki. I’m counting on you.”
At its master’s words, the loyal horse responded with a short snort.
He rode into the faint light of the new moon.
The Reaper was unleashed.
amazake : “Amazake is a traditional sweet, low- or non-alcohol (depending on recipes) Japanese drink made from fermented rice.” -Quoted from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amazake