Ri’leir western region — a certain grove.
The entrance of the forest facing the grasslands was basked in warm afternoon sunlight.
A gentle wind refreshed the vicinity. Sun rays filtered by the trees flickered as the trees rustled with the birds chirping their songs and a family of deer taking a rest in the shade of a tree.
It was a peaceful and tranquil scenery.
But suddenly the fawn’s ears twitched, and it looked towards the forest, frightened by something.
There was a strange noise.
At first, it felt like a vibration.
However, it gradually grew louder. And louder — now sounding like an earthquake.
The deer sensed danger and started to flee, and so did the birds, flying off the branches they’d used for resting at once.
Eventually, a group emerged from within the forest.Accompanied by loud whinnies, the horsemen had their steeds push their way through the thicket.
One, two, three — their numbers kept growing. Eventually reaching twenty.
On a closer look, they weren’t one group. Instead the three horsemen in the lead were chased by the rest.
“Hold right there!”
“Don’t expect to get away!”
“You rotten bastards! Today is the day I’ll end you!!”
Ten-odd horsemen galloped after the three, hurling insults at them. The way they brandished their weapons with the veins having popped out on their foreheads couldn’t be called elegant in any way, but seeing how they all straddled white horses and wore mantles with a black cross, one could still sense a certain degree of unity from them.
On the other hand, the three running away from the could only be described as ‘odd.’
To begin with, calling them ‘people’ was already pushing it.
“Waahahahaha! Ya don’t know when ta give up!” The one leading the group of three snarled with a thick accent, laughter dyeing his voice.
He urged his mottled horse onwards, regularly looking back, just to piss his pursuers off with random provocations.
‘Abnormal’ — that was the only way to describe his appearance.
He wore leather armor that had definitely seen better times, covered by a sad excuse of a rag, if you could even call it that. He held a rusty mace in his left hand, a spare club dangling at his waist.
But the long claws on each of his hands stood out the most among all of these. Speckled, dark brown scales covered each centimeter of his skin. Fangs and a long tongue were visible in his red mouth that looked as if torn to the sides. Vertical slits served as pupils for his golden eyes.
They were humanoid monsters that were hostile to mankind. In exchange for their superior physical and special abilities, their intellect was low — or rather, it was supposed to be. But this individual was not only riding a horse but even understood human language.
“No one likes clingy men, you know?” The woman riding next to him chimed in with a sneer as she clung to her dark-manned horse.
Just like the Dragonian, she was also part of a race of humanoid monsters that were hostile to humanity. Her race’s characteristics consisted of excellent perception and extremely high explosive power. Moreover, the females were physically stronger than males.
The Panthenian woman had a thick black cloth wrapped around her hands. Other than that, there were no signs of her being armed. Perhaps she was unarmed, or perhaps she hid her weapon — or perhaps…
And there was the third one, at the very back. A man with a tattered robe who acted as their rearguard. This one seemed like an ordinary old human man with a fine ashen beard. His expression couldn’t be seen due to the hood hiding his eyes. At the moment, he indifferently used his staff to take down the arrows their pursuers were shooting at them.
He didn’t just protect himself, but his horse too, and even sensed the arrows aimed at the other two, knocking down all of them. His skill was extraordinary. And as he remained silent from the start to the end, neither cursing nor provoking, it only strengthened the ominous vibes he emanated.
“Shit, we aren’t getting anywhere!”
Seemingly fed up with their arrows having no effect, one of the pursuers, a red-haired man in his prime, took out a deep crimson jewel from his pocket.
A disturbing light dwelt within the jewel. The man raised it high into the air and yelled.
The very next moment, everyone present saw a vision of a flaming lizard in the sky.
Deep red flames surged out of the jewel and swirled towards the staff-wielding old man.
The old man, on the other hand — wasn’t perturbed in the least. He thrust his hand into his pocket, pulled out some powder, and scattered it to the back.
They were salt crystals.
【Aubine. Arto, Hyo-Heki】
The old man promptly muttered the script. The scattered salt crystals instantly evaporated, diffusely reflecting light.
Within that distorted glittering, they saw the figure of a maiden clad in a long robe, with a cold-hearted smile on her face.
With a dull thud, a wall of ice manifested in the air. Right between the group of three and their pursuers. It was thin enough to be destroyed with a simple charge, but it proved plenty to offset the red-haired man’s flames.
Ice and flames clashed, followed by a vapor explosion. The ice wall melted all too easily, but the fleeing trio remained unscathed thanks to it.
“An Ice Spirit?! No one told me about that!”
Great unrest spread among the pursuers, and particularly the red-haired man who had released the flames.
“Ahaha, Bernard, check out their dumb looks!” The Panthenian woman addressed the Dragonian with a furious cackling.
“Wahaha, what a sad sight! So, guys, I see ya like flames?!”
The Dragonian called Bernard reined his horse in until he was behind the other two. And then, he sucked in a lot of air, causing his chest and neck to expand to a bizarre degree.
“Crap, spread out!”
The pursuers at the forefront noticed what he was doing and tried to change their course, but they were too late.
Along with a roar, orange flames surged out of Bernard’s mouth.
Fire Breath — it was a torrent of combustible gel similar to that of a “Wyvern.” The tongues of the flames licked the pursuers. The man in the lead ended up charging straight through the conflagration, turning into a ball of fire and tumbling off his horse.
———————- End of Part 1 ———————-
He tried to extinguish the fire by rolling on the ground, but the horsemen behind him failed to stop in time, running him over and thus turning him into a bloody lump of meat.
“Ah shit, my horse stepped on him!”
“Agh, I caught the flames too!”
“Fuck, this horse is done for. Kill it!”
Panicked, they tried to put out the spreading flames, shooting their burning and rampaging horses with their bows — in short, it was total chaos.
“Wahahaha, serves ya right!!”
Bernard guffawed with flames dancing on his tongue as the three kept gaining distance. The old Ice Spirit magician next to him silently half-rose on his horse, slapping his butt in jeering.
“—AGGHHH!! You dare to look down on me, you fucking shits!!” The red-haired man, with veins bulging on his forehead, kicked the belly of his horse to make it gallop even faster. Intent on not letting them escape, the man, followed by his comrades, raised his scarlet jewel once more.
【Sigismund!! Mi dedicxas al vi—】
Alongside a destructive boom, the man felt an impact on his arm, accompanied by his script stopping.
Looking at it, the jewel that he used to hold had been shattered together with his right hand.
“Oh dear, my bad. I planned to blow up your face, but missed unfortunately.”
The man sat on his horse, stupefied, his arm still raised, and his precious magic item pulverized. The one ridiculing him with her red tongue stuck out and without any scruples whatsoever was the Panthenian woman on her black horse. A long and thin black cloth fluttered in the wind as she held it in her hands.
No — that wasn’t just some ordinary cloth. Upon closer inspection, anyone would identify it as a sling with its saucer-like leather piece in the center.
Once again, she grasped both ends of it, took a cobble out of her waist pouch, put it into the leather pocket, and started to spin it with great force.
“Soo, yeah. Make sure you catch this one…properly!”
With that, her arm blurred. She threw it with not a single trace of bloodlust.
The shocked man only registered it as a small black spot that had suddenly appeared in his visual field.
The impact followed in no time. Alongside a dull crushing sound, everything above his chin was blown away.
“Wheew! Iris, Yer stone throws are scary no matter how many times I see ’em!”
“Not as scary as your breath, though.”
The Panthenian woman referred to as Iris, shrugged at Bernard’s cheering.
“Now, time ta get outta here! Getting surrounded by these small fries would be a pain!”
“Kou, you already showed them your magic, so take care of keeping them away, okay?”
The old magician answered Iris’s wink with a wordless thumbs up. He was apparently called Kou.
The three made their escape at full speed while their pursuers yelled at them in anger from behind while recovering from the breath attack.
“You ain’t getting outta nowhere! You won’t escape ussss!”
“After them, after theeem!”
The cavalry galloped after them with thundering steps, leaving behind the lumps of meat that were once their comrades…
There existed a term called Player Killer.
Just as the term suggested, it referred to players who attacked other players in multiplayer games like MMORPGs. The act in itself was called Player Killing. Those two terms were sometimes abbreviated to PKer and PKing, respectively.
Since they attacked other players without consent, following the goal of killing those players’ characters and looting their items, they entered a completely different category compared to PvP players who followed established rules.
Player killing could lead to newbie hunting, and dying yourself was usually connected to trouble. That and various reasons basically led to player killing being often shunned within game communities.
Naturally, the reality-styled VRMMORPG【DEMONDAL】, which was set in a medieval fantasy, was no exception.
In this game, where all areas practically counted as free PvP areas, PK could substantially happen anywhere at any time. Moreover, during death, your character dropped all items including the body itself — for PKers nothing short of a paradise.
Barnard, Iris, and Kou, were also some of those hardcore player killers who drew joy out of such despicable acts.
Considering how they focused on the killing itself rather than obtaining valuable loot, and how they actively acted out being villains, it might be more correct to describe them as PK fundamentalists.
Today as well, they had messed with a Mercenary Clan called Crusaders which usually cracked down on PKers.
“Ah man, it’s really getting boring these days.” Barnard grumbled while making his thin and long tongue flicker as he enjoyed a shaky ride atop his horse.
Currently, a few minutes after the earlier battle, the three were fleeing from their pursuers, heading north through a cluster of trees.
“What’s wrong all of a sudden?” Iris asked curiously while putting another cobble into the sling.
“Uhh, I dunno, it feels like we have no competition.”
Casting a bored look towards the back, he saw ten-odd members of the “Crusaders” chasing after them while shouting, “Hold right theeere!”
Their numbers had clearly dwindled in comparison to before, but the cause was just as clear.
【Aubine. Arto, To-Ketsu.】
【Darlan. Arto, Gen-mu.】
As soon as Kou sprinkled salt in the rear, the ground in his wake was covered by frost, and when he took out the petals and scattered them, a mysterious rainbow mist appeared out of nowhere.
Getting blinded by that smokescreen and failing to notice the frozen ground, the horses slipped and tumbled down while charging at full speed. Their riders fell out of their saddles, crashing onto the ground, resulting in their necks getting twisted in weird directions. They most likely died instantly.
Fairy of Dreams, Darlan, and Ice and Snow Maiden, Aubine.
Kou was widely known for having made contracts with Fairies, a special type of lower ranked Spirits, and regularly using a multitude of spells like Winds of Dead Sleep, and Bewitching Mist, but the other day he had also managed to contract an Ice Spirit, and he was using today to make a flashy debut by using his spells right and left.
Barnard’s flame walls, Iris’s irregular stone slinging, and Kou’s restricting spells — this was their usual tactic.
There existed players against whom their “usual tactics” didn’t work.
“As expected, I can’t get any thrill outta it if we’re not facing someone as strong as Jap the Reaper.” Barnard sighed while swatting down an arrow, coming at him from behind, with his mace.
Jap the Reaper — the archer, Kei.
He was a famous player in the neighborhood of the Stronghold Village Urvan which was the headquarters of the Crusaders. He was a master of horseback archery, easily using greatbows which were known for being hard to use on horseback, and prided himself with an accuracy that allowed him to shoot through the hole of a needle, even within a forest, ignoring most obstacles — he was quite literally a reaper.
He was also the longstanding foe of these three, who had given them a run for their money on many occasions.
———————- End of Part 2 ———————-
It was extremely hard to defend his initial attack, which excelled in Stealth Sense, and even if you endured the first arrow, more of them, loaded with lethal might, would follow one after the other. Barnard was one thing, but even Kou, who excelled in staff arts, would not find it easy to keep blocking such attacks.
Moreover, he immediately fled while making full use of his bowser horse’s ability whenever someone got close to him, and chased after his enemies whenever they ran — him pulling off such textbook-like cavalry movements were another extremely nasty aspect of him. If they encountered him, a hard battle would be unavoidable, and in the worst case, even the three of them together could get wiped out — he was that powerful an opponent.
“Still, fighting with that guy always ends up being the most fun”
“You have a point~”
Iris answered while tilting her head to dodge the incoming arrow. She was the only one among the three who used a physical weapon like a sling, but even she found joy in competing with Kei.
But recently their days were filled with boredom.
“Aggghh! Why won’t you log on, Kei!?”
Kei was quite famous as a Reaper for his transcendental archery skills, but at the same time, he was also known for being one of the worst VRMMORPG【DEMONDAL】addicts. He was a nutjob who was always logged on aside from the server maintenance hours, and his name was often brought up on the forums with remarks like, “He’s basically living in the game at this point,” and “That’s one tough NPC.”
And yet, Kei had not shown up as of late.
The same Kei who had been logged in 24/7 since the open beta, never missing a single day.
According to people, the only answer they got was, “Kei is away at present,” even when asking his NPCs who were set to train themselves at his home in Stronghold Village Urvan. In other words, it wasn’t that Kei was hiding somewhere in【DEMONDAL】, but rather, he had actually logged out.
What happened? — this question was currently a hot topic in conversations between players and in threads on the forums. He was driven out by his parents for being a shut-in, he had connection problems, he simply lost interest and quit — all kinds of speculations made their rounds.
Some people even suspected him to have been a bedridden patient after considering his time in the game, and concluded that he had died after his condition deteriorated.
In addition, another famous player, the NINJA Andrey, who often hung out with Kei, had also disappeared. This also became a hot topic.
Some even suspected it had something to do with Kei’s disappearance — but they couldn’t ascertain the credibility of that claim.
“…Could it be that those two are a thing now?”
After thinking with a serious face for a while, Iris suddenly raised her head and spoke up, causing Barnard’s eyes turn to dots.
“…Yeah, I mean, everything would make sense if you think of it that way. I bet those two are going hard at feeling up each other’s bodies in a VR room and have lost all sense of time over it. That would explain why neither of them has logged on over here, right?”
“Huhh? No way! No way in hell that can be true!”
Iris explained with a slovenish expression, drooling and giggling. Barnard dismissed it with a wave of his hand, disbelief coloring his face.
“Ehhh, I thought that was a genius deduction though? Maybe he couldn’t hold back any longer after falling in love with Andrey’s handsome looks! A forbidden love among two men—! Uhehe.”
“No way, no way. And even if, just for argument’s sake, that was true and Kei and that homo NINJA became a thing, and even if they started fucking like crazy in a VR room… IT’S STILL TOO FUCKING LONG!! How many days has it been since they logged on?!”
“…You have a point, I suppose. No, maybe they even go on dates…! In a world for just the two…?!”
“No way! That alone can’t be true!”
Barnard started waving not just his hands, but also his tail.
By the way, while the two chatted, Kou silently kept disrupting the Crusaders in the back.
“…Huh?” Then, Iris suddenly noticed it. “Hey, you two, there’s a village over there. It wasn’t there before.” She pointed into the depth of the forest.
Following her finger’s direction, the men spotted several small log houses inside the forest.
“Oh! We ought to drop by over there, eh!”
“Is it a player-made settlement, I wonder?”
Barnard turned his horse towards the village, and Iris and Kou followed suit. They pushed through the thickets even as they were chased by the Crusaders, weaving their way through the trees.
The closer they got, the clearer they could see the full extent of the village. It was a reclaimed land inside the forest. NPCs with simple clothing were cutting trees and plowing fields.
When they had reduced the distance to the village entrance to just a few dozen meters, the other side also noticed the three.
Seeing the Dragonian horseman with a mace, and the Panthenian woman spinning the sling with a smile, the NPCs started to panic.
Dragonian and Panthenian were monster races you got as a bonus when you bought the package edition of【DEMONDAL】, and in exchange for offering higher physical and special abilities compared to the human races, those two races had the disadvantage of automatically drawing the aggro of each NPC. So you couldn’t utilize any settlements like cities and villages.
Then again, that was irrelevant for Barnard and Iris.
Barnard’s horse charged into the village with thundering hoof sounds.
And Barnard himself immediately set a nearby shed on fire with his breath.
Child NPCs rushed out of the blazing shed in panic. They attempted to extinguish the fire that had spread to their clothes, but once they saw Barnard, they once again started screaming.
“Good day! Now die, you damn brats!!”
Barnard mercilessly swung down his mace from atop his horse. A child NPC’s head caved in with a dull sound, its eyes popping out, accompanied by a spray of red blood.
“Monster! What are you doing, you damn monster!”
A brawny man clad in full metal armor and a mantle, rushed out from further back, yelling as he brandished his halberd. However small a village, they had at least one guard. They excelled in physical strength and constitution, and were considerably stronger than some players, but—
This time, Iris’s arm blurred. The guard had his helmet and head pulverized by the canon-like stone attack, turning into a lump of meat.
“There’s just NPCs here, huh!? Meeeh, no fun!”
Contrary to his words, Barnard seemed to be enjoying himself as he successively set houses ablaze with his breath.
Next to him, Iris muttered, “This feels like duck shooting,” as she continued to throw stones with a smile. Kou continued to cast his disrupting spells while pulverizing the head of any villager that crossed his path with his staff.
———————- End of Part 3 ———————-