[…First question. Where else can I find other elves?]
“Ma–Majin territory!” the manager says immediately.
“I… I don’t know!”
This old man sounds like he’s about to cry.
Beyond the wall of ice I used to block the stairway to the second floor, I hear the scrambling of feet, then a mighty shock that shakes the ice and cracks the wall’s surface.
That was quite a powerful blow.
Did the two majin who were standing at the front gate rush here to try and save the manager? Did he call them, somehow? Well, I suppose just the qi pressure I released earlier would have been enough to alert anybody with half a brain that something was happening.
But… my conversation is not over, yet, so I’m afraid I can’t allow them to interrupt us.
After the first blow, the footsteps retreat, then come back to the charge once more, as if the person in question is trying to take a running start and ram into the wall. When I judge that they’re about to reach the top of the stairs, I let the ice wall instantly dissolve into mist, and one of the two rakshasa bursts into the room, stumbling forward, his balance on the verge of toppling as the ice wall he was about to crash into abruptly disappeared. Before he can get his bearings and attempt to rescue the old manager, the white mist hanging in the air coils around his body and quickly coalesces in a thick cover of frost so cold that the temperature of the whole room suddenly drops by a dozen degrees. It takes only a few moments for my magic to pierce through the reinforcement the rakshasa applied to his body and freeze him solid.
…I’m not quite sure what the rakshasa’s reasons for trying to help this human are, but I’m not in a good enough mood at the moment to show mercy to anybody just because I don’t understand their motivations.
Before anyone else can rush into the third floor from the second, another burst of magic recreates the wall of ice over the mouth of the stairway. This time, however, I make it thicker and stronger than before and extrude a few sharp spikes from its surface, to prevent anyone else from daring to ram into it quite so easily.
Then, I turn back to the old manager.
Taking a look at the new frozen corpse now standing in the room, the manager’s eyes widen in shock, and his face pales even whiter than before. “I–I–I–I’m sorry! I really don’t know! I’m just the manager of a minor branch of the Blackwood Chamber of Commerce. Just the fact that we managed to capture two elves was already a miraculous stroke of luck, there is no way I would be able to find any more of them. Elves are much too rare for that! I’m sorry! I swear I’m telling the truth! There’s really nothing I can do for you!”
[…Then who does find elves?]
“M–Maybe the headquarters of the firm? If the elf you’re looking for was already captured 300 years ago, they would at least have records of the sale. Well, probably. I can’t say for sure. 300 years is a really long time.”
“In the capital! The imperial capital! Alsomn!”
Good. Instead of going from city to city looking in every Chamber of Commerce I can find, going to their headquarters and looking into their records would be much more efficient.
But… the imperial capital.
Isn’t that where this God-Emperor person is supposed to be? Along with his entire faction of gods?
This might be trouble.
I think I’m pretty strong, especially on a plane like Caldera, but if several gods attack me at the same time, it might prove to be a tough fight, even for me. If they’re all on the same level as the two I met in Fushia City, it might still be fine even if several come at me at once, but I can’t say for sure. The most important reason why I won so handily against Orsino and Haris was that Haris dared to go against me in hand-to-hand combat. Considering how much I’ve strengthened my body, that’s pretty much the worst tactic he could have employed. But if there had been two Orsinos instead, it would have been much more difficult to deal with them without getting injured.
And what if they have demon-sealing stones, too?
I’d really be in danger, then.
Let’s be smart about this.
If I killed myself trying to find Nerys, that would be so stupid there’d be no word to even describe it.
But at least, I have another destination, now.
[…Second question. What do you know about me?]
Sanae’s been sending warnings into my mind since earlier, telling me that there’s something strange about this manager’s behavior. Even without her reminders, I too can see it.
From what I understand of this person’s relationship with the rude man from earlier, the old manager is someone who has, in the past, held kidnapped majin against their will without the slightest qualm. So why would he suddenly be so subservient to me, when we’ve never even met before? When I’m not using my magic, there’s no way I know of for anyone who’s not a god to perceive the real extent of my strength, so that can’t be it. He might have recognized me as a devil or an apostle, maybe, but didn’t Finram say that few enough would be able to tell me apart from a simple majin? Would a ‘manager of a minor branch of the Blackwood Chamber of Commerce’ be able to recognize my species?
So, how much does this old man know, and how does he know it?
“I… I don’t know anything,” the manager frantically replies. “I just… I think you must be a devil? I’ve seen some of them before, a long time ago. I saw… what they did. And your eyes look just like theirs. So I just thought it wouldn’t be a good idea to…”
Is that really it?
Well then, I suppose a ‘manager of a minor branch of the Blackwood Chamber of Commerce’ would, in point of fact, be able to recognize my species…
I guess I’m just being too paranoid, suspecting everyone I meet of somehow knowing me and being personally hostile to me. Especially with Sanae telling me just a few days ago that people were spying on me. But no, thinking about it, it indeed makes more sense that this person coincidentally met a devil in the past, like he claims. It’s not like the universe revolves around me, after all. The people who neither know nor care about me must vastly outnumber those who do.
One of my worries has been assuaged.
I glance one more time at the little elf girl hiding behind her mother’s back. She looks more scared of me than of the human in my hand. Silent tears are still streaming down her cheeks.
When I ask my question, my voice comes out as little more than a growl.
[…Do you enjoy taking helpless children away from their homes?]
Unknowingly, bloodthirst seeps out of me to blanket the entire room, and the icy fingers wrapped around the old manager’s body suddenly tighten.
crack, crack, crack…
The manager’s face twists in pain as the sound of bones breaking and splintering rings out clearly through the room. The elf woman next to me pales and takes a few more steps back, still carefully hiding her daughter from my sight as she draws her along in her retreat.
[…Does it amuse you?]
“AAAAAAAH! No, I swear it doesn’t! It’s just business! GUAAAAAAH! It’s nothing personal! And they were treated well! I swear nothing untoward happened to the child! Please! I didn’t… I just…!”
The old man’s pleading does absolutely nothing to rouse my sympathy.
I’m sure it wasn’t, for him. But for a young child suddenly taken away from their home and thrown into a hostile world, it definitely would be all personal for her.
At least, this little elf girl still has her mother next to her, but I’m pretty sure that wouldn’t have lasted very long. In the end, they would have been separated, and sooner or later, she would have fallen into despair.
I can see that this little kid here isn’t like me. She actually does look her age. She must be something like 9 or 10 years old, at most. She doesn’t have the strength to take revenge for what happened to her.
It only takes an instant. The insides of my left hand’s fingers sharpen and turn into blades. Then, I close my fist. The manager dies without time to let out any more screams. His organs spill out. Severed fragments of his body fall to the floor, along with copious amounts of blood.
The elf woman and her daughter, the closest ones to me, stumble back in fear. The other slaves in the room also look shocked, but I can see a certain amount of satisfaction on the faces of quite a few of them.
When I look at the little elf girl, she doesn’t look very pleased with what I did. Instead, she just looks frightened. The moment she meets my gaze, her whole body shakes, and she hurriedly retreats behind her mother’s back. Beneath her trembling feet, a puddle of urine slowly spreads.
I doubt she would react well if I tried to approach her now, in order to remove the metallic collar around her neck. Her mother might even try to preemptively attack me.
Well, it doesn’t really matter, I suppose.
In the end, I didn’t really do this for her. It was only a way for me to vent a little of my anger.
Just a little of it…
Far from enough…
I turn to the ice wall still blocking the stairway to the second floor. It’s starting to fall apart under the numerous impacts showering against it from the other side. It should only hold for a few seconds more.
If these people want to fight against me so much, I will grant them their wish.
A small smile slightly lifting the edges of my mouth, I walk to the crumbling ice wall and press my hand against it. An instant later, the spikes on the other side, blunted by the flurry of blows they sustained, suddenly sharpen once more and extend. I hear a few groans and screams from the unlucky victims.
Then, I let the wall dissolve and integrate seamlessly into my left arm – the added weight not enough to noticeably affect my balance. On the other side, several people are crowded on the lowest few steps of the stairway. Three of them are injured and bleeding – one, the second rakshasa, quite badly, at that – but none of them are dead. Considering I couldn’t clearly see my targets, I’m not particularly disappointed at such an outcome.
Their faces turn toward me as I appear on top of the stairs. Qi surges inside the bodies of some of them as they prepare to cast spells against me.
Considering they even failed to destroy the wall of ice I’d created in all the time they had available, I doubt any of those people could damage my body in any great measure, even if I let them hit me, but I should still do what I can to interrupt their spellcasting, just for safety.
A thick, heavy spear – so thick it could perhaps be better called a pillar – instantaneously forms in my hand, before anyone else can use their magic, and I throw it in their direction. A few react and dodge to the side, tripping over each other in their effort to avoid the spear’s trajectory.
But I’m not actually aiming for any of them.
The spear slams into the floor in the midst of their group and blows a disproportionately wide hole into it. Two or three humans have courage enough to disregard my attack and are still working on their spells undisturbed, but barely a moment later, just as I sense their magic coalesce into existence in front of them, the entire span of floor at the foot of the stairway, weakened too gravely by the spear I just threw, suddenly caves in.
“Step away from – Aaaah!”
With the sound of crashing rubble, all but one of my opponents fall through the widening hole down to the first floor. What spells they could cast in those few instants since I appeared in their sights fly wide off the mark.
Only that single human lucky enough to stand furthest from the hole remains standing before me. As all his comrades disappear from view, he frantically shoots a strange crystal-like projectile toward my face. My hand turns into a blur, and I slap the missile out of the air and away from me, but it looks like this guy took example on my ice wall. The moment the back of my hand makes contact with the crystal, a sharp spike violently bursts out from its surface and actually manages to pierce through the palm of my hand.
The human who cast the spell lets out a small smile of satisfaction, and I suppose it is indeed impressive that this crystal – I don’t know what sort of material it is, exactly – managed to skewer my hand, but…
Well, I’ve already taken off my cloak – which, on the Springfields’ advice, I use when travelling in the wilderness – and the maid outfit I wear underneath has short sleeves, so this guy really should have noticed by now that this arm of mine is made out of ice. No matter what happens to it, it won’t actually injure me in the least.
While the misguided smile is still on the human’s lips, I whip my hand through the air, and the spiked crystal is abruptly dislodged from it and flies right back toward his creator’s face. His eyes widen, and once again he manages to surprise me by unmaking the crystal before it can reach him – with its speed, that really required some impressive reflexes and casting speed. Unfortunately, however, he doesn’t notice the small, transparent ice spike which used to be my index finger, flying in the wake of that crystal ball, hiding in its shadow. The spike stabs through the man’s eye and into his brain, bursting out from the back of his skull.
Still, that guy was pretty good. His rank should be pretty low, so he didn’t have much raw power to put into his spells, but he was rather skilled.
Well, he’s dead now, so whatever.
When his body drops lifelessly to the ground, I’m already jumping into the hole in the second floor, dropping down to the first. As I fall, I see that everyone on the first floor is gathering underneath, trying to help the ones who fell a few seconds ago. I see a few broken limbs, here and there, but no one suffered serious injuries.
I should correct this.
While I’m still in midair, I gather all the cold I can produce inside of myself, my body leaving a trail of opaque white fog in its wake as its temperature drops vertiginously. The moment I touch the ground, I release it all in an almost tangible, omnidirectional wave of biting cold that covers everything around me. The few warriors who had noticed my arrival and were raising their weapons or harnessing their magic all die instantly, frozen in the position they had taken an instant before. The metal of the cages everywhere in the room turns brittle and fragile under the abrupt and extreme change in temperature, but the prisoners behind those bars can no longer take advantage of that fact, frozen solid as they too are. In just one short moment, everyone on the first floor besides me has died. The wave of cold even creeps up through the ceiling – and the hole I made in it – to assault the second and third floors.
I know. I didn’t really mean to do that.
I got a bit too angry, I think.
Well, at least, I didn’t know any of them.
But I feel a little better, now.
Moving toward a clear objective is already a good way to dampen my restlessness, but killing things is much better still. It must have been almost a month since the last time…
Phew. Quite refreshing.
Because, ice magic.
I glance toward the hole in the frost-covered ceiling.
I at least hope those two elves didn’t get caught up in my spell. If nothing else, they’re the same species as Nerys. I’m not sure, but maybe she wouldn’t like it if I killed other elves.
Now that the thought has occurred, I can’t get it out of my head. I should have restrained myself a little, maybe made sure that the cold didn’t flow upwards.
I guess, in the worst case, I should destroy the corpses so that Nerys never finds out.
Right. Kill the witnesses, too. That goes without saying.
Well, let’s go check the situation upstairs.
With a light jump, I reach the hole in the ceiling. I catch its rim with a hand and haul myself through it. Here too, the floor is covered in a thick layer of ice. All the cages nearest the hole only hold frozen statues, now. The blood of the impressively skilled human I killed earlier has already hardened and congealed around his face like a strange red helmet half-merging with the floor.
Fortunately enough, it looks like anyone a bit further than that managed to avoid death by relying on the qi inside their body to resist the effects of my magic.
Then, they should also be just fine, up on the third floor.
I climb up the stairs, and indeed, the first I see are the elven mother and daughter. Since the temperature still dropped a bit, they’re both shivering, but they don’t seem to be hurt. I ignore the other slaves staring at me from a distance, not daring to approach, and walk up to the two of them.
When she sees me approach, the mother visibly swallows her saliva. “You… You…”
[…Do you want to leave this city now?]
Since I started this and they didn’t die in the previous attack, I might as well get them away from here. The mother is pretty strong, but I doubt she could escape from the soldiers I’m hearing taking position right now all around this building. Especially while protecting her daughter, who doesn’t look like she has anything in the way of cultivation.
The elf’s eyes widen, as if she doesn’t quite believe what I’m saying. “You… Are you… helping us?”
The elf woman looks hesitant. Maybe she’s wondering if I’m going to eat them or something. Who knows?
But it would be good if she could make a proper decision soon. I have more blood-qi in my dantian than I know what to do with, but I hear more and more soldiers encircle the building.
I guess this old manager was a more important person than he claimed to be.
“I…” The elf looks at her daughter hiding behind her back, then bites her lips and turns back to me, her gaze becoming harder and more resolute. “Very well. Please help us escape the city.”
I nod once, then turn around and head down the stairs.