Chapter 20: The Demon’s Flesh and Blood
It was not the pain that awakened Ann, but the numbness and itching caused by the rapid healing of her wounds. Her sweaty clothes clung to the wounds on her skin, giving her the feeling that her skin was rotting. ‘Maybe it wasn’t an illusion, but this was what death should look like,’ Ann thought dimly.
She tried to move her fingers, but they seemed to be buried deep in the mud at the bottom of a marsh. She couldn’t even lift a single one. The orange light passed through her eyelids, and she suddenly exhausted all her strength before lifting them up. From the small gap, two dirty faces immediately filled her field of vision, causing the female soldier to reflexively closed her eyes.
"She’s awake! I just saw her blink!" Nemo announced excitedly.
Ann turned her eyes laboriously. The sunrise in the summer was very early, and half the sky was already bathed in bright blue that belong to day. Of course, she didn’t miss the eye-catching huge icicles, which helped her put together most of the facts in her mind without much difficulty about the events of last night.
She opened her mouth and tried her best to ignore the pain in her throat caused by thirst.
"Who hit me?" Ann whispered in a hoarse voice.
They probably didn’t think that the first sentence out of her mouth would be this, causing Nemo to take a step back subconsciously. "It’s me…" he responded unconvincingly. "I… I thought you were burning out with magic power."
"I’m not planning on doing anything to you." Ann leaned her mouth close to the water bottle that Oliver handed over, ignoring the stains on the opening of the bag and swallowed its content greedily. "I want to know how you survive… Was it really Abyssal magic?"
"Can you use Abyssal magic?!" Nemo shouted, subconsciously turning his gaze to Oliver.
"No, it’s a spell drawn in a spell book." Ann didn’t bother to explain, as usual. "It’s just more expensive to use."
Oliver looked a little disappointed, but he hid it well.
"I poked it with my finger to see if my resilience could keep up." Nemo rubbed his fingers. "The way you looked at that time was terrible. I didn’t dare to think too much. It didn’t hurt my finger, so I closed my eyes and rushed up. You know what happened next."
Ann stared silently at the black-haired young man whose face was covered with an unknown liquid. It seemed that her world was destined not to loosen a single corner. She wanted to grab his collar and shout at him that this kind of shit couldn’t happen, but since the impossible did happen, and she was exhausted to the point where she couldn’t even move a finger, the female warrior decided to pivot to a different direction, choosing instead to believe that the magic array was fake or shoddy and had insignificant stamina. At least this conjecture would not make her head hurt so much.
"…Maybe I should send you to the inquisition," she sighed faintly, determined not to ask about the superior demon for the time being, as to give her nerves a chance to calm down. "Forget it."
"So is the test over?" Oliver looked a little guilty. "Uh… Maybe I should break the ice wall. We’re surrounded now so it’ll be hard for the mercenaries to come in."
"They’ve already ran away a long time ago." Ann slowly sowed an ambiguous smile. Nemo noticed a bit of schadenfreude from it. "I really look forward to the expression Fenrir will show."
"How much?!" Troy Fenrir’s spit splashed onto Thorne’s face which splattered on the round-rimmed glasses he was wearing. He pulled down his face, took off his glasses, and wiped them with his sleeves.
"One hundred and twenty-four squares are still active," the red-hair young man put on his glasses and repeated with dissatisfaction. "There are still one hundred and twenty-four participants that are still alive in Noer’s examination room. One fifth, captain. That’s nearly one-fifth of the original people."
"What’s wrong with Pandorater?" Fenrir paced back and forth irritably, like a beast trapped in a cage. "I wouldn’t have done it like this!"
Thorne shrugged, apparently not bothered by it. "Who knows? She’s just a little girl. A little girl’s mind is hard to guess." He even pulled out a smile, showing off his snow-white teeth.
"I said don’t make such metaphors."
"…Sorry, captain. So, what should we do now? The person who attacked the worm must still be alive."
"Go through the normal process. They can’t blame us for Pandorater’s abnormality. There are too many people who survived this time. The litigation team must have been eyeing them, waiting for the Mercenary Guild to turn its face and deny it; Pandorater’s affairs haven’t been clarified yet, so no one wants to take this responsibility."
"Only the Abyss can affect the Abyss." Thorne pushed on his glasses. "Do you want to take ‘special care’ of the demon worshiper regarding this issue?"
"Report truthfully." Fenrir’s expression was stiff. He didn’t want to wipe his ass for headquarters’ mistakes. Pandorater was not only used for cleaning the examination room but was also very active in various battlefields. It had never been destroyed, and no one expected that there would be survivors, let alone the size of the current survivors that was large enough for a bonfire party. "Gather the team and come pick them up with me."
When the mercenaries arrived through the teleportation array, Oliver had just laboriously broken the icicle. Nemo was staring at him discontentedly. The healer had cured Oliver’s left arm and warned him to have a good rest for the next few days but he just turned his head and shook it. Fortunately, someone had enthusiastically provided Oliver with a long sword this time, so at least he was using his dominant hand.
Although the sword didn’t last long, when Troy Fenrir stepped on the wreckage of ice, Oliver hadn’t had time to drop the hilt of the sword yet.
Fenrir expression was a bit distorted. He ignored Oliver and raised his head to look around. People were crowded together like quails, their eyes half alert and half pleading. When Nemo realized that the mercenary leader’s gaze was aimed at him, his whole body shivered from head to toe.
"Will they find out? Will they find out that I did it? I really didn’t mean to!" Nemo grabbed Oliver who was approaching. "Oh god, will I be taken away?"
"I don’t think anyone saw you." Oliver touched his chin. "Except for me."
It was written all over Nemo’s face that his gaze towards Oliver was full of camaraderie. He almost hooked his arms around Oliver’s shoulder to deepen the relationship. Oliver faintly patted him on the shoulder.
"Congratulations," Fenrir, the mercenary leader, announced dryly, without the slightest hint of congratulatory in his tone. "Congratulations everyone. You’ve passed half of the test. We will set up a portal for you now. You can use the lead square as a temporary black badge when you go back. Someone over there will explain the rest."
He recited his lines and threw words at their faces, then turned his back and walked through the portal first, as if he would get some terrible disease if he stayed with them for another second. Nemo swore that he heard Ann’s desperately suppressing her laughter.
People were much more positive this time then when they first entered. They swarmed up and squeezed into the portal in an disorderly manner until one of the mercenaries showed his big sword. Nemo and Oliver helped Ann walked slowly to the end of the line. Oliver seemed a little distracted, as he raised his head from time to time, looking around.
"What?" Nemo was a little nervous, fearing that another legendary monster would jump out.
"Don’t you think we forgot something?" Oliver asked in confusion.
"If you mean my backpack… it was bitten off by one of those monsters when we were fighting. Don’t you remember?"
"It’s not the backpack."
"The water bag? That’s the healer’s stuff."
"…It’s not a water bag either."
"Then it’s probably something not important. Let’s go back first."
After passing through the portal, the air seemed to have a more civilized smell. They returned to the familiar backyard they started from. The sun was warm, and people’s laughter came from near the courtyard. Everything was peaceful and stable, like always. The blood and death that they left behind instantly became ethereal, as if it was some overly realistic nightmare.
Many people crawled down the kiss the ground under their feet. Their dirty faces were full of tears when they raised their heads. Thinking about how much larger the original group was, Nemo suddenly felt indescribably sad.
"Now I’ll give you an hour to reorganize your team. Please be sure to keep the number of people at three or more," a gentle and amiable-looking girl announced, though the contents of her speech had nothing to do with the words "gentle and amiable". "We’ll give you black badges that have not been activated according to your grouping. If you’re dissatisfied with the black badge level or your teammates, you can adjust your team as you please before the task is complete, but please also note that if the first task fails, it will count as a failure for all members of your team for the test. In addition, if you are expelled from your team during the task and are not accepted by another team, you will be deemed to have fail as well."
She bowed slightly with a smile on her face and retreated behind to a wooden desk, ignoring the survivors who were panicking.
Originally, Nemo thought that this hour was a free opportunity to rest, but in the next second people flocked to him crowding him to the point where he was almost suffocating.
"The three of you are in a group right? Please let me join—"
"I have children with me…"
"Gentlemen, I won’t cause you any trouble!"
Nemo backed away and Oliver was almost squeezed under the table. Although Ann was still very weak and was using her hunting spear as a crutch, she threw it on the ground causing many people to flinch in front of the lightning.
"I’m very sorry. There were some minor issues, so your black badges are estimated to come a little late." The female employee who had just explained thing stood up again, snapped her fingers, and a huge piece of parchment appeared out of thin air. There were originally 600 names on it, but now only more than 100 were still clearly visible. The rest had all turned into light gray marks.
"You can see your rating after your name. This is the headquarters’ estimate based on your performance in the test. Please choose your teammates carefully. If you choose a dangerous companion, the danger level of your team will also increase. I believe everyone knows what this means."
People finally dispersed from them and rushed to the parchment. Nemo patted his chest with difficulty, smoothing it out. His eyesight had always been good, so he could barely see from this distance.
"Owl, owl, owl, jackal, owl… Ann, what are these? I’ve read about it in books but—"
"These refer to the number of eyes, and the bad taste of the Mercenary Guild." Ann was holding on to her hunting spear, barely able to stand firm. "The owl is the lowest level. It likes to keep one eye open, right? The lower the number, the better. After all, the more dangerous it is, the more vigilant you’ll have to be, and the harder it’ll be to receive easy and simple tasks."
"Lizards and snakes have two eyes, right?" Nemo confirmed cautiously. "Oliver’s name is followed by a lizard and mine is a snake. Ann your name is followed by a jackal. Don’t jackals also have two eyes…? How is this all assessed?"
Ann looked at the ceiling in silence.
"The wedge-toothed lizard has three eyes, and the rattlesnake has four. The jackal really only has two eyes," she struggled to explain a few minutes later. The scene of these two little bastards fighting the worm was definitely monitored by the guild. Fortunately, after the superior demon came, they should have taken away all the surveillance bug, otherwise, their level may soar all the way to the top. The disappearance of the superior demon was definitely related to these two boys.
Nemo scratched his nose that had demon’s blood caked on it. When it dried up, it made his skin itchy. If he was being honestly, he had no intuitive understanding of these level. "It’s not just me, there are two names on it with…"
"Abstain." A man with deformed insects crawling on his chest said bitterly. "I can’t accept starting at a snake."
"I also abstain." This time it was a girl with black eyes who spoke. She had a sharp voice and there was a centipede with fat eyes wrapped around her neck.
The young female employee smiled and nodded, and the two names on the parchment instantly blurred into light gray handwriting.
"…It’s gone." Nemo added dryly.
"They are devil worshippers," Ann said. "Only the Abyss can affect the Abyss…"
"Whether I want to or not… this will drag you down." Nemo flinched a little.
"You don’t need to worry about me. I don’t care anyway." Ann responded firmly. Don’t, she thought to herself. Next time the rating might be even higher. "How about you. Do you mind Oliver?"
She found Oliver was fast asleep under the table.
Ann breathed hard and wanted to faint again. Fortunately, as soon as Nemo’s level came out, no one came to bother them about joining their team. Nemo looked around and found an abandoned wooden table. He wanted to lay on it to sleep peacefully. As soon as he closed his eyes and began drifting off, Oliver, who was next to him, suddenly raised his head and yelled, slamming into the bottom of the table.
"I remember," Oliver rubbed his head as he murmured. "I remember what we forgot… Nemo, where’s Bagelmaurus?"
The gray parrot’s mood at this time was very similar to Ann’s. If it could faint on the spot, it would do so immediately. It stood on a beautiful wooden table, shrinking its neck, and all its feathers exploded. The man in front of it had a gentle smile, but there was no smile in his orange eyes.
"First introduce yourself. I am Vance Talbott, your kind," he said. "Don’t be nervous. Relax… I just want to have a friendly chat with you."
While the man told it to relax, the magic pressure he was exuding made the gray parrot breathless. It was also smooshed into a meat patty by the invisible force. This man most definitely was doing it on purpose. He was threatening it, the gray parrot thought bitterly.
"My friends and I are very curious why Pandorater would self-destruct for you… Although that kind of weak race will instinctively sacrifice itself to the strong, with all due respect, you don’t have that level of power."
He smiled and lit the table causing the gray parrot to scream in pain.
"I said— I said! I… my race is the Corewen Flat Snake. This is all a misunderstanding. I just… I just…" its voice was breaking to the point of cracking. "…I just devoured a small piece of the Demon King’s flesh!"
"You’re lying." The man who claimed to be Vance narrowed his eyes and the invisible pressure in the air doubled almost immediately. "As long as a superior demon is still alive, the gift of flesh must be voluntary. You mean to tell me…" he paused. "There’s someone out there who willingly gave you his flesh— a Corewen Flat Snake, the most famous coward in the Abyss?"
"How should I know what he was thinking?!" the parrot howled sadly. "I was still an intermediate demon at the time. I didn’t even volunteer!"
It was about to cry.
"I really don’t know anything!"