…There was a change of plans.
I originally planned to check the homework I had given Dia and Tarte today.
[They’re not contacting me like they usually do.] (Lugh)
I had instructed the operatives I had stationed in Birnol, the city that had been hit by a series of earthquakes, to always give me regular updates. Even if there was no progress.
There was no way to know when the spare cable of my communication network would be cut off, and there was also the possibility that my agents would lose their lives over there.
If I didn’t receive any call when I was awaiting their regular report, it meant that something strange was happening.
[Honestly, I would’ve preferred to gather more intel before going into action.] (Lugh)
It was especially disadvantageous that I couldn’t get any intel from the snake demon Mina.
In the Sanctuary, I obtained minimal information from Alam Karla. Originally, there were 8 demons, 4 of whom I knew existed, leaving only the other 4.
Even with what little information I had at the moment, I could identify them to some extent.
However, it still amounted to unclear hearsay. …Mina would’ve been able to provide me with clearer intel.
I didn’t know whether the failure to find Mina was a coincidence, or whether she willingly refrained from passing on information.
If I asked her for information and she refused, it would worsen our relationship. Which may be why she avoided getting in touch with me.
Though I didn’t have enough information to draw that conclusion.
[…So this leaves me with only two options.] (Lugh)
One, I keep gathering information and remain on standby until I’m sure of our victory.
Two, we head to Birnol right now and look for the demon.
Both options had their pros and cons.
If I continued to gather intel, I could improve our chances of winning. However, the Fruit of Life may be completed before I could even gather anything, and the demon could flee the scene.
On the other hand, the advantage of going to Birnol right now was that we could prevent the completion of the Fruit of Life without fail, but challenging the enemy without knowing them was terribly risky.
[Then I guess we’ll have to compromise.] (Lugh)
We’ll go there right away.
However, even if we find a demon, we won’t lay a finger on them just yet.
We’ll only watch the situation and gather information.
That’s our best move.
After breakfast, I ordered Tarte and Dia to get ready for the trip immediately.
They both looked startled, but then they nodded and got their respective gear ready.
Tarte was equipped not with her usual three-part folding spear, but with the magic spear I had made, and Dia was carefully tending to her handgun.
As soon as we were ready, we took to the skies in our hang gliders.
[We don’t know what kind of demon we’re facing this time, right?] (Dia)
[Yeah, that’s why I’m going to scout the area first. And you two will stay out of sight.] (Lugh)
[Understood. Scouting is your specialty, after all. I hope this demon will be a weak one this time.] (Tarte)
As usual, Tarte could fly on her own, so she was speaking to me via her communicator.
I decided I would scout alone this time partly because it was the stealthier approach, but mostly because it would make it easier to escape if the need arose.
Being spotted by a demon didn’t necessarily mean engaging them in a fight. If I couldn’t see any chance of winning, I would consider running away.
[Whether they’re weak or not, it hasn’t even been determined whether it was truly the work of a demon or not. …I hope it’s not, though.] (Lugh)
I wished so from the bottom of my heart.
Take the lion demon we fought the other day for instance. If we had fought him without any prior information, we might not have won.
We barely managed to win by gathering information in advance and making thorough preparations.
Mina said that the lion was the strongest among the demons, but it didn’t mean that the other demons were weak.
[Umm, I think we’re almost there. We just passed by the city of Baruya.] (Dia)
[Yeah, it wouldn’t be surprising if we could see our destination now.] (Lugh)
I enhanced my eyesight by focusing my mana into my Tuatha Dé eyes.
And then, I was at a loss for words.
I did see the city… But it could no longer be called a city.
[This is horrible… How did this happen?] (Tarte)
[This can’t be real… The city is sinking.] (Dia)
Dia was right: the city was sinking. And that was the only way to describe it.
A huge city with thousands of inhabitants had fallen into a pit. The devastation would only be described as such.
It was a deep, deep hole. After all, not even the city’s tallest tower emerged from it.
As far as I could observe from the sky, the hole was dug more than a hundred meters deep, which seemed like a joke.
Judging by the degree of damage done to the buildings, the drop was instantaneous.
The inhabitants had probably all died on the spot.
What a tragedy.
[…We could’ve prevented this if I had known about it sooner.] (Lugh)
[Even if you say that, we can’t do anything about it. We may have failed to prevent this, but we should be glad to have noticed it.] (Dia)
[You’re right.] (Lugh)
Since we had a communication network, I decided to capitalize on it and make regular reports mandatory.
If I hadn’t done so, It would’ve been impossible to send out information from this city, and our first response to this crisis would’ve been delayed by several days.
But since that wasn’t the case, the worst hadn’t happened yet.
We landed our hang gliders, but only I headed for the pile of rubble that used to be Birnol, then I slowly descended into the pit by manipulating the wind.
…It smells awful.
Although they hadn’t rotted yet, there were pulverized human innards scattered all over the place.
The only saving grace for the citizens was that they died an instant death.
I erased my presence, and walked in silence.
Still, the risk of being noticed remained high.
Most subterranean creatures were highly sensitive to vibrations.
Even if I didn’t make a sound, I couldn’t suppress the vibrations I made as I walked in the pit, so they may feel them running along the ground.
For the time being, I used the wind to form a cushion to guard against this, but it was merely for peace of mind.
[I see. So this is what it means to create the Fruit of Life… Eating the souls themselves is just outrageous.] (Lugh)
When I enhanced my Tuatha Dé eyes to the limit, I could even observe souls.
Normally, when a person died, their soul returned to the heavens, and according to the Goddess, it was then bleached before being placed in a new vessel.
In the case of my reincarnation, the bleaching of my soul was deliberately skipped so I would retain my past knowledge and experience.
However, all the souls here were tied to the earth and not allowed to return to heaven, instead being gradually dissolved and poured into somewhere else.
[Looks like I misunderstood this back when we faced the beetle.] (Lugh)
At that time, I surmised that he was sucking nutrients and mana from human bodies in order to produce the Fruit of Life.
It was indeed what the beetle demon was going for, but that wasn’t to create the Fruit of Life.
It was the souls that served to create the Fruit of Life, and he was simply reusing the surplus to create more tree monsters.
And I realized once again how harmful demons were to humans— no, to the entire world.
Normally, even if someone died, their soul would be recycled. Meaning that the number of souls wouldn’t decrease.
However, a soul that had been dissolved and processed like that could never be reincarnated.
The number of souls in this world was rapidly decreasing. Since the deities went out of their way to recycle them, they were probably not easy to produce.
Maybe that’s why they were necessary to resurrect the Demon King.
Mana was the power generated by the soul, and the soul itself was more powerful than mana, so the power condensed by using up thousands of souls had to be unimaginable.
That’s what gave the Demon King absolute power.
…Ahh, I see now. So that’s how it is.
After thinking about it so much, I’d come up with a theory.
About the true nature of the Hero’s power.
There had been hints in every word the demons had spoken.
[That thing couldn’t possibly be human.]
[The Hero’s very existence itself is different.]
[I cannot fight such a monster head-on.]
Even from the demons’ perspective, the Hero was different, and I don’t simply mean in terms of strength, I mean that the fundamental nature of her existence was different.
In other words, humans and demons were all creatures with a single soul, but the Hero was essentially the same as the Demon King: a being born from the compression of thousands of souls.
If so, then it made sense that the deities could only create one Hero per generation.
If they mass-produced such a being, the world would suffer a soul shortage.
I managed to connect all the dots in my brain. The more I thought about it, the more my hypothesis seemed correct.
My thoughts were forcibly cut short by a high-pitched laughter.
What an annoying sound.
[Someone’s still alive in my nest. How strange, how strange, you’re alive, you’re alive. But now, you’re not going anywhere.] (???)
Overflowing with a mind-boggling amount of mana mixed with a hint of miasma. This was the feature unique to demons.
Numerous slippery pink tentacles emerged from the ground. Each one of them was thicker and longer than me.
The sweat glands on those tentacles opened and blew out a pink fog that filled the pit.
[I gotta go back to the surface first.] (Lugh)
Gathering information was important, but survival had to remain my top priority.
I’d better quickly prepare a way to move back to the surface while dealing with this fog.