“Rookie” “Hunting Grounds”
□ 【Paladin】 Ray Starling
“As fellow rookies, let’s try forming a party next time.” As I made that promise with Luke and his ＜Embryo＞, we parted ways.
Incidentally, he still didn’t have a job (he had started the game without any prior information about it, and had no idea about how jobs worked), so I let him check the 【Vocational Diagnosis Catalog】 I had received from my brother. It seemed like he had found a nice job and was now going to spend some time trying to get it. Just what kind of job was that? I could barely wait for the moment we party up.
Anyway, having separated from Luke and Babi, I went together with Nemesis and we finally arrived at our destination, the ＜Noz Forest＞ by the Northern Gates.
“Let’s do it.”
“Good, time to gain lots of levels.”
With a Nemesis—already in her greatsword form—in my hand, we set foot in the ＜Noz Forest＞.
Compared with the ＜Easter Plains＞, due to the many trees closely lined up around the place, the visibility here was poor, to the point that it was really hard to discern things more than twenty meters away.
However, from everywhere I could hear the sounds of battle, so there must’ve been players in this place too. They were most probably rookies like me, who switched farming grounds from the ＜Easter Plains＞ after growing too strong for it.
After a walk of about two minutes in the forest, I discovered a wolf-like monster. The moment it entered my field of vision, his name, 【Teal Wolf】, was displayed to me.
There were three of them here.
“That was fast.”
It was common sense while playing RPGs that, immediately after changing farming grounds, it was pretty risky to take on multiple opponents at the same time, but I had to do it.
The other side took the initiative first, and the vanguard of the wolves came biting at me.
It dealt 22 damage—my first instance of damage taken today. Even if there were 30 more of those attacks, it would still be fine, so I decided to focus on the offensive. Although the three of them had me surrounded, I targeted the one that was directly in front of me.
With a moment’s delay, the monsters came swooping down on me, but I simply focused on the one before me and, ignoring the other two, I counterattacked. Then, when the black greatsword hit its target, the wolf screamed.
Even though it wasn’t bisected in one strike like the 【Little Goblins】 and the 【Rabbits】, the 【Teal Wolf’s】 movements were clearly impaired.
“Great, I can do this!”
I then repeated this same course of action over and over.
Within 5 minutes, the monsters were all defeated, leaving behind 3 bodies’ worth of item drops; standing near these items was me, one level stronger and half of my HP reduced by damage.
“Alright, even if we fight three of them we can still do it.”
『That seems to be the case.』
Readying myself for the next battle, I recovered my HP with 《Fast Heal》.
Damn, with this high HP and a self-healing ability, the 【Paladin】 job was perfect for leveling.
“Okay, my HP is full now.”
『At any rate, now that you are a level 5, your HP has already surpassed the 800 mark, huh. Your statuses are also higher, so even if you had no equipment and took an attack from that demidra, I believe you would endure it.』
“….If possible I would like to avoid boss battles for the time being.”
It would end up shortening my lifespan if I were to keep experiencing something like that every time.
“Until level 20 I plan to just hunt normal monsters.”
『That might be fine. I guess by then I will have already evolved to my 2nd form.』
“So what’s going to happen when you evolve? My brother said you wouldn’t change much…”
『Probably, I will just receive a new skill and suffer a transformation in my appearance as a weapon. Well, if it is the evolution from the 3rd to the 4th form, I honestly do not know.』
“The ‘advanced evolution’ was it?”
『Indeed. The 1st through the 3rd are forms from the lower categories, usually called “normal categories”. The Arms, Guardna, Chariot, Castle and Territory types are generally grouped in there. I am a Maiden type and, at the same time, an Arms too, you know. The others in the “rare” categories are also related, more or less, to the five normal categories.』
So it meant that there weren’t any categories that completely deviated from those five?
『Then, the forms from the 4th through the 6th are in the advanced categories. At this stage the ＜Embryo’s＞ unique characteristic grows stronger. While some advanced categories are a pure upgrade from the normal ones, others end up in unique categories when focusing on their characteristic skills.』
My bear brother said his 4th form was a tank, but… did it have a Chariot upgrade? At first it had just been a weapon—TYPE: Arms—and then, along the way, it evolved into a different and higher category, right?
“Then, what about the 7th form?”
『I cannot find any details about it within the knowledge I was born with. This is not the kind of information that is usually given at the beginning, you see.』
Maybe this was deemed as top secret information, considering that less than 100 individuals had obtained that form in the year and a half since the game’s launch.
『However, I know about something else. In this world, the ＜Embryos＞ of the 4th to 6th forms are not the only ones categorized as “advanced”. Some are also called like that purely from the strength they possess.』
『So do your best and bring me to my 4th form. And beyond that, if possible.』
“I will, of course. You didn’t even need to remind me.”
Those rankers should all have advanced or better ＜Embryos＞, so if I really intended to join that group, I also had to reach this evolutional stage.
“First, I’m going to steadily level up. Before the day is over, I plan to reach level 13 and graduate from these farming grounds.”
As the sky—or the portions of it that could be seen through all the trees—grew to an orange tone, it seemed like dusk was approaching; yet, there was still a lot of hunting to do so I kept going.
Apparently, at night the number of monsters would increase, but I didn’t care about it. Come get me!
『That is the spirit.』
“Alright, let’s find an enemy al——”
——In an instant, my sight dropped to the ground.
No, rather than my sight, it was my whole body that dropped.
Along with the jolting that still lingered on it, the numbness coming from my temple indicated that something had directly hit the side of my head. The simplified status informed me that this impact had taken 80% of my entire HP.
Out of nowhere I had taken a lot of damage.
Probably because it was a headshot, I felt dizzy and my limbs couldn’t move properly.
I wondered if it had been a shout of worry over myself, but I was wrong.
It was… a warning.
『Ngh! 《Counter Absorption》!』
It had already been over 24 hours since she last employed it, so Nemesis used the 《Counter Absorption》 stock that had been replenished.
At that moment, something crashed onto the wall of light that was deployed.
It was a tiny apparition-like thing that had a streamlined body, similar to a bullet’s, and the appearance of a little devil all the while.
Although it had attempted to break through the wall of light, the devil couldn’t accomplish that and revealed its impatience.
Was the damage from before this one’s doing?
“Is that a… monster?”
No, that was impossible.
Compared to the monsters that were here, like the 【Teal Wolf】, its offensive power was simply too different. I also felt that it differed from a boss monster like the Demi-Dragwurm.
Above all else, if it were a monster, the moment it entered my field of view a “name” was supposed to be displayed there. However, there was nothing.
This things was…
The moment 《Counter Absorption》 died out, the apparition thing that had collided with it also passed into nothingness.
『Disappearing after attacking… dying when attacking once. A suicidal attacker kind of monster, and yet a monster it is not… Master! That thing is…!』
A monster ＜Embryo＞.
I see, compared to Babi, that one made more sense. No matter how you looked at it, that thing was indeed a monster.
『Master, get away from here! Someone is aiming at you!』
“Already on it…!”
After being finally released from the dizziness, I used healing magic on myself while breaking into a run towards the north gates of the Capital. And then, at last, I managed to grasp the situation around me.
Screams echoed in the ＜Noz Forest＞. Moreover, they weren’t coming from just one or two players—the source of those shrieks were dozens of players.
If that apparition was an ＜Embryo＞, then the one doing this was a player too.
PK or Player Killing/Killer——something that existed since the inception of MMOs, it was the act of a player killing another player within the game.
It seemed like the same person who assaulted me was also attacking other players, creating more victims at an astounding rate.
Even for someone of my level range, my HP was remarkably high; yet, a single attack was enough to instantly bring it down to near-death numbers. It was obvious that the players who had been leveling here didn’t stand a chance against such a strike.
This place was no longer a “rookie’s hunting grounds”, it was a “rookie”… “hunting grounds”. We had been forced into the role of the “hunted” this time.
“Didn’t that Guardna die just a while ago? Why is it that the number of victims is still increasing!?”
『Most likely, they are the Guardna’s advanced category, the TYPE: Legion. It is an ＜Embryo＞ in the form of a… colony. Although, to make up for its numbers, it seems like the capabilities of each individual is subpar!』
“That was subpar? Man, this isn’t a laughing matter…”
Then, since the ＜Embryo＞ possessed an advanced category, it also meant that the PK was also an advanced ＜Master＞.
『The odds are against… us…!』
For the time being, I had to return to the Royal Capital….
That damned PK shouldn’t come chasing after us within the city.
And… completely ignoring my thoughts…
I heard a voice coming from behind me. It was clear that the apparition was soaring towards me like a meteor…
And then, I was kill——
“——ing you awaaayy! As if I’d let you kill me!”
Right as I turned around, I struck the bullet apparition with the black greatsword.
The “monster” was repelled by my strike with Nemesis and, after colliding with the trees in the forest, it perished as soon as its role was done.
『Well done, Master! Now we just need to…』
Rush to the city.
Nemesis had intended to say these words, but stopped mid-sentence.
In her sword form, Nemesis had no face. However, I knew exactly where her gaze was being directed at.
Beyond the trees in the forest, within the gloomy fog that covered the place, someone was there.
Were they a man or a woman? Old or young? A person or not? Because of the mist, their silhouette was so blurred I couldn’t answer any of these questions. The only thing I could discern from it was that——while their right hand was gripping what appeared to be a gun, the ＜Embryo＞ crest on their left hand was radiating light.
And then, I reached a conclusion.
That was… the culprit behind everything.
The enemy that was trying to kill me.
『Run away!! Master!』
Her words didn’t even require a reply, I had already decided to escape.
I just needed to cover twenty more meters. It was a distance much shorter than the one I had to run during that affair in the Orchard; after escaping the forest, I would finally be able to reach the city.
“You think I’m just going to… let you kill me!?”
I broke into a run.
Nonetheless, behind me, I heard the sound of a gun being fired. And at the same time, I was assaulted by a dreadful sense of intimidation.
I had to escape.
But because of the chills I felt as something approached me from behind, I——ended up turning around.
There, I saw an spectacle.
It was the bullet apparition, the one Nemesis and I had, only once, barely managed to avoid by striking it away.
But now, the apparitions—”a swarm so large it filled my entire field of view as it soared towards me”—created the very picture of Hell in front of me.
Immediately after, faster than the blink of an eye, my body was pulverized by that swarm.
【Your party has been wiped out】
【The interval of time when resurrection is allowed has expired】
【Penalty for Dying: Login blocked for 24h】
1↑餓鬼 – This kind of demon appears in a lot of different cultures, known as “Preta” or “Hungry Ghost”, for example.
2↑化け物 – It could also mean “monster”, but since there is a difference between it and “モンスター” (monster) in the story, I used “apparition”.