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All the Courage that I See in You

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XX/XX/XXXX

A sad day indeed. The day the YGGDRASIL servers would shut down, the day the dreams of thousands would find their eternal rest.

One player, in particular, had decided to spend the last minutes at his favorite spot in Yggradsil, other than beside his friends. His formless figure standing solemnly on the edge of a cliff as he stared into a lake surrounded by forest, form continually moving and changing as shadows twisted around the beauty. He tilted his head to the sky.

Hraefn - debug tester, World Guardian, and longtime member of the guild Ainz Ooal Gown, having joined a mere month after the clan became a guild - gazed into a merciful void, glittering with a thousand stars. A far cry from the hell of a world he was trapped in. The seconds until his recapture ticked by, each one stabbing another needle into his skin as he wished he could feel something else, wished he could feel the artificial winds of Midgard as it blew through the grass, or the night's chill on his skin. Yet, he felt nothing. Technology had yet to reach that far, and it hurt more than anything.

As the clock continued to tick, a small prick of guilt stung the player's heart. He thought to his close friend and guildmaster, Momonga, sitting alone in their guildhall, watching over it in the final moments. Part of him felt that he should have stayed, especially after Herohero left, but as the other part reminded him of the bed, he would soon be bound to again, the thought vanished to the wind.

Momonga decided to end the game where his heart lay, Hraefn had simply done the same.

He wanted to treasure his last few moments of being free, of not worrying about whether he'd ever love a game like he loved YGGDRASIL. Not suffering over if he'd ever feel free again.

The clock struck midnight.

He closed his eyes on YGGDRASIL.

 

And opened them to a New World.

 

The tips of evergreens peaked into his vision, slight obstructions of the bright, sparkling sky. He blinked again, eyes darting around as he frantically searched for his UI. Where had it gone? It was just there. It had literally just been there.

Had the developers messed up? Did they only do a partial shutdown?

There had been thousands of players who begged the developers not to shut down the game. Had their prayers been answered last second? Was that why the UI vanished?

...But why would it make it disappear?

 

Perhaps it was the surprise introduction to YGGDRASIL II; however, something told him that it was unlikely. First of all, the likelihood of the developers allowing players to keep their old builds in the new game was low. It could alienate new players. Although, he could retain his one as he was a tester. Secondly, he wasn't read up on the laws surrounding dive games and virtual reality, but at the very least, he was sure that it was unethical for the developers to force players into a new game against their will. And finally...

He couldn't log out.

So it wasn't a new game. That left only one question.

What the hell was going on?

Surely he couldn't have been thrown into a plot ripped straight from one of those century-old isekai animes, that thought was far too ridiculous. More likely, it was just a bug, and everything would be alright.

In the meantime, Hraefn's best course of action would be to make sure he had his skills in order and find his way back to familiarity. Undoubtedly that was the course Punitto Moe would surely tell him to take.

It didn't take a genius like her to figure out another method of casting spells. There was the way the shows did it, calling out whatever spell he wished to cast.

"Message!"

No response.

He felt like a fool, shouting like that in the middle of a deserted forest.

Even still, he felt something flood out of him. Something had happened, hadn't it? He just couldn't see it...

In that case...

He pointed at a tree.

"Eldritch Blast!" His favorite D&D spell, something he'd picked up from some wiki archives after he heard that YGGDRASIL had taken inspiration from it. Though it was a simple first-tier spell, its effects looked nothing of the sort.

In a flash, four bolts of pure arcane energy shot forth. The first ripped through the tree. The second, the falling log, sending it crashing into another tree. The third went straight into the ground behind the tree, gouging it out. The final bolt eradicated what was left of the tree stump.

What else could be expected from Hraefn, Autarch of the Arcane? He'd earned that title through a highly specific build, only accessible through a debug menu.

It wasn't the best time to be patting himself on the back, Hraefn knew this and opted instead to just cross magic off the list of things he needed to check. Although, speaking of his debug menu...

"Debug. Debug Menu. Debug Console. Debugging."

He tried everything he could think of to bring up his console, cries, calls, waving his arms around, but it seemed nothing would work.

"Dammit! Open up already! System Access!"

Several menus appeared around him, each with various information displayed on them. One held his character build and options to change it, another his abilities and stats, and yet another held his equipment. He checked through the many screens and options, though he didn't test it, debugging would be no good if he didn't know where he was. Besides, the devs would absolutely murder him if he messed something up by playing around when he wasn't supposed to.

He finally found what he was looking for; a, not supposed to be greyed out, button labeled [Contact Developer]. He pressed it. He pushed it again. He kept hitting the button, complaining all the while, "Dammit, you can't break on me!"

...it was no use.

Ah, well, most of the interface appeared to be in working order. Hraefn was willing to take that for what it was. Next was his skills. His first thought was to use Heaven's Fall, but he immediately kicked that thought to the curb.

A passive skill, he'd start with a passive skill. Which one to pick... he needed something that could have immediate results. He'd turned off all his naturally damaging passives to avoid agro in his last few minutes of freedom; however, he didn't like the idea of potentially angering something stronger than anything YGGDRASIL had prepared him for. He didn't know what was out there, and though he'd stood at the peak of all YGGDRASIL had to offer, he didn't know what was out there. Then it would have to be something that didn't have the potential to screw him over.

He decided on darkvision.

Although it was an inherent and ingrained racial ability, thanks to his 'job class' as a debug tester, Hraefn could effortlessly turn any and all of his skills on or off. Something told him that calling it out wouldn't work this time, so he focused his attention inwards. Trying to feel it out, Hraefn thought about his task. Would he need to pull up his debug menu to do it? Certainly not when he'd been able to do it from the regular. That was what he thought. Still, he didn't allow himself to falter, and he was awarded for his persistence a mere twenty seconds later. He felt something within him click, turn off, and his vision went much darker. A familiar sight he knew from his window.

Repeating the process restored his vision, and his perfect sight returned once again.

Now then, what about his item box...

 

The tests continued for some time as Hraefn tested out combinations of skills and spells, exploits within them, and checking if all his debug commands were in order - of which, he appeared to primarily have just lost the ability to teleport. Experimenting always through him into a loop as he tried to figure out what he could do, which would inevitably lead to a question of if he could do something else. In the end, it was only when the sun broke the horizon that he stopped, realizing he'd never in his testing bothered to survey the surrounding area. He mentally kicked himself, thinking

it foolish that he'd leave himself so vulnerable without knowing if he were safe.

He needed to focus on the outside world now that he was confident of his own ability.

 

Flying was much more fun with the wind rushing past you, Hraefn decided, diving down to zipping through the trees after becoming comfortable with the ability once again. The first hit of perceivable wind resistance was a shock to his system, but now he enjoyed it. It was something to take into account when he flew, it was a game.

However, although he felt alive flying, freer than ever before, the clear blue sky thrilled him like nothing else.

It was nothing like the smoke he saw every damn day outside of his peaceful bubble, nothing like the smog he knew billions had to slug through in suits they could hardly afford. It wasn't broken or dead or killing the world.

It was...

Beautiful.

 

He'd always assumed the white clouds he'd seen in the media were a lie, a wish even the people of old had held dearly, but the fluffy cotton in the sky told him otherwise. He'd spent almost an hour at its level, trying to understand it all, commit it to memory, before finally convincing himself to return closer to the ground before someone saw the formless black body in the sky.

It was beautiful.

Unsullied.

And to that thought, white-hot rage bubbled in the pits of his very soul as the vision of smoke billowing into the sky came into view. It enraged him enough so that he didn't think for even an instant that he should asses any potential danger before he shot out of the sky.

 

That recklessness saved a child's life.

 


 

Everything was so hot. It burned. Why was it burning?

Mommy was yelling and begging. "Run, Asena! Run as fast as you can!"

Mommy didn't beg. Why was she begging?

Hands that ordinarily guided - gently nurtured, taught, and loved - shoved Asena towards the collapsing back wall, crumbling under its own weight. Mommy kept begging her to run. She couldn't understand.

Yet as an ax broke through the front door, she found that she didn't need to.

She ran.

Little feet pounded against the ground, one propelling to the next across dry, dusty land, kicking up the dirt with each thud. She didn't know anything about the screams, the cries. Asena didn't know anything about the cruelty of the world. But running? Running was something she knew from the start.

 


 

Sometimes Gregory wondered why everyone didn't go into banditry.

Pillaging was such an easy job. Villagers, frightened, pathetic, weak little things, seldom put up a fight, instead preferring the monotonous option of bribing bandits away. Not that they could put up much of a resistance, even if they all worked together. Their two or three pitchforks and dull kitchen knives were nothing against a well-prepared assault and the captain's enchanted dagger, but it always made it more fun. But it was fun. It was exhilarating. Yes, pillaging was everything Gregory Altras lived for!

He lived a good life, the second-in-command to his beloved elder sister, Alice. Always had he craved the feeling of ax through bone, the bashing of a club against heads, the screams of children crying for their mothers, or their parents, begging, pleading, 'Please, do whatever you want with me, just let them go!' As if dying to the wolves or starvation would be better than the quicker, albeit just as painful, bludgeoning. Not that their thoughts mattered, the opinions of ants were inconsequential. And the ants themselves? They were meant only to be squashed.

Of course, even insects could be bothersome, especially parents. Gregory had almost missed the child running down the path outside the village. If she'd been the slightest bit smart, she'd have run into the forest where she'd be concealed, and perhaps he'd have assumed her crying to be resounding from the village. As things were, his interest and gaze zeroed in on the sobbing child, running for dear life.

He ripped his ax from the skull of the girl's mother, a sickening squelch bringing nothing but a smile to his face. The woman's last tears still ran, her body kept warm by the burn of the flames.

Children were always more fun than adults. You could make them believe they had a chance to win the game.

 


 

During playtime in the village square, Asena had always been the slowest in her little group of friends. Perhaps she wasn't the slowest runner in her village, not like Johnathan was, but she wasn't fast. It

made her lose a lot of games.

Now it wasn't a game. If it were a game, everything would turn out okay, but it wasn't! She wanted to scream and cry louder than the involuntary sobs that tore from her chest. Footsteps were behind her, the chaser was coming. Slower than hers, but heavier and ever closer. She hated playing with adults, they couldn't lose.

Maybe if she pretended it was all a game, a play gone wrong - horribly, horribly wrong - she could pretend everything would be alright. Perhaps she could pretend everything was as it should be.

Everything was okay.

It wasn't okay.

Searing pain tore through her back.

She couldn't comprehend it, it was too much, too much! It absorbed everything.

 

When Asena awoke, she knew she was dead. An angel stood before her.

 


 

Perfect timing.

The girl had just begun to wipe her tears when he swung.

He'd been worried it would get boring with how slow the kid was, he didn't think he'd be able to give her any hope. Gregory couldn't justify going too far from the village, after all, his sister ran too tight a ship for him to mess around too much. However, none of that mattered.

The splat of blood reinvigorated the fire in his eyes, the scream had it burning brighter than the village. It was beautiful, wonderful, incredible!

Her little body unable to handle the pain, the girl collapsed to the ground, whimpering, shivering. She couldn't even consider escaping an option. Now he could tell why people thought kids were cute. It was a shame she had to die, he felt as he circled the girl, it looked like she had the potential to become a beautiful lass, one fitting to be his whore.

He allowed himself a few more moments to bask in the pain of his victim, coming to a stop in front of her, a madman's grin splitting his face in two. Yes, what a beautiful sight. More than any whore.

The view of the good dying young.

He raised his ax, rusted thoroughly with the blood of countless victims, once again above his head. The sun gleamed off it, the last light of life.

 

Searing pain tore through his chest.

 

The ax fell from his now loose grip, landing blade first in the ground right beside the girl's unconscious form, scarcely missing her arm.

As if dropped, Gregory's gaze fell to his feet, and the void itself stared back. A tendril of inky blackness, almost like a blade, had run through his chest. He couldn't look away, hardly even registering the shadow over his body.

Distantly, he recognized that it shouldn't have been there.

And then it wasn't. Torn out of his body without a hint of tenderness.

One hand shot to his chest to pressurize at least one side of the wound, his other shooting out to steady himself as his bearings rushed back to him in rapids comparable to only a tsunami. Something was behind him. Something dark, nightmarish. Something incomprehensible, its mere existence exuding an enchanting fear.

As if possessed to do so, he turned his head to face his adversary, movement choppy and uncoordinated, lagging behind his mind. It took hardly a glance for the realization to come crashing in.
This entity, this being, it didn't even think of Gregory as an opponent. An enemy, perhaps, but no threat.

The formless mass of void loomed over him, blocking out the sun, its erratic, inconsistent, inky form stretched up into the sky. An aura of darkness, darker than dark, surrounded it, striking horror into Gregory's very soul, and yet... something about the creature still charmed him, beckoned him closer. Perhaps it was the call of the void, the allure of the abyss, but he could not help but be enthralled by the darkness. Something primal within him longing to be swallowed up, to catch a glimpse of the being underneath.
Perhaps he could have run.

 

 

Probably not.

 


 

What a degenerate, delighting in the death of a daughter.

Hraefn bothered not to use a single skill on the monster before him as he tore him in half, part of him distantly recognizing that everything had gone silent, save the child's ragged breath. Was it already over?

A beat passed. Then a cry of celebration, a dozen voices.

It seemed it was.

But not, he noted as he stepped over the monster's body, for the girl at his feet. She was injured, an injury that surely could have felled her, yet she hung on by a thread. Something must have been driving her, a powerful connection to life. What it was, he had no way to know. A final wish, perhaps?

It didn't matter, Hraefn supposed, a child was dying in unconscious agony, and he had the power to save her. There was only one decision any half-decent individual could make at that moment. His knees hit the dirt at her side as he knelt, clawed hands reaching out of shapeless shadow to cover the tear that split her back in half.

"Cure Wounds."

She was whole again in an instant, the blood remaining but already drying. A sense of relief, perhaps contentment, flushed over Hraefn's hidden form. She was safe. That was good enough for him.

...but what now? He didn't dare assume that anyone on her side was among the celebratory cheers.

Perhaps he could bring her to a nearby village or town, find someone to take her in, or even just drop her off by an orphanage. Somewhere could take care of her, he was sure of it. Things would be just fine.

Although, her waking up to see the form of a heteromorph looming over her would probably make things less so. Hraefn thought to himself for a moment, how much responsibility did he want to take for this child? The thought of leaving her there to rot was more than enough to send disgusted shivers down his spine. Too cruel, the mere idea of it caused a sour taste in the back of his throat.

Which left his first option and his first option alone.

He sighed in defeat and braced himself to change forms to his - albeit more familiar, he was sure - humanoid form. He never used it back in YGGDRASIL, it had been a bait form he'd designed with the help of Bukubukuchagama and Peroroncino. It hid his true stats from divination but allowed high leveled players to divine his true nature, coaxing attackers to confront him with their guards down. The brother and sister duo had taken the project seriously, actually getting along on it after the initial fighting, the concept something they could both agree on; a half-elf trap and the very definition of bait.

 

He hoped it would be alright.

Chapter Text

Footsteps.

The rhythmic thud of sole against dirt approached the spot where Hraefn awaited, watching over the young girl he'd taken under his wing. Belonging to ten, no, a dozen individuals. Idly, he turned his head to consider them as they called out to their missing comrade - or more aptly, he thought with some amusement, their comrade missing his other half. The thought was almost enough to coax a chuckle from him, but his expression remained statuesque.

"Dammit, Gregory! If you've fucked off to have fun on your own, I'll strip you of your meals for a week! And I swear to the Gods, I'll strip you of rank if you've-" A woman came into view, unpleasant mossy eyes zeroing in on Hraefn and, more importantly to her, the corpse at his feet. "You... what happened here?! Tell me now, and I'll allow you a swift death!" She barked like a dog.

Ah, maybe he could have some fun with her...

"To the one who takes life so willingly, why would thou care for a single death?" He slipped into his Master of Nine Realms persona with ease, lazily regarding her, his gaze revealing nothing but divine indifference, "Can thou yet see it through the vermillion stains coating thy world?"

"Quit it with all that thy and thee shit!" She waved her weapon wildly in the air, attempting to retain a superiority that she never had. "Don't try all that philo-ga-mas-y shit with me! I'm the one with the weaponry! I ask the questions!"

"Why doth thou cling to illusions of control, an image of grandeur? Doth thou refuse to believe in thy sight?" He tilted his head, raven hair flowing like a waterfall as it moved in tandem. He leaned down and plucked the corpse's torso up by its hair, showing the frightful, enthralled expression remaining on its face. "This sight of blood and death, dost it not feel familiar? Why doth thou refuse to see?"

The woman shook in rage, shoulders trembling. "I'll..."

One of her subordinates, to their credit, tried to stop her, "Captain, maybe we should-"

"I'LL TEAR YOU TO PIECES!" She roared, lunging at Hraefn, who made no move to stop her. He never got the chance to test his defenses, and beginning with a weapon that had no chance of harming him felt like an excellent place to start. The woman before him could have a level in the thousands, and the blade, without outside help, would not lay a scratch on his form - no matter how weak it was.

The sword hit with a thud.

Not a hint of pain was registered by his shoulder, and it seemed that despite the degenerate clearly using all of her power, perhaps even calling upon hysterical strength, she hadn't yet done enough to leave a bruise in the wake of her attack. In fact, he had to glance over to check if she had even hit him in the first place. She had, it would appear, she was at least capable of that much.

However, he couldn't say anything for her sorry intelligence. In reaction to seeing her all-out attack met with nothing, she only pulled back and tried again. ...and again. And again. Squealing like a pig with each hit, perhaps he'd done dogs a disservice for comparing her to one.
He decided to put her out of her misery, but he couldn't care enough to do it himself.

"I have prepared thy meal, come forth and devour! Summon Hellhound!"

 


 

Within two minutes, the hellhound had consumed every last piece of the wretched corpses. In the end, not a single one managed to flee the path, not into the village nor into the forest. Perhaps he should have been concerned, but Hraefn found the suffering of the bandits enjoyable. Although it surprised him when he'd first notice the exhilaration bubble up, he remembered he was his avatar and came to the understanding that it had affected his mental state. His special racial classes, Seraphim and Demon Lord, must have had an effect on his mind. After all, angels and demons both punished sinners.

Mere seconds after the hellhound returned to his side, Hraefn's Sense Status alerted him to the girl's condition changing. She'd lost the Sleep debuff, and if that weren't enough to inform him he needed to return to her side, the small noises she made while awaking certainly would be.

"Stay," He instructed the hellhound.

Before he made his way back to the girl, he did a quick once over of himself to make sure he was presentable. Having a summoned monster take care of the fighting certainly helped his appearance, there was no question about that, it saved him the blood splatters that sounded as though they'd be hell to clear off without the use of magic.
With the confidence his appearance wouldn't scare the child, Hraefn knelt down by her side, a gentle smile tilting his lips and the warmth of a mother in his eyes. He hoped he wouldn't scare her, a hope he held close as she cracked open her eyes, blinking out the sleep.

He waited patiently as she regained her bearings, expecting her to look around to check her location, but instead, her focus was solely on him. She stared at him with wide eyes, gazing into his warm gaze until tears welled up and hiccups escaped her throat. Hraefn hardly had a moment to prepare himself before she burst out sobbing. He'd never been in a situation where he'd have to comfort a child, leaving him more than lost on what to do. All he felt he could do was sit by her side while she let it all out. She needed to mourn.

After what felt like a torturous eternity and a half, the little girl released an apology for someone who was no longer there, "I'm sorry, mommy, I didn't run fast enough..."

With no clue of how to respond, Hraefn waited for the girl to cry herself out. It took quite some time more, but he refused to complain; the girl deserved as much time as she needed.

"Do you have anywhere you can go? I'd be happy to take you," He offered with a silver voice, warm as the sun.

"I wanna see my mommy..." The girl whimpered.

"Do you know where she is?"

She tilted her head like a confused puppy. "Don't you, mister angel?"

Hraefn's heart broke. She thought she was dead.

If she had him figured out, then there was no point in lying to her. The thought didn't occur that she just thought he was pretty. "This isn't the afterlife, little miss. I'm afraid I can't take you there."

"Then why is mister angel here?"

Why indeed. Hraefn wanted to know that himself.

"I'm here to make sure you get someplace safe." That sounded enough like a guardian angel to him, he could pretend to be one for the time being.

"Does that..." The girl almost didn't ask, Hraefn had to encourage her to continue. "Does that mean I ran fast enough?" Her voice was quiet, a silent hope echoing through it.

He nodded once, "You did."

Her smile was as blinding as the sun, even as it was tired and broken.

"I did... I did it, mommy, I did it..."

This time, she held onto Hraefn as she cried out her relief.

 


 

The sun had begun to fall by the time the girl calmed enough for a proper conversation, although she seemed to much prefer looking up at Hraefn, her assumed guardian angel, with her watery eyes to talking. For a little while, Hraefn sat there awkwardly, unsure if he should be the one to start the conversation or not. However, the silence soon became oppressive, and he pushed through.

Breaking the silence, he asked, "What's your name, little miss?"

"Asena!" She answered with enthusiasm and no sign of her previous pain, clearly holding pride in her name, "Asena Reis!"

Ah, they used the western naming convention.

"What a pretty name!" Hraefn praised, clapping his hands together. He'd seen people react this way to children in the movies, and it seemed to be the right choice with her. Asena put both hands on her hips and puffed her chest out as if to say 'I know it is.' He decided to introduce himself right after. "My name is..."

What was it now...? Miyuki? Hraefn.

"Mister?" She asked, her playful attitude fading to concern as she read his frozen expression.

He quickly shook his head. "Sorry, I got a little lost in thought there, little miss- sorry, Asena-chan. You may call me Miyuki, I am Miyuki Takahashi."

"Me-you-key~!" Asena sounded out his name before giggling and giving him a nod, "I like it!"

Hraefn gave her a tender smile, nodding along, "Why, thank you. Now, I-"

A startled scream silenced his inquiry as Asena threw herself back. "Miyu-san, monster!"

Looking over his shoulder, he tried to find whatever had frightened the girl so, but all he could see was his hellhound, loyally waiting where it had been left. So what could have- right, it was a hellhound. "Don't worry, it's my summon. It helped me defeat the bad guys," He explained calmly, "It won't hurt you."

Hesitant, Asena asked in a tiny voice, "It won't?"

Hraefn shook his head, confirming. "I'll show you. Come!"

The summon bounded over excitedly, happy to have an order and sat by its summoner, tail wagging wildly. This seemed in interest Asena as she took a step forward, reaching out for just a second before she snapped her hand back to her chest. Hraefn prompted her with an 'it's alright, go ahead,' and she reached out once more. Despite the demon lacking any hair, Asena quickly grew fond of petting it, and the relaxed atmosphere returned. He issued a mental order for the hound to keep Asena safe.

"Does it have a name?" Asena asked from her petting position, and when Hraefn shook his head, she announced its new one, "Then its Brunhilde, now!"

Even with the confidence of her declaration, she looked to him for confirmation, the nod she got was enough to have her grinning as she returned to her petting of Brunhilde.

Though he didn't want to risk the happy grin on the girl's face, sooner was better than later, and so Hraefn didn't wait long to ask what was important, "Hey, Asena-chan, I have a question for you."

"I'll answer it!" Kids really could bounce back, or maybe she was just trying to be strong.

"Do you have anywhere you can go? Any other family?"

Her eyebrows furrowed in thought. "Umm... Auntie Linde!" She declared, "She lives in Re-Estize!"

"Re-...Estize, huh?" He could surely track it down with flying magic and some Clairvoyance, "Do you know which direction it is? I'll figure out how to get us there."

Asena pointed down the path they were on, "Mommy and daddy always took that path, so it's that way!"

How convenient, although it made Hraefn wonder, had she been trying to get to her aunt? Or was it just a coincident that she was going down the right path to her last relative.

Patting the girl on the head, Hraefn ruffled her golden locks. "Thank you, Asena-chan. I'll have a look."

Standing back up, Hraefn turned away from her to face the direction she'd pointed. He took a step away before casting the third tier spell he would need, "Fly."

With the rush of weightlessness that flooded his body, Hraefn took off to the skies, the wind speeding past his ears. Ah, he hadn't yet forgotten that feeling. He'd definitely need to cast it daily, at the very least. Of course, that was only a need for while he was in his bait form.

Leaving the world behind him made him feel giddy, even when he was only doing it for a moment. The trees were almost dots by the time he stilled himself and focused on looking. Re-Estize, huh? His vision, better than even an eagle's, zeroed in on a castle town. Was that it?

He dropped, allowing himself to fall until he was a mere fifteen feet away from the ground when the spell caught him and lowered him safely.

Once his feet were once again touching the ground, Hraefn looked to Asena. "Re-Estize, does it have a castle?" He asked her with a smile. He got an affirmative nod in response, "Wonderful, in that case, let's go. I'll be able to fly us half of the way before the sun goes down. Would you prefer I stop then or continue on?"

After a moment of thought, Asena responded, "It's important to stop on trips!"

Hraefn laughed affectionately, ruffling the young girl's hair, "Well then, Asena-chan, how high would you like to go?"

 


 

"This is awesome!!"

The voice of a young girl yelled over the wind, excitement overflowing. She held on tightly to the man that carried her, blue eyes wide open from the thrill. Her companion's laughter echoed with her as he sped up once more, not too fast, as not to scare the girl; however, she had been begging him to speed up for almost an hour, he was simply granting that wish. They were going to have to land soon, so what was a little play?

 


 

 

Fast flying turned into a careful descent as the sun had since hidden from view. All the excitement had tuckered out the young girl, leaving her half asleep as her companion landed them both with the grace of a dancer. Brunhilde appearing in a rush of black smoke seconds after.

Hraefn placed her on her feet. She immediately waved on her feet, soon leaning into him for the support to keep her standing.

"Come now, don't you want to eat?" He asked, pulling out a weaved basket of steaming fried chicken. He didn't know how it stayed fresh all this time, but he didn't question the power of the inventory. "Be careful, it's hot."

The promise of food immediately piqued Asena's interest, and she soon sobered up, dropping to sit on the ground with both hands reaching for the food. Hraefn chuckled to himself as he handed it over to grabby hands, then with his own hands once again free, he pulled out a tray to place on the ground between them as he too sat down. After that, he laid two glasses of soda atop it.

"Hot!" Asena whimpered as she bit into the chicken tender, and Hraefn burst into laughter.

"I just told you it was hot," He chided, offering her a glass to drink.

She greedily grabbed it and chugged part of it down, though it was only for a second as she pulled away, bewildered. It seemed she'd never had a fizzy drink before.

Hraefn spent the rest of the night thoroughly entertained by Asena's discovery of new food.

 


 

When dawn broke the horizon, Hraefn looked up from his book for the first time since Asena fell asleep. He'd thought he'd fall asleep sometime during his read, but he didn't even feel tired. Perhaps it was a result of his new body that he didn't need sleep. However, he also didn't know how long to wait before waking Asena up.

Now that he was pulled out of his book trance, he wanted to head out immediately, but he'd feel bad to wake her up before she was ready... ah, screw it. The ride would be quieter if she were half asleep.

"Asena-chan..." He whispered, shaking her lightly, stirring Brunhilde in the process.

Asena sleepily groaned, but opened her eyes, regardless.

"It's time to go. You can sleep on the way, okay?" He asked her, fully willing to wait if she wanted to.

With a sleepy nod as his answer, Hraefn picked her up and prepared them both for the journey, a process that included two traveling cloaks he created with 'Create Greater Item.'

 

The last half of the journey ended up far more dull than the first as Asena slept until they reached the capital. However, the scenery was as beautiful as before, and Hraefn enjoyed the entire journey. Even the capital of Re-Estize, as unfinished as it seemed, was quite the sight, and Hraefn found himself utterly enthralled by the real fantasy world he'd found himself in. Of course, even then, he had enough foresight to order Brunhilde to go invisible, casting an additional Maximized 'Perfect Unknowable' on top of it until he knew the extent of the capital's security.

Everything had been going great.

They got to the house without issue, a lovely place just outside of what seemed to be the affluent area with its paved roads. But just as Asena skipped over to knock on the door, a guard intervened.

...Everything had been going too perfectly.

"I'm sorry, but the resident of this estate is currently missing," The guard told them, an apology in her voice.

"Missing?" Asena's voice cracked, tears welling in her eyes.

Hraefn's eyes narrowed. He didn't like the idea of it one bit. "Might I inquire about what is believed to have happened to her?"

The guard shook her head. "I'm afraid that information is not available to the general public."

The general public, huh? Hraefn could work with that. "I understand, however, this young lady is the woman's niece. She currently has nowhere else to go, her village was destroyed-" The guard softened at that. "-and her parents are now lost to us. I believe she deserves some closure, does she not?"

The guard, torn between duty and morality, hesitated for a moment. "That is... if you head to Lion's Heart, you can find sir Climb. It'd be hard to miss him, he's a blonde boy in mithril armor. I believe he has the authority to grant you the information you need."

That was all Hraefn needed to know.

Motioning for Asena to follow, Hraefn opted to head over immediately. There was no way to know how long this Climb would stay in one place.

The biggest issue he faced was tracking down Lion's Heart, but Hraefn didn't have Clairvoyance for nothing.

Chapter Text

Lion's Heart was far from a shabby establishment; to Hraefn, who only knew the world allowed to heteromorphs in YGGDRASIL, it seemed rather high class, especially for a medieval fantasy world. Clean stone bricks formed the main structure with surprisingly well-made windows letting light in, the sign itself was a beautifully constructed and decorated wooden board, the symbol of a lion's head burned into it. Although he had no comparison of that world's written language, Hraefn was sure the writing itself was flawless. He pushed open the ornate wooden doors and led Asena in to find their man.

Clairvoyance picked up on the most obvious target, a young boy with bright, innocent blue eyes, dressed in pure white, full plate armor. He matched the guard's description, and Hraefn saw no other that could fit it, especially when the boy's eyes were constantly scanning the room as if searching for a threat. Far too obvious for his own good.

With the recovering Asena in tow, Hraefn approached the boy, who zeroed in on them immediately. For a moment, his jaw went slack, and his eyes widened - not surprising considering the sight before him, an androgynous man far too beautiful to be considered human, although it was undoubtedly the garters peeking out from under his outfit that pulled the shock. Even with his natural incubus charm, the magical effects long since turned off, Hraefn's instinct told him that the impact he had wouldn't last long. He spoke up before it could vanish, "Ah, excuse me. You wouldn't happen to be Climb-san, would you?"

Despite the alluring silver voice beckoning him into a haze, Climb snapped back to himself and regained control of his thoughts. All work and no fun, the knight(?) nodded, carefully studying the pair before him. The look in his eyes brought the opinion that he was wary of Hraefn, something he'd not seen on anyone but the bandits since he'd arrived - then again, he'd only seen others in passing. It felt as though he only gave him the time of day because of the pleading eyes Asena gazed at him with. He nodded once, "Yes, what do you want?"

With a blinding smile, all innocence, and none of the darkness he was, Hraefn clapped his hands together. "Wonderful. We were told to find you about... a particular situation I'm not sure I should mention outright. Might we take a seat?" Climb nodded approval, his wariness slipping as he was unable to find anything wrong with Hraefn. Hraefn began their story without delay, he didn't want Asena to suffer a moment more than it seemed she was destined to, "You see, I was bringing this young lady to meet with her aunt, but when we arrived, we found nothing but a guard stationed nearby. After a quick chat with said guard, we were led to you for more information. I would like to lend my assistance for the hope that she might reunite with her last relative sooner."

"And how do you believe you could help?"

Climb was suspicious, that was fine. As long as Hraefn wasn't turned straight down, he could work with anything thrown at him.

"I'm capable of using divination magic, if I can get information on the victims, I can find them," He offered as an explanation, "I am also capable of fighting if it were to come down to that."

Climb looked him over, skeptical, clearly not trusting in his ability; however, he didn't say anything on the matter. Was he just being polite? "I see. Well, I would welcome your help, but I don't have the authority to give you the information you would need."

Hraefn's smile never faltered as they spoke. "Could you get me the permission, then? I swore to myself that I'd do everything in my power to assist Asena-chan."

"I could ask. If you're committed to helping to find the women, then I'll do my best to help you!" The conviction in Climb's voice signaled a one-eighty in his perceived opinion of Hraefn.

Hraefn bowed his head in gratitude. "Thank you very much, Climb-san. Now, I had one other thing to ask you," He began and only continued at Climb's nod, "Do you know of anywhere this young miss could go? Surely it would be dangerous if she were to join in on the operation."

"It would be," Climb agreed, "There's an orphanage on the outskirts of the city that might take her for the meantime; otherwise, I could see if we can find someone to take care of her. I'll cover the cost myself if I have to."

It would have to do, Hraefn decided as he hummed in approval. "Thank you very much, Climb-san."

"You're more than welcome-" He paused. "I don't think I ever got your name?"

"Miyuki Takahashi, sorry, I was too focused on finding Asena's aunt that I forgot to tell you." He laughed at his shortcoming, covering his mouth with one hand.

"I see. Takahashi-san, then? I thank you for your offer, I'll bring it to my mistress immediately. Could you watch this place while I'm gone? I can pay for your meals." Apparently, that looking around from earlier wasn't just paranoia then. Jeez, if he was trying to track someone down, he needed to be less obvious about it. That was just the basics of the basics.

Might as well cut to the chase, Hraefn thought. "What or who am I looking for?"

"Anything suspicious, my mistress believes that the culprits frequent this place." Climb's explanation was quick, and to the point, Hraefn appreciated that - even if he wasn't sure that Climb was supposed to let that information out. It furthered his goals so he wouldn't comment on it.

"Understood. I'll wait here until your return, Climb-san."

With a final nod of confirmation, Climb dropped some coins onto the table. They were ununiform but help similar appearances, over a dozen copper pieces and a single silver, Hraefn assumed them to be the currency of the world and quickly committed them to memory. Climb was at the door by the time he'd finished.


 

Asena had tried to order fried chicken, and Hraefn barely held back his laugh when the waitress just looked at her, confused. In the end, he ordered for both of them, Hyueri juice and stew, at the waitress' recommendation. The stew was bland to him, but Asena seemed to enjoy it, Hraefn much preferred the fresh, citrus taste of the juice.

During their meal, he made sure to keep his promise, keeping an eye on the door as he assessed each person's karma value. Most people who passed through held positive ratings of good, or even very good, some were closer to neutral. He was sure he'd not find any suspicious individuals until he did a ranged search, a sphere of a one hundred foot radius around him. His magic came back to him with an evil-aligned individual, fifteen feet away. He glanced in each direction, subtle as if not to allow anyone to pick up on his suspicions.
No one outside the window, nobody inside. That meant the fifteen feet were on a vertical axis.

He didn't get a chance to investigate further when the opening doors revealed Climb once again. He seemed content to see the pair hadn't moved.

"Takahashi-san," He greeted, "My mistress would like to send her gratitude to your willingness to help without thought of reward. I've been given permission to lend you the information you need." He paused and glanced at Asena, who was chewing happily on the last of her stew. "Additionally, she wishes to take care of Asena-san herself while we're investigating, or at least until a safe place is found for her."

"Could I accompany her on the way to your mistress?" Hraefn asked, hesitant to let her out of his sight unless he knew she was safe.
Climb shook his head no.

"I'm afraid I can't allow that. A carriage is already waiting outside for Asena-san, and she won't be allowed to take guests."

Hraefn hummed in response. He certainly didn't like that. Not one bit. However, Climb had a point, he couldn't bring her with him when it could be dangerous, so perhaps handing her over would be his best bet. He stood and walked to Asena's side, pulling two items out from the satchel attached to his obi, though on the outside, it just looked like he pulled them from under his cloak. The girl looked at the objects with interest.

In one hand, he held a modified Circlet of Iron Will, a golden ornamental headband, with an intricate crest in the front, his guild emblem. The circlet would defend her mind against any mental attacks, enacted through magic or, unlike the original, through ability. Additionally, it would keep her safe against all spells of the third tier and below, not that he considered that much of a bonus. Although really, it was less of a Circlet of Iron Will and more of a Circlet of Magic Defense.

To complement it, in his other hand he held an Amulet of Physical Protection. The amulet was a blue crystal, also holding his guild emblem, wrapped in three sets of silver wings, and held on a silver chain. It was actually a legendary class item capable of protecting the wielder from any attack made from a level forty or below. He hoped that would be enough to keep her safe while he was gone.

Asena happily took the items as Hraefn explained they were for her protection, though he didn't like the way Climb was eyeing them as he sat in his original seat at the table. The girl, independent as she indeed was, headed to where she was told the carriage waited. Hraefn watched each step, even through the windows, as she went. He silently ordered Brunhilde to follow.

Only when she was out of his sight did he turn to Climb, who took the opportunity to speak. "So, Takahashi-san. Are you an adventurer?"

He shook his head. "No, I am not. Why do you ask?"

"I was surprised at how easily you gave away such items, is all. I figured you'd have to be a high ranking adventurer for that," Climb explained, his armor rattling with each small movement.

Hraefn nodded shortly in understanding but shook his head again. "I don't exactly know how to sign up is all, otherwise, maybe I'd become one."

That seemed to interest Climb. "As far as I'm aware, you need to pass a literacy test and pay a joining fee. I can direct you to the guildhall if you'd like."

A fee, huh? "I don't actually... have any money..." Hraefn admitted, voice quiet and head down.

He heard the noise of pieces of metal clicking against each other. Then, Climb's gauntleted fist was thrust into his view. Flipping over his hand and opening it, revealing five silver coins and five bronze coins. "This will be enough to cover your expenses joining up."

Hraefn put his hands in front of himself, immediately denying the help, "No, no, I couldn't."

Climb just pushed the money further towards him. "I insist. It will be easier for us to hire you as an adventurer."

Hesitant, Hraefn considered the proposition for a moment. If he were telling the truth, then he'd be rude not to take it. If he weren't... well, Hraefn would have no way of knowing that, so really, he felt as though it would still be rude to refuse. Which meant...

"Very well."

He gave his hand, palm up, and Climb dropped the money into it. "Thank you, Climb-san. I'll be sure to work hard to make this worth it." He paused. "And you know... where I came from, information was more valuable than money, so I'll cut to the chase. I have a spell that can detect a person's karma, and I've found that someone in or below this building is described by the spell as evil." He [Silent] cast it again. Thirty feet. "I'm not sure if this is your person; however, they're currently nearby."

As if he'd already known, Climb nodded in confirmation. "That's a handy spell you have there."

Hraefn let out a delighted laugh, "Please, it's only third tier."
Their table went silent, and when Hraefn looked, he found Climb frozen. It didn't last long and Climb quickly recovered, leaning forward with both hands on the table. "That would explain why you could give away items like that! I didn't expect to meet a powerful caster today. What tier are you at? Forth? Fifth?" He seemed really excited.

Though he almost told Climb that he could cast Super-Tier magic, Hraefn stopped short. His instinct was screaming at him that he needed to play along. He smiled politely as he responded with, "Forth."

Climb dropped back in his seat with stars in his eyes. "So you're almost at the same level as Lakyus-san? That's incredible! Especially at your age. I'm sure if you find the right team, you'll at least make it to Platinum rank with ease."

At his age? How old did Climb think he was? Hraefn was a proud twenty-eight-year-old man, and he didn't need anyone calling him- oh right, he was his avatar, looking like he was in his late teens.

"Thank you for saying so, Climb-san." His gratitude was short, accompanied only by a quick bow of his head, but he felt obligated to give it. "As I was saying, so far, all I can tell you is that they're either below or above us. I haven't seen them the entire time I've been here."

Switching back to business mode, Climb nodded his head, deep in thought. "Then, we could use this as a starting point?"

"One moment... [Lesser Location]," Hraefn closed his eyes and focused on each axis in an attempt to locate their man. If it weren't for his incredible magic ability, he wouldn't have enough information to determine the location of their man; however, he had plenty of it and poured as much mana as he needed into the spell to find them. The spell pinged back with more information, below, forty feet away. He repeated the data again to Climb.

Climb let out a small laugh, "Magic really can do anything, can't it?"

Nodding in agreement, Hraefn continued, "I can track this person through the city, though it may be best to wait for nightfall. Shall we meet back here at sundown?"

"That sounds like a good plan." Climb readily assented to his idea, and he was glad for it.

The two parted ways after that, it would be no good if they were seen together for too long.

With Climb's directions memorized, Hraefn left the bar to find the Adventurer's Guild Hall. It didn't take long to spot it, located in the midpoint of the town.


He wasn't surprised that the guild was an ostentatious affair, a six-story building with well-made glass, polished marble, and clean stone making up the entirety of its exterior. The interior was much different, more to what he expected. The main hall consisted of a large seating area on the ground floor flanked by two wooden staircases, between which laid the counter where three attendants stood waiting. At the north side of the hall was a smaller back room where it would appear cellar could be accessed from. Upstairs was an open plan balcony area with a few empty seatings and with doors that likely led to a meeting room or two and the guildmaster's office. Smaller staircases lined both sides of the balcony.

Though the rowdy atmosphere within should have lasted until the hall emptied out. However, it suddenly went silent as a single figure entered the guild.

The person, androgynous, looked to be in his late teens. His sharp eyes gleamed brighter than apoithakarah, while his thick and effulgent black hair fell like a waterfall over his shoulders and down his back. His delicate porcelain skin shone like pearls in the sun. What drew their attention most was the enthralling air of elegance that surrounded him, followed closely by his exotic beauty that would make anyone do a double-take. Even his clothes were extrinsic, a kimono styled outfit made of unfamiliar cloth, fit for quick movement. The skin that showed from under it was as tempting as it was untouchable.

The guild matron had signed him up willingly, rather impressed at his magical talent. It seemed she'd taken to him as she made a few comments on his gear, asking if it could really protect him, however soon quieted down with her worrying when she found out it was magic. She also directed him to places he could find party members closer to his skill level, rather than the typical copper plates. By the time the matron had begun to offer a meeting with the guildmaster, to see if they could bump up his rank a little despite it being against the rules, he insisted that he was fine.

The matron tried to make him promise that he'd find a party, even offering her assistance in spreading his name a little. Seconds later, Hraefn realized the cause and explained that he wished to do things on his own before leaving the matron behind with an excuse of a previous engagement.

As he left, Hraefn turned off his forgotten natural charm aura; it only affected adults under level five, so he'd forgotten about it. As far as he could tell, very few people had been affected by it, a relief to him.

He'd explore the city while he waited for nightfall, gather some more information both for the mission and to allow himself to blend in more. Climb likely couldn't collect data like he could, so it only made sense that he be the one to research their enemy. If it was true that fifth tier spells were rare in this new world, then Hraefn knew he'd be fine.

Information was everything, that was something that he would never forget.

Chapter Text

Under the guise of any old tourist, Hraefn, after switching his traveling cloak out to cover his entire form, followed after his target. From his investigation, it appeared that they were using an underground passage, leading from a building behind the bar to a much seedier area. The fifteen feet he felt was likely as close as it got to his seat in the back of Lion's Heart. Had they been leaning up against a wall? He supposed it didn't matter.

With the hood of his traveling cloak up and a nondetection spell, he ventured through the city, following the path of the underground tunnel. His karma detection spell became near useless as it began to fill up with numerous negative answers.

He passed by many unfortunate souls without a coin to spare for any of them, the currency was far too different from YGGDRASIL. He'd begin selling some of his inventory as soon as he could. That would generate him enough funds to last for a while, especially when Climb was impressed by what he gave Asena. He'd return back to give some away if he could.

What Hraefn didn't expect to see was the collared individuals that huddled together in the darkest of alleyways. Slaves, he came to realize. Was that legal there? He wanted to vomit as he saw a pair of kids eating dry grass. He was definitely going to be sick if he watched any longer. It wasn't much worse than the situation that millions back in that world were trapped in, he knew how to close his eyes. He could open them when he had the power to save them.

Soon enough, he arrived at his destination. It was a spot much closer to the common areas than he'd thought it would be. The building itself was unassuming, no guards stationed outside, however, Detect Karma immediately informed him of three stationed within. A couple of additional Discern Enemy spells brought back his enemies' levels, a twelve, a fourteen, and a fifteen. Using the practical data he'd collected from his fight with the bandits, he could say the highest was around the same level as their leader.

Though he thought to check if they held any magical items, Hraefn found himself highly doubting the possibility and fought himself on the instinct. He rubbed two fingers over the silver ring wrapped around his left thumb, it would be so easy to just check with that, it would only take one of the twenty charges... but he'd be better off using those for higher leveled spells. As he deliberated, a soft shine came from his right ring finger, a sweet, wordless whisper, and somehow he knew that they didn't have a single magic item between them.

Fox Spirit's Guidance, a Divine class ring. It was based on the Kitsune of ancient Japanese legend, with a 'star ball' in the center of the ring, that the fox spirit supposedly took its power from, he gained the protection and guidance of the spirit. In YGGDRASIL, one of its effects was that it granted extra information to automatic fills in the encyclopedia, though in its flavor text, it was said to offer much more. Could this be that more?

With that in mind, Hraefn removed most of his jewelry and rings, placing them into his inventory as no one was around to see until all that was left was Whisper, an Artifact, the rings set on his middle fingers, Fox Spirit's Guidance and both the thumb and pointer fingers of his left hand. He thought about keeping one other item on, a piece to rewrite fate, but he'd yet to test it in this new world. Although, perhaps he should have been more worried only wearing six Divine class items, including his underclothing and main armor slot.

Tugging on the edge of his thigh-length yukata uncomfortably, the cloth of apoithakarah and star silver refusing to stretch under the tension. Ahh, he was getting nervous. His mind immediately clung back onto the mission. The sun was going down, his spell would fail soon, he had to get back. With his mind once again focused, Hraefn turned on his heel and made the journey back through the quickest route he could find, dashing through even the tightest of spaces. He blocked out the cries of children.


Head hitting back against the stone wall, Hraefn released a sigh. He really needed the quiet. Despite it being so late, the bar behind him seemed empty, as were the streets. His brain ran through reasons of why it would be as such, and the one thing stuck out like a sore thumb, these kidnappings were a lot less secret than that guard believed.

The sigh he released painted the air white, a fluffy cloud he'd usually only see from their eternal winter. Idly, he wondered what time of year it was, winter? Perhaps it was autumn? Spring? He wasn't sure, for all he knew it was a desert terrain or close to the poles and the middle of summer.

Lost in his thoughts, it was only thanks to his passive detection that he'd noticed Climb, the sound of his armor had gone in one ear and out the other. Hraefn scarcely turned to face him in time for his call, "Takahashi-san!"

Nodding once in Climb's direction, Hraefn acknowledged his arrival, a polite smile tilted the corners of his soft pink lips, the color a gradient. He greeted Climb simply, "Climb-san, a pleasure to see you again. I went ahead and tracked our man down to their hideout, are you prepared to leave?'

Blinking in surprise, Climb shook his head as if to clear it of his shock. His voice was nearly a laugh, "I said it before, magic really can do anything."

Hmm, so as long as he posed it as magic, how much could he get away with? Hraefn needed to find that out, at what level would he be found suspicious? Experimentation would be required; however, that would have to wait until he was trusted by someone. For now, he would keep his abilities on the down-low, rely on his sword more than his magic.

Ahhh... he didn't have the right build to be blending in. He didn't have any base class abilities.

"Let's go then. Please lead the way, Takahashi-san." Having gathered his thoughts, Climb firmed his resolve. Hraefn couldn't help but wonder if the boy was too trusting, it could easily get him killed.

Pushing the thought aside, Hraefn nodded and motioned for Climb to follow as he turned on his heel, midnight locks flowing behind him. The way Climb followed behind reminded him of a lost puppy.

Heh, cute.


The streets in the slums were far from empty, though it appeared that most of its occupants huddled together in alleyways, hiding from the world as they tried to rest. A horrible sight, Hraefn thought to himself, something had to be done. If he could, he would be the one to do something, one part of his soul cried out. The only suffering would be done by his hand, called the other.

It didn't take long for the pair to arrive at their location, not with the speed they'd gone. The two-story building, perhaps once a home or a shop, stood just as it had before, a looming dark presence surrounding it. Hraefn gave a nod towards it, signaling it to be their destination. Climb gave one in return, sneaking as best he could closer to the door, pulling a bell out of his satchel. The bell rang silently, and the lock glowed a reddish-purple in response as it clicked open. This was enough to alert the guards inside, the same ones Hraefn had seen before.

Casting a quick Discern Enemy on Climb, Hraefn clicked his tongue as he realized Climb was a mere level thirteen. It seemed he had an escort mission on his hands, he'd have to take on the fifteen before they could target Climb. What a bother.

Hraefn slid between Climb and the door, drawing his sword as he pushed in, eyes on his enemies, now four of them. Which one was it... his eyes glowed pink as he discerned all of his enemies levels once more, this time without the use of spells.

Seventeen. Hraefn lunged at him, aiming to disable as he never got a confirmation that they could kill. With a feint of going for the throat, he dropped and initiated two precise slashes at the woman's legs. She stumbled, and he used the opening to cut off her sword belt, kicking it across the room as he turned away from her.

Fifteen. The other lady had already been alerted to Hraefn's initial tactic, so he wasted no time with a feint, going straight for her sword arm. Distantly, he acknowledged that Climb had just crossed swords with twelve, and thirteen was coming in from his left. He'd survive. Hraefn's assumed feint had the woman careful, watching his every move for her own protection. He went straight for the hand, creating a gash through the back of her wrist, throwing an arm out towards thirteen. "Sleep."

As thirteen hit the ground, he jumped back in a fast flip, startling his opponent. Another opening, only for half a second, but even with his slightly reduced speed, Hraefn was cleared for four consecutive attacks, aiming for her legs and sword hand. It was enough to send the blade and the woman to the ground. He hit the shortsword away midfall.

That only left twelve, who Climb was in a fair fight with. Both men taking whatever hit they could make at the other while Hraefn went and knocked fifteen and seventeen out.

It wasn't until twelve tried to hit under the belt that Hraefn intervened, tugging the man back by the collar. He met the surprised man with a pleasant smile before striking him over the head with the hilt of his blade, just as he had done the others. Hraefn unceremoniously dropped him to the ground, his hand axe clattering with him.

He turned his attention to Climb, who was clearly taken aback by the whole situation. "Tell me, Climb-san, is killing allowed here? I need to know how much I should hold back."

Dumbstruck, the blond nodded slowly for a few moments before shaking it off. "How did you do that? Aren't you a caster?" The accusation was without malice, but it reminded Hraefn that he'd not seen anyone over level seventeen. He'd been acting a little above average. Just his casting alone put him at least at level twenty-two, his sword skills added around another twenty to thirty levels to that.

He laughed it off, shrugging his shoulders. "I needed to know how to protect myself at close range, but I grew fond of the practice," Was his half-assed explanation, but it seemed to be enough for Climb, who nodded in response.

"You really are at Lakyus-san's level, then... wouldn't that make you adamantite level?"

Adamantite, the highest level an adventurer could reach. He'd had it explained to him by the guild matron, it was considered to be just below the realm of heroes. Idly he wondered what level that would be, fifty? Sixty? He'd find out eventually.

After all, he didn't have time to wonder, Climb was speaking to him, and they were in no place for daydreaming. He gave a light shrug, shaking his head. "I've never met anyone at that level, so I couldn't say."

"Maybe I could ask Blue Roses to spar with you? I'm sure they'd be willing to help you test your skill!" Climb insisted on his line of questioning, and Hraefn felt he had no time to indulge it.

"I would be happy to, now shall we continue forward?" Hraefn motioned to a trapped trap door.

Climb nodded in response, clearly holding back excitement. Hraefn shook his head with borderline affection, the kid was growing on him a little, and headed to the door. Holding a hand over it, he cast a silent spell to remove the trap, his hand emitting a pale blue glow, before opening it. "I'll head in first."

He dropped down without any use of the ladder. A pair of clicks resounded the hall as his heels hit the ground, alerting two additional guards to his presence. Hraefn didn't bother to check their levels as he lopped both their heads off in a single swing of his chokuto.

By the time Climb had climbed down, Hraefn had already cleared away their corpses behind a pile of crates. It was then that he took in the situation, the cries of women, the grunts of men. It took less than an instant for Hraefn to decide on their deaths, and he didn't wait for Climb's approval to start walking down the halls.

The first door was torn open with a silencing spell, and a blade was forced through the man's throat. The second, the third, the fifth, the seventeenth. Time and time again, he repeated the process. For each woman that sobbed, a man laid dead. He didn't stop for a second.

Climb didn't try to stop him.

Whether that was to the look in his eyes, or that he agreed, Hraefn didn't care. The scum would die, and he would be the one to kill them. No thinking was needed.

The cries had subsided to whimpers, clearing Hraefn's mind of wrath. He blinked a few times as he returned to himself, regaining control from his instinct, and turned to Climb. "Get the women out of here, use the blankets as clothes if there's nothing else. I'll take care of those responsible."

"I'll leave it to you, Takahashi-san. Please get any information you can out of them," Climb affirmed, and without ceremony, he turned to leave.

Hraefn stopped him, "Please see if you can find Asena's aunt for me."

He got a determined nod in response. That was enough for him, he thought as Climb left. It was time to take down the ones responsible. Turning to the door, Hraefn stalked towards the door seated at the end of the hall, undisturbed from his repeated use of the Silence spell.

Politely knocking on the door, Hraefn waited for someone to open it for him, pulling up his hood in the meantime. There were a couple of confused mumbles and a bit of shuffling before footsteps approached. The heavy wooden door opened with a creak, and an ugly misshapen face met his glowing gaze. Cruel eyes and a crueler snarl faded to a giddy sort of peace. "Please let me in," Hraefn said, and the man followed his wishes.

One of the men's faces twisted in displeasure. "The hell are you doing, Matt?" It only deepened when he didn't get a response from the man, unable to see his expression with Matt's back to him. "Answer me, you dimwit!"

"Greetings, gentlemen." Hraefn gave a polite bow with an accompanying smile, though his eyes were colder than the depths of Niflheim. It was enough to unnerve the room's occupants. "I would like to speak with the one in charge, could you possibly point them out to me?"

"Like hell!" Snarled the same loudmouth that had called out to Hraefn's mind slave, "You're about to get-"

"I said," Hraefn interrupted, calm as a clear sky, "I would like to speak with the one in charge, point them out to me."

His Incantation of Influence was more than enough to have every man in the room moving, pointing to one sitting at a table, even the man himself. As they regained control, they glanced around, bewildered. Hraefn took a few steps towards the man, and three others jumped up with various weapons in hand.

Unwilling to deal with them, Hraefn retrieved his Volitare Acies from the inside of his yukata. With a flick of his wrist, five blades skewered each man. He called up two more to pin the leader's clothes to his chair. "Now then, you'll answer my questions, yes?"

"The answers will die with me, wench," The leader growled out as the rest of the room attacked his turned back. Volitare Acies took care of them while Hraefn focused on the man before him, giving an icy smile.

He shook his head. "No, I don't think they will," He responded, voice pleasant, enchanting as ever, "Now then, as easy as it would be to simply charm them out of you, that isn't any fun, now is it? And you wouldn't have even a moment of repentance. No, instead..." Hraefn trailed off, coming to sit on the table, posture seductive. It had its intended effect, the man couldn't take his eyes off of him, "I'll have some fun with you."

He giggled coyly.

"Wave of Pain."


"So... what you're saying is that this is just a side operation ran by some group called the Eight Fingers? What's your leader's name?" Hraefn's voice was casual as he examined his fingernails beside the quivering form of Elyx, the leader.

He immediately responded as any would under three levels of torture spells, "Yes! That's it! I couldn't say no, I swear! I'll never do anything like this again, so please, let me go! I'll let them come for me, I won't try to continue-"

"What is the name of the one that began this operation?" Hraefn pressed, crushing Elyx's face into the ground, "Tell. Me."

"I don't know, I swear! I'm not allowed to know!" He sobbed, and if he hadn't already pissed himself, Hraefn was sure he would have.

Sighing in discontentment, he clicked his tongue, and Elyx squealed in fear. "Very well, you're of no continued use. I'll end your suffering."

"Thank--" Elyx never got to finish his gratitude as his blood splattered over the walls and onto the floor, mixing with other bodily fluids.

Shattering his barrier, Hraefn shifted on the table and dropped to the cleanest part of the floor. He didn't spare any of the bodies a single look as he headed out to meet back up with Climb.

Chapter Text

Grabbing the final step of the ladder, Hraefn was greeted by Climb's extended hand and blinding smile. The stereotypical shining knight. He didn't hesitate to take his help in the final few steps out of the basement. "Takahashi-san, thank you for all your assistance. All the victims have been accounted for. Did you manage to find the ones in charge?"

Hraefn nodded, dusting off his cloak, clouds of dust billowing as they were patted out. "Yes, though they weren't the ones behind it all, it seems. Something about some group called the Eight Fingers?"

That seemed to surprise Climb, though some part of Hraefn felt that he'd still expected it. "The Eight Fingers? Damn, if they're involved..."

It appeared Hraefn lacked some necessary information. "Who are they?"

"Ah, I forgot you're not from around here," Climb rubbed the back of his neck awkwardly as he delved into a quick explanation, "The Eight Fingers are a criminal organization, my mistress has been trying to bring them down for some time now. They're quite influential, so it's not an easy task."

Nodding, Hraefn tucked away the information for future use. They could be useful - or a threat. He'd need more details and soon. Perhaps he could locate them by continuing his help with Climb and his mistress. They'd be his best bet. 

With some luck, he could take them over.

"I see, in that case, I'll be cautious," Hraefn responded, grateful for the information, "Were you able to locate Asena's aunt?"

A woman's voice, old and wisened, spoke up from behind him. "That would be me. I suppose her family sent you to find me?"

Hraefn turned, met with a face he'd be able to pick out of a crowd as the woman he'd been searching for. He'd easily mistake her as Asena's mother with the similarities. Blonde hair fell down her shoulders in curls, a few locks of white mixed in, her bright blue eyes crinkled in the corner, laugh lines lining her welcoming smile. She was pretty, Hraefn would admit.

He didn't want to tell her what had happened to them, not after the experience she'd gone through, but he didn't want to lie. "I'm sorry to tell you this, especially with what you just went through, but..."

"They're gone, aren't they?" She interrupted, voice and expression unreadable.

Hraefn nodded sullenly. "Yes, I was too late in my arrival to rescue anyone except Asena. I am incredibly sorry."

She released a tight breath. "How did it happen?"

"Bandits."

She dropped her head. "Did you avenge them?"

"I wiped them out if that is what you are inquiring. Though, I did it for Asena's safety, not for the fallen villagers." Hraefn wasn't going to lie to make himself sound better.

Giving a few small nods as she processed the information, she raised her head once more. "That will suffice, I'll take her in. It's what my little sister would have wanted."

"You have my deepest gratitude. Might I also request she keep my hellhound? It won't do anything unless it's for Asena, and she's already named her." He gave a polite bow.

Surprised, she blinked a few times, mouth opening and closing before she regained her composure. "A hellhound, is it? I'll have to check with the city, but I'm sure I can manage it. What form of food does it eat?"

"Nothing, though it'd appreciate some meat or scraps whenever you can manage it."

She brought a hand to her chin, thinking. "Cheap then, and safe. I'll see what I can do."

A relieved smile graced Hraefn's lips, he gave another bow, beyond joyful that Asena would have safety and a companion. "Thank you, I'm sure Asena will appreciate it. She's currently with Climb's mistress, I'm told she's a lovely person though I know not her name." He paused. "Or yours, it would seem."

Laughing lightly, she introduced herself, dropping her hand to extend it, "Sieglinde Reis, the head of the Reis family. We're a merchant family, though my little sister ostracized herself to become a blacksmith."

"Miyuki Takahashi, copper plate adventurer. I became an adventurer earlier today," Hraefn introduced his new (old?) identity in turn, shaking her hand.

That interested Sieglinde. "Oh? And what rank do you think you'll get to, Takahashi-san?"

Hraefn could only parrot what Climb had told him, "I've no basis for comparison, but I'm told my skills are comparable to adamantite."

Narrowing her eyes, Sieglinde scrutinized him. "Adamantite, you say? Forgive me, but you don't quite look the part. Although... that equipment isn't half bad..."

He felt a little self-conscious. "It's only what I've been told, Reis-san. Here, take my cloak, I can help you home." Hraefn pulled off his heavy traveling cloak, noting how Sieglinde's, and Climb's it seemed, zeroed in on his clothing. He ignored it as he handed the weighty material to her.

It was accepted with grace. "Thank you, and thank you for saving my niece. I'll be sure to reward you for it, please visit us in a few days."

"I don't need-" He tried.

Sieglinde was having none of it. "Please visit us in a few days, I'll have it ready. Us Reises believe one good turn deserves another."

Hraefn sighed, surrendering himself to her generosity. "Very well, shall I see you home?"

"I'll be quite alright. We're expecting clothes before we leave, it'll take a while before that happens. Please, go rest." Her tone turned motherly as she placed her free hand on his shoulder.

Hraefn already knew not to fight her. "I see. I shall see you soon, Reis-san."

She smiled as motherly as she spoke. "Please, call me Sieglinde."

He nodded once. "Understood, Sieglinde-san, call me Miyuki. I shall come to visit you within the week."

"Take care, Miyuki-san." She smiled and watched him leave


It felt a little like he was exposed, wearing the outfits he'd always donned in the game. Hraefn had always felt beautiful in them, he loved them, and he still did; however, he wasn't in a game anymore. He could feel the eyes of lowlifes boring into his skin, and he had to do a quick once over of the patrons' levels to calm himself. It was a relief to find none of them were over level nine. Thank god he'd gone to the inn the guild matron mentioned being below his skill level, he'd asked where was cheap and she sure had delivered. As much as he wanted to, despite the burning scent of alcohol, take a breath and compose himself, Hraefn knew not to look weak in front of such types. He kept his cool and walked straight to the bar, hands held together in front of him.

Men and women alike leered at him as he passed, watching each move he made with interest. Even the innkeeper, a rough-looking man, looked taken aback that a beauty like Hraefn, who held himself with idyllic elegance, like the royalty he'd practically been in his world, was in such an establishment. He cleared his throat as Hraefn approached the bar, straightening himself out.

"What can I do fer ya?" He asked, voice gravelly but surprisingly pleasant to hear.

Hraefn smiled in response, trying to be polite. "I'd like a room for the night."

He examined him, eyes looking him up and down, not stopping to appreciate the beauty. Hraefn was thankful for that. "Yer a copper plate, are ya? A shared room'll cost ya seven copper."

A shared? Why would he recommend that? Hraefn's clothes were far from cheap, even if he, himself, was broke. "Do you have any singles?"

He got his explanation. "Ye need to form a team if ya wanta survive. I suggest ya share with some otha folks."

It didn't sound like he was going to let someone as delicate looking as Hraefn to sleep alone. He tried giving some reasoning, "I just got back from a job, I simply want some quiet for the night, but I shall keep your advice in mind."

"Quiet, is it? Aye, that's fair." Looked like it was enough. "Ten copper fer a single room. Upfront. Meals are three, so it'll be a silver if ya want that."

A silver was thirteen copper, huh? Hraefn pulled out his coin purse, picking out ten copper from what Climb gave him. "I've already eaten, I'll just take the room."

He nodded, scratching his disheveled beard. "Very well, the room'll be tha last t'tha left." He passed a slightly rusted key from under the bar. "Here's yer key." 

"Thank you very much, sir." Hraefn gave a slight bow before he left.

So the capital had people who talked like that, huh? Hraefn expected it to sound posher, but he wasn't one to judge. If he thought about it, he came to remember how different accents could be even in one city. He should have expected it.

He also should have expected some of the patrons to bother him. A foot was kicked out in his way. Were they trying to trip him up? He turned his attention to a group of nobodies, iron plates of the levels seven and down. Hraefn's voice was brief as he addressed them, "Can I help you?"

"What's a pretty little thing like you doing here?"

"I'm attempting to rest, I believe that is the intent of an inn?"

"Now, now, this is no place for a lass like you."

"I'm a man, actually."

"Nah, don't bother lying, little lady, I see those curves."

"Then you also see I'm completely flat, no?"

"Well, even if you were a guy, you're pretty enough to spend the night with us. We'll even let you join up, have a fraction of our profits even without your skill."

"Please don't take my plate as a designation of my abilities, I'm fully capable of battle." And cutting off their hands if they got too close, he thought to himself.

"Even better. Come and join us."

"No thank you, I don't make a habit of associating with degenerates."

"What did you just call us?"

"Degenerates, you know what that means, yes? Deviants, perverts, creeps. Am I making sense yet?"

"Why you little- you think you're so high and mighty, don't you? I'll put a whore like you in your proper place."

The scarred, revolting man stood up, his lackeys following suit. Hraefn sighed in annoyance. Though he could easily use his Volitare Acies to have a blade at all of their necks, he didn't want to cause a scene by threatening to murder a bunch of creeps, he'd get a horrendous reputation like that. So, he just stepped to the right as the pervert threw a punch at him, calling out to the innkeeper. "Hey, if I break anything dealing with this, could you bill them?"

Though he'd been coming over, he when he saw how easily Hraefn evaded the group without a single glance. "Uh- sure. I mean, try not to." 

"Of course," Hraefn responded with a smile, as the group began to understand what would happen next.

"Hey, uh, we were - we were just kidding around, y'know?" A skinnier man, one who'd gone at him with a quarterstaff, tried to assure him.

"Oh? It doesn't seem that way. Do you think me a fool?" He smiled politely, deadly, "I would rather not cause any trouble for a good man, so how about we take this outside?"

The group meekly followed behind for their beating, and Hraefn got three copper back for keeping the inn safe.


When Hraefn woke up, it was to the smell of must and a commotion in the dining area. With the feeling it was necessary, he pushed himself out of bed with a groan. Grabbing a set of clothes from his inventory, and the bag he'd used the day before, he was quick to get ready. The clothes covered less skin than the day before, complete with garters, but he felt far more comfortable in them. Likely because he was wearing a bodysuit with shorts rather than the short kimono that he'd been terrified would flip up. 

Tying his hair to the side with a blue ribbon, he left his room and headed down creaky stairs to see what was the big deal. He heard the innkeeper from downstairs, his voice stern, "Look, even if you're sent by the princess, it's against my rules to give away information on my guests."

Climb's voice came next. "I just need to know if he's here, can't you tell me that much?"

"Have you ever heard of privacy, kid?" The innkeeper wasn't budging, clearly intent on keeping his patrons a secret. Good man. 

"Look, the princess wants to speak with him, so if you could just-" Climb kept trying until he caught sight of Hraefn from the corner of his eye, "Ah! There you are Takahashi-san!" He dashed over to meet him, ignoring the stares he got on the way.

Hraefn pulled his hands away from his hair, satisfied with it. He greeted his acquaintance with a smile, "Climb-san? Is everything well?"

"Yes, I was just looking for you. Princess Renner would like to personally thank you for your assistance recovering the victims; we hadn't expected to get them all without casualty," He explained in a rush, clearly at a loss for time.

The announcement caused waves among the inn's patrons, whispers and murmurs filling the air. "The Princess?" "What's her highness want with a copper plate?" "Must've been a big deal."

Hraefn only gave a soft laugh to clear the air around him, "So, that's who your mysterious mistress is?"

"Sorry, did I not mention that?" Climb asked, a little embarrassed.

"No, but it's fine, good even. You'd just met me."

"That's true. Now, shall we go? There's a carriage waiting for you." He nodded towards the door.

"Well, I couldn't in good faith turn her down, could I? Please lead the way." Hraefn gestured in the same direction.

Climb's steps were quick, and his gaze steady as he showed Hraefn out, the floorboards creaking and kicking up dust. Honestly, other than the innkeeper, he'd hated everyone there, he was glad to finally leave. He hated that burning smell. 


The carriage ride had been bumpy but uneventful. The only thing to come out of it was some explanations on the kingdom, courtesy of Climb. Being a foreigner, the boy assumed Hraefn didn't know much about the country and elaborated on everything he asked, including its currency. He'd been right on the fact that thirteen copper was a silver, however, that strange conversion didn't stick with the rest of the coins. One gold was a hundred silver, and a platinum coin was ten gold. It seemed each copper piece was worth around one thousand yen or a little over nine American dollars, he mused, a tidbit he'd learned shortly before the shutdown. 

Additionally, Climb told him about the Royal Family. Their monarch was King Ramposa III, who had three children, the First Prince, Barbro Andrean Ield Ryle Vaiself, the Second Prince, Zanac Valleon Igana Ryle Vaiself, and the Third Princess, Renner Theiere Chardelon Ryle Vaiself. He offhandedly mentioned that there was no specific heir to the throne, a piece of information that caught Hraefn's interest. Though they'd arrived before they could prod more.

Climb led Hraefn through baroque halls, and towards the room where he was told the Princess awaited, a parlor by his understanding. He took in the sights as they walked; beautiful paintings, elaborate architecture, red carpets embroidered with gold, it was all beautiful. 

On the way, another pair of figures came their direction, a wizened old man wearing a crown, the king, Climb had hurriedly whispered to him, accompanied by tall, dark, and handsome. A muscular man looking only a few years older than Hraefn was in his world. With sunbathed dark skin, short, trimmed, black, maybe brown hair, and black eyes as sharp as any of Hraefn's blades. He was exactly his type. Perhaps it was the incubus in him that had him so hungry, zeroing in on every detail, but he calmed himself before they were approached.

Hraefn matched his bow with Climb's, getting ready to move out of the way, using his sixth sense to make sure it was on par with his partner's. Though he'd been prepared to immediately move out of the way, his instinct kept him in place and composed, rising up with hands clasped in front of him and staying at Climb's side, half a step behind.

"It is good to see you well, Climb. Who is this that you're with?"

"Miyuki Takahashi, your Majesty, Princess Renner asked to meet with him."

"She did? This may be rude, but he doesn't seem to be the type she usually calls for."

"I assure you, your Majesty, his plate may be Copper, but his skills are Adamantite. He solved the case of the kidnappings by himself and saved the lost women practically singlehandedly. If it weren't for him, I'm sure there would have been casualties, myself among them." Climb was quite passionate about Hraefn's abilities, it made him smile. 

Hraefn's eyes flicked over the three in front of him. Both Climb and the King were both rather low leveled, but the man behind King Ramposa was the highest he'd seen since he'd arrived, level 31. He wanted to activate his debug menu, but he couldn't do it with people around, so he simply kept his attention on whoever was speaking and tried to ignore the man's heavy gaze analyzing him.

"I see," The King nodded once before turning his attention to Hraefn, "Then you have my gratitude. Tell me, did you become an adventurer recently?"

Hraefn wasn't sure whether to hold eye contact or not, so he did. It was polite to look at the person you're speaking to, after all. "Just yesterday afternoon, your Majesty." Brief and courteous, he hoped. He really didn't know how to talk to royalty. He was the royalty, not the commoner, how was he supposed to do this?

"I wish you the best of luck with it. Now, I must take my leave. I wish you both well." 

After bowing in time with Climb, Hraefn stood by as they walked past. The pair of them taking off soon after, silence between them for a few moments.

"What did you think?" Climb idly inquired.

"About the King? He has quite the presence, or perhaps that was just my nerves," Hraefn laughed in response, trying to keep the mood light, "I wasn't sure what to do with myself."

Climb pat him on the back. "You did excellently, good job! I was horrendous when I first met him."

Smiling politely, Hraefn replied, "I can't imagine that."

Climb laughed at the idea, and Hraefn took the chance to inquire about the other man. "Who was that behind him?"

"Warrior Captain Gazef Stronoff, he's the bodyguard to the King and the strongest man in the Kingdom!" Climb borderline raved about him, and Hraefn couldn't help but smile once more, even through the surprise.

"The strongest, huh?" He pressed lightly, unable to believe that a level thirty-fucking-one was the strongest in the kingdom.

Climb took the bait. "Yeah, an Adamantite like you might be able to fight him, but someone like me? He's the pinnacle of power, only the Godkin and possibly Baharuth's Fluder Paradyne could top him." 

Hraefn couldn't help but laugh, thirty-one? That was it? He'd been so far off with his estimations that he couldn't help it. If he weren't in the company of others, he'd be in hysterics.

"That strong, huh?"

 

Chapter Text

"Princess Renner, I present to you, Miyuki Takahashi."

The parlor was quite beautiful, floor to ceiling windows, a smooth silver aesthetic, beautifully crafted furniture. Though when it came to purity, the most beautiful thing in the room sat at the table situated by the window, smiling happily at her visitors as she called out to them. "Please, come in! Don't worry about any formalities here."

She was a young girl, her long golden hair, silky smooth and supple as it draped over the back of her neck. Vibrant, dark blue eyes that shone like sapphires, filled with warmth at the sight of her visitors. Though she was the epitome of purity, Hraefn could tell that without a doubt, she was soulless. Her karma rating, despite all her deeds claimed by Climb, stayed purely neutral.

He smiled in return - his kind of person.

"Princess Renner, wasn't it? Thank you for inviting me," He greeted, walking over without ceremony, but with the grace of divinity. He was told to drop the formalities, and he was sure she meant it.

She laughed pleasantly and poured Hraefn a cup of tea. With that out of the way, she gestured him to sit as Climb took his place standing at her side. "I simply had to meet you! Climb told me all about your exploits; I couldn't resist seeing who had intrigued him so."

Taking his seat, Hraefn chuckled in response, keeping up their illusion of simplicity. He crossed his ankles as he sat, picking up the cup as he spoke. He responded in kind, "Why thank you, your Highness, it's a delight to hear you think so highly of me."

"Of course, I do!" Renner clapped her hands together in something akin to joy. "Climb tells me you're Adamantite in the making. Do you have a party?"

Hraefn shook his head. "No, I'm alone."

"Oh! That's no good, would you like some help in finding one at your level? I could put in a good word for you with one of the existing Adamantite teams," She offered.

To anyone else, that offer would have been extremely tempting; however, Hraefn was a level one hundred, he could slip up and reveal his power at any moment. Being in a team would be detrimental to his cover. As such, he'd need to go alone unless he met up with another player. "Thank you very much for the offer, but I believe I'll be fine."

This concerned Renner, who knew none of Hraefn's situation. "Are you sure? I would hate to hear something happened to you..."

Trying to reassure her, Hraefn explained, "I've been alone for quite a while, your Highness, my style isn't suited for a party. My summons should be quite enough." It put him even higher in power, but he believed it to be sufficient to keep the Princess from trying anything.

"Oh, you're a summoner as well? You're quite multitalented, Takahashi-san!" Renner praised, seemingly excited to hear it.

Ah, he was getting sick of his family name, a reminder of all the revolting things his line had done. "Please, Miyuki is fine, your Highness."

"In that case, feel free to call me Renner!"

Was it really okay to call royalty by their first name? Hraefn wondered. "Ah, are you sure?"

"Of course! Now, on the matter of your payment..." Renner picked up a small coin pouch and placed it on the table between them.

"I don't need-" He held up his hands in defense of his honor.

She interrupted him with a smile. "Climb has already told me that you don't have funds, and for your help, the reward we did give you doesn't feel enough. Not to mention, if you ever want to find a good party, shabby inns will not be of any assistance to you. With all that in mind..."

Damn, she'd figured out that much? Hraefn had a strong feeling that Climb hadn't told her anything about that cheap inn when they'd arrived or likely much beyond his financial situation when they'd talked before. She'd thought far enough ahead to be able to drive Hraefn into a corner. He reluctantly grabbed the bag, weighing it in his hand. Hang on a moment...

He took a peek inside.

"Is this... how many of these a platinum?" He looked up in shock, having not expected more than a couple of silver, at most.

"About half, a quarter is gold, and then the last part is half silver, half copper. There are forty coins in total," Renner explained with a smile.

Hraefn did the math in his head, several times over, applying the exchange rates Climb had taught him. Thirteen thousand copper to a platinum coin, a thousand three hundred to a gold coin, thirteen to a silver... it seemed a copper was worth about a thousand yen, so...
It'd be over two hundred and a half million yen; there was no way she was just giving that to him.

"I cannot take that much," He emphasized, trying to pass it back. He hated being in debt.

"I insist, I won't be taking it back. Think of it as a welcoming present; I'd love to do more business with you in the future, so call it getting on your good side. Besides, I've nothing to do with it myself." Her smile was inviting. Calculating, Hraefn thought idly; she wanted him to be grateful.

Ah, so that was her angle. "...Very well. Thank you very much, Renner."

Predictably, she moved right on now that he was 'buttered up' though he'd listen no matter her game. "Now, I wanted to speak with you on an important matter."

"I'm listening." He'd a feeling it would align with his own goals.

"As you already know, there is a criminal organization called the Eight Fingers; their influence is far and wide," She began to elucidate, "They do drug trading, kidnapping, human trafficking, the list goes on. They have more power than even my father; I believe they've bribed over half the nobles and even more commoners by now. I've been trying to weaken them for a while; however, I only have Climb to count on. That is why I would like to request you to assist us. We'll pay the associated fees, of course."

The Eight Fingers, huh? So it would line up with his own goals. "Ah, well, it's only fair I do something in return for you, no? I'll be sure to give your requests priority."

"Thank you very much, Miyuki, I'm pleased to have someone like you on our side." Her smile stayed ungenuine; however, he believed her words rang true.

Talking under these pretenses was boring him.

"Although, I do have one request..."


The Adventurer's Guild. He knew he'd be back soon; he'd just expected it to take a little longer. However, there he was, pushing the doors open once again as the sun his it's highest point. Hraefn supposed it was better to get to work on raising his rank sooner than later; he could help more people that way.

Just as before, eyes were on him the moment he entered, though it was with less hunger this time. Whether that was thanks to his outfit or the loss of his charm aura, well, he'd put his bet on the latter option and stop thinking about it.

Ignoring it, he made his way through, aiming for the quest board when he heard his name called by the same guild matron that had signed him up, "Takahashi-san, could you please come here?"

A little confused, but assuming it to have something to do with taking a job outside of the guild - he knew Renner had sent a messenger - he went straight to the counter. "Yes, how may I be of assistance?"

The matron bowed in greeting as she began to speak, "Allow me to be the first to congratulate you. In light of your recent achievements, the guild wishes to award you with a promotion to the gold rank-"

Like in the inn, he was causing a scene. "Seriously?" "Didn't she join last night?" "Gold already?" "Princess Renner called for him; I was at the inn when her bodyguard came for him." "That's a man?" "Where's his group?"

"-and we hope to see more such accomplishments soon. The guildmaster is currently out, so allow me to present you with your new plate. At this point, we are willing to grant assistance to find you an adventuring group to join, although nonetheless, you now have clearance for gold-ranked quests," She finished with a smile, motioning to the quest board.

Hraefn responded quickly, eager to get to business, "Thank you very much, ma'am."

"Please, it's only my job," She laughed him off, a light blush on her cheeks. Dammit, was the charm permanent? Or was she just flattered? He prayed she just didn't get much politeness from adventurers and appreciated it.

"Still, you have my gratitude. I should look for work, if you'll excuse me." He ducked out of the conversation and made his way to the board, footsteps silent thanks to his current gear.

The board was littered with jobs, organized only vaguely by rank. After casting a silent Comprehend Languages, he kept his gaze on the part of the board meant for gold-ranked quests, trying to find whatever one would get him most likely to rank up the soonest. Surely, his being alone should prove him more capable and lead to a faster promotion, right?

A quest to exterminate an ogre camp caught his eye; the job recommended itself for gold-ranked adventurers that were about to rank to platinum, warning newer ones to stay away. Hraefn decided he'd forgotten how to read and ripped the quest off of the board. Though as he turned to leave, two groups intercepted him.

"Takahashi, wasn't it?" One man spoke up, a blond with mossy green eyes, a platinum plate hanging from his neck, "We'd like to extend an invitation to you from our group, the Forgotten Saints. We know we're a rank higher than you, but we've heard you're remarkably capable and believe you'd be a good fit for us."

A woman from the other group took half a step forward to pull his attention. A brunette this time, with piercing brown eyes and a pretty face, a mithril plate hung from her neck and a sword from her hip, she introduced herself with a smile, "Greetings, Takahashi-san. I am Elanor from Blue Regiment; we're a Mithril group of four, consisting of a priestess, a druid, a ranger, and myself, our warrior." She motioned to each person in turn, "Usually, we wouldn't think of adding someone new; however, we recently heard of your accomplishment with rescuing the lost women and caught wind of your abilities. After a talk between us all, we genuinely believe that you could be the piece we need to reach Orichalcum. Would you perhaps join us?"

He should have known this would happen. Hraefn gave a half-bow before he began speaking. "I am very sorry, but I have no interest in joining a group at this time. My skillset is not fit for combat with anyone who can't withstand a blow or two from me. Of course, if you were able to take me on in combat..."

While the man shrunk away, Elanor took her chance. "We would certainly be able to! Would you like a spar?"

A Mithril adventuring group, surely if Hraefn took them down, then his skills would have to be further acknowledged. Matching the data given by his Sense Danger with his previous experience using Discern Enemy, Hraefn estimated them to each be around level twenty. He quickly did some math in his head before he accepted the challenge.

The strongest man in the kingdom was thirty-one, Adamantite level, then using the group system, it would take four thirty-ones to reach Adamantite in the first place. While in total that would reach two-hundred and four, scaling didn't work that way. Even a single level mattered in the early game. Thus, if Hraefn acted at the level he'd accidentally put himself at, around level fifty-three, he wouldn't be too out of place at Adamantite. Surely, if there were dragons in the world like he'd seen on the board and in paintings, then there existed the few that stood above thirty to challenge them.

Okay, fifty-three it was. Twenty-two levels in magic caster, thirty-one in warrior, well, more likely they would overlap, but those were the base numbers he would use. If push came to shove, he would use his fifth tier magic and call it at least a seven level overlap.

With his mind made up, he smiled brightly at his ticket to Mithril. "Very well. I am new to this city, do you know anywhere we could spar?"

"We can spar next door; the guild has a training hall there. They remodeled an old warehouse to serve as a testing area; it is open to adventurers for use," Elenor offered, "Though we may need permission, for people at our level, we'd need the whole area." She turned her head to her companion. "Poppy, please go ask one of the matrons to clear the hall for our use."


In the large hall, made of reinforced walls and a stone floor, littered with protective enchantments, stood a large crowd surrounding five individuals. On one side of the room stood the Mithril adventuring group, Blue Regiment, on the other, a single, delicate-looking flower of a man. A myriad of adventurers - eager to see the upstart put in his place or perhaps to see what made him so special - lined the walls in chattering bunches. One guild matron stood forward from them, behind a protective field, ready to referee the fight.

Each participant stood with a training sword in hand, wearing their regular armor, ready to fight. The group leader called to her opponent, somewhat concerned with his attire, "Are you quite sure you don't want any padding?"

"Don't worry about me," The flower laughed in response, focused through it, "My clothes aren't as flimsy as they seem, I assure you. Besides, I don't intend to get hit."

Elanor barked out her own laugh. "I like your confidence!"

The umpire raised her arm. "Are both sides ready?" She waited for her confirmations, receiving both simultaneously, each side feeling confident in their win. She swiped down through the air, calling out, "Begin!"

The first to move was Elanor, who rushed Hraefn immediately. "Lesser Strength!" "Soften Steel!" Her teammates called out both strengthening and a defense decreasing spells. Idly, as a wooden sword came down on him, Hraefn wondered if the druid knew her spell hadn't worked, even in his bait form, his resistance was too high. The surprise on her face answered it, though it may have been more towards him merely stepping out of the way in the last instant, avoiding the strike.

"You shouldn't wait so long, Takahashi-san," Elanor chided as she went for another strike, horizontal rather than vertical. Hraefn simply took a step back to avoid it once more, an arrow whizzing by his face.

"And you shouldn't telegraph your attacks, Elanor-san." He gave a polite smile as she went for her third strike, a call of the Crystal Dagger spell to his left. "Magic Shield. Lesser Strength."

As Elanor was propelled backward by the backlash of her strike, Hraefn shattered his spell after the dagger hit it and went in for a simple kick, using only enough strength to throw her out of the designated area. Even still, he likely caused some damage with it. Ah, well, he'd offer to heal it later. He turned his attention to the backline, turning his body to avoid another arrow. Their ranger, Poppy, threw away her bow and went for her sword, stepping between the casters and him.

Hraefn gave a light jog forward, seen as a dash, as the spellcasters continued to try and debuff him while buffing Poppy. "Shockwave." His spell was weakened by himself, for fear of destroying their gear or harming them. He bypassed the ranger as she regained her footing and went for the druid that kept trying to debuff him. He used a little too much force in his swing and - to his sensitive ears - heard a small crack. The druid was thrown to the side, also out of the arena.

He'd definitely need to heal these guys after, damn he was lucky there.

"Slow," He cast on Poppy as he turned his attention the priestess. She squeaked as he lightly shoved her, tumbling to the ground outside of the area. Though she did get a wack in on his face, he didn't flinch in the slightest or move it with the blow. Apparently, that impressed some of the adventurers in the room, a murmur erupting through it.

"Please heal your allies," He called to the two out of the arena, unsure of which held the healing magic, if not both.

He turned his attention to the ranger as she moved at half her usual speed. Perhaps he'd put too much power into the spell, but he only recently learned how to put in less energy in the first place. He felt it necessary to ask, "Would you still like to continue?"

Poppy laughed in response. "The match is yours."

And as the matron called out his victory, he released his spell on her, causing a light stumble.


The large doors to the guildhall pushed open, revealing a group of five, four Mirthril plate adventurers and one gold. They were Blue Regiment and a lone adventurer, chatting together about their battle.

"You're gonna make it far, Takahashi-san." Elanor sounded almost jealous, though she held no malice for her newfound friend. Her party was quick to agree with her, making comments on how fast he was, Poppy complained that he'd just been messing around in their fight.

Hraefn chuckled in response, wondering if he'd ever laughed so much before in his life. Perhaps on a raid or two. "Thank you for saying so, Elanor-san."

They parted ways at one of the tables, Hraefn still holding his next job in one hand. He headed once more for the matron that had signed him up, handing the job request over to her with a smile. "I'd like to take this job, please."

Reading it over with a frown, she shook her head fondly. "This isn't made for a single gold plate, you know? Of course, you would pick it up. Very well, you did just win against an entire Mithril team. I'll begin work on your paperwork."

Chapter Text

Ahh, how did things come out this way?

Hraefn almost wanted to cry, throwing himself out of the way of an icy blast. It would have been so easy if he was alone! 


Wind rushed by pointed ears, rustling black cloth, the freedom of flight exhilarating once more. Hraefn would never get sick of it, especially not in his secondary form. Honestly, his bait form was beautiful - perhaps less so than his others by lore standards - but the restraints placed on his power were just... he hated it. Well, not quite hate, but he most definitely much preferred the way his power flowed through his body and aura to it concentrating within his deepest core, so tight it could crystallize itself.

Still, Hraefn supposed he couldn't complain. It got the job done, and he got to meet handsome men. It was far better than being stuck in that damned bed all day and night, twenty-four-seven with no end in sight. Now that? That he hated.

Trapped, alone, the virtual world his only freedom.

No, now wasn't the time to think about it. Now was the time for Hraefn to get to his job, complete it, and get back. If he found his way up in the ranks, he was bound to get invited back to the castle by Renner, which meant seeing those men again. Honestly, armies were an excellent place for a concentration of strong men- Hraefn wished that someone would be able to match him, even if just in his bait form. 

He pressed his cheek into his hand, how bothersome strength was. Perhaps it was due time to create another form, one he could use to blend in. It should be possible using his debug menu, or he was sure to have an item for it in the vast void of his inventory. Though, wouldn't that leave him vulnerable?

Decisions, decisions.

Well, he'd been good enough at acting to make Ainz Ooal Gown believe he was among their weaker members, Hraefn didn't need to lessen his powers to make people think he's weak. 

Still...

Ah, it'd be a project for another day.

His goal was in sight, there was no need to think further on the subject. 

'Find and destroy an ogre camp. If you can, discover whatever is behind their intelligent movements.' That was his mission, it would be easy for someone like himself. If they were using ogres, there's no way they could be over level forty, perhaps fifty, or so - at most. If they were, that was honestly idiotic of them.

His feathers rustled as he flapped his wings in tandem, granting him another surge of speed, flying him higher and out of sight of the camp. He could still see them, of course, he could, but he would appear as nothing but a bird if they happened to spot him - too far away for details. 

Hraefn narrowed his eyes, focusing in on his target. The camp was crudely created, there were mats and fires, a handful of guard towers that looked like they'd fall if a single ogre climbed upon it - no, it appeared goblins handled them. Goblins and ogres, huh? It didn't seem that they were collecting intelligent monsters at all.

He needed more information.

"Complete Invisibility. Odorless."

Hraefn flew into the camp, trusting nothing strong enough awaited him that he could not challenge. Though he was surprised to hear that he could understand their conversations.

"Big Boss wants more gold," One ogre said.

A goblin replied, "The latest raiding party won't be back for a while. We should send out a hunting party to get Big Boss more food."

Another ogre spoke up. "Find the runaways. Make fun."

So someone was directing them. Another ogre? A specialized one, most likely - unique, perhaps? Like a boss? Ah, his gamer instincts were tingling to find out. It probably wasn't the best idea to go in there with just invisibility... he should cast Perfect Unknowable instead. However...

Where was the fun of that?

Happily gliding through the camp as to not make a sound, Hraefn was borderline giddy. He really wanted to see a unique ogre, even though he had no way of knowing it was that. 

The cave opening stood ominous, an air of power surrounding it. 'Just like a dungeon,' Thought Hraefn. 

Jagged rocks jutted out of the sides of the entrance, filtering a rush of cold air. Good thing they were a bunch of weaklings, Hraefn had a vulnerability to frost damage, it dealt double damage to him, and he didn't have his nullification on. Despite the humanoid form stealing some of his strengths, it only minutely affected his weaknesses. 

Hraefn ducked through with a squad of ogres, hoping their presence would disguise his own. To his displeasure, they didn't discuss much other than the occasional complaint about the cold. Their leader must have been powerful by their standards if they had no qualms about serving them. Of course, their standard of strength wasn't much - low enough that Hraefn could become a god if he were so inclined. 

Moments past, then minutes, almost a whole half-hour of bored floating through the steadily chilling cave passed before Hraefn finally decided to fly ahead. He'd heard something. He was sure of it.

There it was.

A cry.

A baby's cry. A child's? He wasn't positive, but it seemed terrified. It was followed by a roar, a scream. Silence.

What the fuck was happening in there?

He picked up the pace, his spells wearing down as they reached their end. Hraefn's skills only extended them for so long.

He came to an opening in the ice, the shine of gold glowing from within. His invisibility wore off just as he skidded to a stop in the room.

 

If he could throw up-

 

The bottom half of a child dropped to the floor, blood splattering, intestines scattering in a heap around it. Oh god...

There was so much blood.

They couldn't have been more than seven.

 

He should have gone straight in.

Sure, he was desensitized from the death and suffering of others, he was a corporate heir (well, he was the bedbound second child), his father taught him to be unaffected by the pains of others. Even children.

But this was...

He heard the sobbing of a mother; of course, it was the child's mother that had screamed. Cries. "Give him back, you monster!" "My baby!"

The crunches were horrifying.

He looked up to see frosted eyes staring back.

It wasn't an ogre.

Fucking hell...

He'd just come utterly unprepared to a battle with two fucking Ancient White Dragons - his biggest weakness. Hraefn wanted to bash his head into the wall. But no, there were witnesses. A whole village's worth of individuals huddling in a corner, freezing in the chill, trying to protect each other from the monster that had caught them.

Perhaps he should have used Sense Danger ahead of time.

"Who dares enter my home?!" Bellowed the dragon once it had swallowed its meal, awakening its brethren.

Hraefn swallowed his fear. He was a debug tester. A god damned World Enemy. A Dragon Lord! He wouldn't be intimidated by mere Ancient Dragons, no matter how much he had weakened himself. 

People were watching. He needed to make himself a hero - he simply couldn't mess this up, it was his ticket to Adamantite! So soon, as well. He understood that it usually took years.

He'd do it on his first day. That would catch some attention.

Hraefn would get to see that man again... ah, what was his name? ... it didn't matter. The promise of seeing those muscles, that stern face, it was more than enough to set his heart ablaze with a flame that would melt the entire cavern.

"I am Miyuki Takahashi, an adventurer. You needn't remember that name, I will burn it into you as your last memory." He drew his sword. "I'll not stand for such injustices. I'll allow you swift deaths if you surrender to me now!"

He felt like a hero~ Would Touch Me be proud?

He almost wanted to put on the Chasm Strider set he'd bought for Holly before the game ended. It was a shame their schedules didn't allow him to give it to her.

Would she be proud? He wondered idly.

Ulbert would probably want him to play the villain - or maybe he'd prefer to play the villain himself. Probably.

Freezing air enveloped him. Frost Breath, he realized far too late. It enveloped him in solid ice.

"Bwahaha! Another nobody wannabe hero defeated. You, humans, are just ants!" He boasted, the sound echoing within the iced chamber.

The other dragon, Two, groaned, "You awoke me for this, brother?"

"If you weren't so lazy, you could have frozen the mortal yourself, sister," One snarked back.

Two snarled. "Why you ungrateful-"

 

"Weren't we in the middle of something?" Called a captivating voice.

Both dragons turned to it and froze.

Standing unharmed in a steaming puddle was the mortal that should have been frozen through. He shouldn't have been able to melt his way out - he should have been dead. Frozen from his skin to his heart. 

Hraefn tilted his head innocently at the two dumbstruck dragons. "Ah, did you think I came here just thinking I could win?" He smiled politely, the warmth didn't reach his eyes. "No, I came here knowing I could."

Offended, Two charged up an attack while One roared, "You puny human- we'll-"

Hraefn threw himself out of the way of a blast that could take another chunk of his health. The ground where he once stood froze solid.

Honestly, why did they have to be white dragons? He'd much prefer red or green ones. Definitely green, poison was ineffective against him.

It would be a simple job to kill them if he could use even just Vermillion Nova, but there were witnesses. He needed to stick to his plan. Level 53 against two Ancient Dragons, though...

That made him want to scream. How the hell was he supposed to pull this off?

...Maybe he had to readjust his plan.

If he used Vermillion Nova... could he claim it was just a scroll or a sealing crystal?

Another blast of ice just barely missed him.

Then why stop at ninth tier magic? Why not go straight to the tenth and cast Implosion? 

Hmm... that may be stretching it if the fifth tier was the realm of heroes.

He did have an artifact blade, after all, it would be enough to tear them apart. Additionally, if he brought out Amaterasu, the fire damage would tear them to pieces. Decisions, decisions...

 

On the outside, the battle looked heroic, with every attack made by these legendary creatures dodged or treated like nothing but a minor nuisance. Every hostage the dragons held stared at him with wonder, knowing full well they'd tell of this story for the rest of their lives.

With each sure death, their raven hero escaped. Weaving through the attacks, trying to find an opening for their counter. A heroine, some thought. A hero, others.

Not even his flowing raven hair frosted from the attacks of the ancient dragons. Though their claws swiped, his clothes remained untouched without even a smidge of dirt. Their bites found nothing but air.

One woman, in particular, prayed for his victory. For vengeance for her son. She hoped and prayed on her knees to this savior.

She knew those monsters would pay now that their angel had appeared.

 

"You are quick, mortal! But you cannot best us!" One challenged as he swiped at the space Hraefn had stood not long before.

"You say that," He hummed, leaping away from a Frost Breath, "But you have yet to taste one of my attacks."

One lightened up on his attacks as Two bore her teeth. "You cannot trick us, mortal!" She sneered.

Yet her brother did not agree. "A challenge, is it? I accept. Though, if your attack proves ineffective, you must bow down and swear your allegiance to us!" 

Nothing but a monster with foolish trust that his strength was absolute. Still, Hraefn felt a strange sense of deja vu flood over him, hadn't he seen something like this happen before? He couldn't place his finger on it.

It didn't matter.

"Hey, you won't get in the way, will you?" He asked the sister as he ran through his options for attacks. He really wanted to see how effective his sword was, but he didn't yet know the standard for dragons.

If humans roamed free, it likely wouldn't be a problem.

She prepared an attack of her own, he could see her doing it. "Very well," Two allowed, but Hraefn knew she was only buying her time to charge the attack.

Best make it quick then. Thankfully, Hraefn's agility was one of his stats least effected by his bait form, and though his physical attack was most damaged, his attacks relied on his highly boosted magical attack. He thanked the developers for keeping job skills in alternate forms, it meant that his myriad of physical attack reducing, magic buffing skills wouldn't go to waste.

So with all that in mind...

Hraefn took his stance, readying his ninjato. It would be over in an instant.

"May I ask if you have any last words?" He allowed.

One laughed, "How foolish you are! I'll look forward to making a toy out of you."

Hraefn smiled to himself, if he weren't so intent on adamantite, he'd make One his toy instead. Maybe he still could...

After all, an attack that could charge that long was dangerous. Not to Hraefn, but to his tickets to fame.

Very well.

"Please know that this is all on you, I won't allow you to kill these people."

He adjusted his blade, the turn reflecting light. The light the dying were told never to follow.

Though it had been only for an instant, that light was easier to track than the attack itself. For less than a second later, Hraefn's heels were cracking into the ice below.

One burst into laughter. "I knew you could do nothing against me! You're not even worthy of being a pet. I felt nothing from that attack!"

This seemed to take the wind out of the hostages' sails. Though they still gave rapt attention when Hraefn spoke.

"I didn't attack you. I said it, right? I wouldn't allow her to kill these people." Hraefn turned and blinked, uncomprehending of One's arrogance. "I'll give you my attack now if you'd like. Or you can admit defeat."

"Now, why would I do that? Sister, tell him that he's nothing already, would you?" One demanded, staring heatedly at the 'human' before him. Or perhaps a half-elf by the look of his ears...

Silence followed him.

"Sister!" One turned his eyes to her form. Her headless form.

His blade wasn't long enough to do that... he turned back to his foe. "How- how did you...?"

One glance at the villagers was enough to prove that they would be cheering if it weren't for their fear of drawing One's ire.

The dragon backed up towards the entrance. "You... you're a..."

Hraefn smiled. "If you run, I'll make it far more painful for you. Of course, I was already planning punishment for both of you after all you've done. I suppose you'll just have to take her punishment as-"

A putrid smell filled the cave.

...

There was no way.

It took everything Hraefn had not to laugh.

The dragon had pissed himself.

A snort escaped. How had Hraefn ever thought he'd need to be careful. Realm of Heroes his ass- this world was ridiculously weak if even an Ancient Dragon only needed that much. Even Victim, the level thirty-five guardian made to die, could cause a severe amount of damage to this world. What if he had a couple of his friends? Momonga, Touch Me, Ulbert, Holly, Peroroncino, Bukubukuchagama...

One of them was unstoppable; all of them could rule this world.

"I'll let you live a little longer if you kill every ogre in that camp. I might even forgive your sister's punishment-" He tilted his head to the side with a smile. "-just a little."

The dragon scrambled to the cave's exit, eager to comply.

As if an afterthought, Hraefn called, "I trust you know what will happen if you try to run!"

"Ye-yes, sir!" A nervous voice called back, shaking. Much better than that pretentious tone, Hraefn thought.

Now then, he turned to the villagers.

"Sorry if it seems like I'm letting him off a little, I don't actually intend to hold back." He smiled kindly at the frightened individuals before him, shivering even through their awe. Or maybe it was just the cold? "Come, let us speak on the way out, I doubt any of you appreciate the smell. Can you all stand?"

He got murmurs of confirmation as the villagers helped each other up, some needed to steady themselves on someone else.

 

Hraefn led them out, keeping an eye on the woman who had lost her son. The way she was looking at him made his skin crawl unpleasantly, he didn't like the admiration she showed when he'd been too cautious to be able to save her son. He couldn't tell her.

Hopefully, she didn't try to repay him through any... adult means. He hated to think about turning her down when she was in such a state, but he wasn't willing to sacrifice himself for it.

"Takahashi-sama," An elderly man called his name, and Hraefn was at his side in an instant, seeing if he needed any help, "Your plate... I was wondering why they sent a gold plate here? Moreover, why is someone of your level gold?"

Hraefn helped him steady himself as they spoke. "The reports were of an ogre camp. They'd wanted to send a veteran gold team to kill the ogres, but they allowed me to go. Only after I took down a Mithril team, mind you." He laughed lightly, closing his eyes temporarily to the awe on the man's face. "As for my plate, I only joined yesterday. This is my first official day as an adventurer. I'm pleased that my efforts last night awarded me the opportunity to assist here."

"A gold plate on your first day, is it?" The old man laughed, overwhelmed with reverence. "Surely, it will be adamantite on your second. I have no doubt that each and every one of us will. As for the money that was stolen." Ah, Hraefn had forgotten about the piles of gold, silver, and copper. Considering it reached the ceiling on every wall, he was genuinely surprised he forgot about it. "Though I plead for you to share some of it with us, to restore our villages, I, at the very least, understand you taking it all."

All those piles?

"I'll bring some out, so take as much as you can carry, okay?" Hraefn smiled.

"Thank you very much. It will be a blessing to have some copper with us." The man bowed. A wave of praise washed over the group.

...Hraefn had meant for them to take some gold and silver as well. There were only twenty or so villagers, even if they filled their pockets with gold, he'd still have more than enough.

Honestly, these guys were too thankful to him.

"Silver, at least." Shit, how did they look like they wanted to worship him more? "I'm not sure what I'm going to do with it all... I'll have to find a way to guard the cave..." He mumbled.

"Use that damned dragon," One of the village women proposed, "Once you've tortured it within an inch of its life."

The mother from before bristled at that. "That dragon should be burned to ash!"

"No, no, I think she has a point there," Hraefn mused, disbelieving eyes centering in on him, "An eye for an eye, a life for a life. That dragon took many lives, so it would naturally not be fair to let him off with death, no?" Disbelief turned to interest. "Though I'm unsure of what form of punishments I could use, would it not be fair to have him serve for the rest of his life? Use some of that fortune, build a village nearby. I'll have him watch over you and the money. If you ever get attacked, create a system that will call him over. Saving lives in repentance of taking them. That is a good start, no?"

Of course, a personality change was in need; however, that seemed to already be underway. Hraefn hummed to himself. Yes, this was working.

He'd still take one of One's horns as proof of his kill. Maybe both.

How painful was it for a dragon to have their horns torn off? 

He'd find out.

"Do allow me to speak kindly to him," Hraefn began, and eyes were on him once again. Jesus, how mercurial were these people's loyalties? "It will assist in forming a dedication of sorts. I intend to have him feel indebted to me because I "relaxed" on his punishment in exchange for his servitude."

"You're a genius!" The mother praised, clearly happier to see the dragon suffering than dead.

Yes, a genius, indeed.

Of course, if the villagers ever began to get a problem with it, he could just kill them off in a framed monster attack. He didn't intend to kill them, he wondered where the thought sprang from, but he couldn't have that dragon's survival spread. 

For now, he told them of that. "Please tell them that I killed both dragons and turned this one to ash. I'd rather they not chase me down to kill him as well when he doesn't deserve the release."

These villagers were so easy to use, the demonic blood within him cooed. Fear and gratitude did wonders. 


Hraefn didn't focus much on the chatter after that. He made a point to avoid the mother - Lily, she told him - from offering him any reward. He didn't want to deal with it.

In the end, she left with disappointment and the feeling of a debt unfilled as the villagers left with a cart full of supplies and a map to the nearest town where they could find carpenters to rebuild their home. They had enough to pitch a tent and enough food to live off of.

Hraefn waved them off with one hand, the other steadying a large sack of horns.

He'd need to take a wagon back to town. His strength wasn't the issue, the fact those horns were too damn big was one. 

Neildruntunth, who he'd been calling One until his introduction, stood dutifully by his side, trying not to scratch at his missing horns. They'd grow back, but not through magic. Hraefn had discovered that healing him caused his horns to vanish - so he'd claimed it the first punishment and tore them off again. (Hraefn had actually checked his level and was appalled to find that he was only level forty-nine. That was the height of Ancient Dragons in this world? He wanted to scoff. One day, he'd summon in one of his dragon pets and show the world what a real dragon looked like.)

Neildrun, Hraefn was not saying that all, had already been briefed on his duties, including what to do if the villagers threatened to reveal him. "But only if that comes to pass. I shall know if it does not." No, he wouldn't. However, Neildrun believed he would that was all that mattered.

Hraefn thought to take Gate most of the way back, but he had trouble deciding on it. The truth was, he couldn't remember any spells that could teleport him at the fourth level.

He really didn't want to ride the entire way back... those roads were so bumpy!

Honestly, having to make the decision sucked more than that entire dragon fight.

...

He already said he could use fourth tier magic, was fifth really that special compared to it?

After all, he'd already told himself that he could use the fifth tier if he had to... 

No, no! He couldn't abuse his own words.

But...

The thought of the ride made Hraefn's butt hurt in memory. Even the carriage had been uncomfortable, and those roads were at least somewhat paved! The paved roads had hurt as well...

Yes. It was for his own safety. One hundred percent.

 

Absolutely.

Chapter Text

Find Steed was a lifesaver, Hraefn decided as he rode back into town.

 

Riding a wagon with a large sack wasn't unheard of in this world, so Hraefn didn't draw many stares as he rode through the streets. Well, he didn't pull any stares for that reason. He, himself, stood a different matter entirely.

It didn't matter though; he was used to it by now. Their gazes didn't faze him after dealing with the guild and the castle; perhaps it was because the people themselves didn't entice his interest. He'd only seen a handful of men that did, a few in the guild, a couple of them training in the castle, and that man he met with Climb. Ah, he still could hardly remember his name, though he was sure it would come to him eventually.

As he reached the guild, the wagon pulled to a stop, out of the way, and Hraefn hopped down, wondering how he'd pose his explanation. He'd probably have to start by explaining that he'd found the source of the problem and ask if he could get paid for the additional monster hunting. The matron had already told him during his sign up that adventurers could get paid by bringing in pieces of the monsters they hunted.

Though, he had the issue of figuring out how to get the horns in. Each one was bigger than a person, and he had four. Now, he still didn't have any difficulting lifting them, but maneuvering them was its own problem. How annoying.

A familiar voice came from behind him.

"Takahashi-san."

Turning around to face his, well, friend, he supposed, Hraefn put on a pleasant smile. Blue eyes smiled back.

"Climb-san. How do you do?" He asked civilly, leaning against the wagon.

The man in question was wearing a whiteish shirt under a brown jacket; indeed, it was a change from the knight in shining armor type he was before. Though, he held himself no differently.

He straightened himself out before responding. "I'm well, thank you for asking. I'd just put in a request to see you. Princess Renner wishes to speak with you; she heard they were planning to promote you again." He nodded once to the door, indicating he'd just left from it. "Have you already reached Platinum?"

That went better than expected, Hraefn thought, he had been under the impression it would take longer to return to the castle. Not that he was complaining, not in the slightest.

Hraefn shrugged. "No clue what they're putting me at, but from what I accomplished, I wouldn't be surprised if it was higher. Would you mind assisting me with this? I'll be free to meet with Renner once I've finished up here."

Climb nodded. "Of course."

Hraefn smiled more genuinely at that, walking around to the end of the wagon. "Please get the doors for me." He pulled the sack out with one hand, hauling it into his arms. Honestly, if his physical stats weren't substituted with his magical ones, he'd be on the floor trying to carry even one of these horns.

Climb hurried to comply as Hraefn shifted around the wagons and walls, careful not to touch anything. He was using quite a bit of strength and couldn't guarantee the safety of either if he hit them.

It was likely the first time that Hraefn felt thankful for doors opening in, and he slid through, barely missing them. He was making enough of a scene as it was, breaking the doors would be his nightmare.

He wasn't positive he wouldn't have nightmares about it.

Honestly, he was practically a living god in this world, and he was still worried about making a scene. That hit too close to home for him. 

...was that even a thing that happened with people? Did they get that feeling from their own actions?

He needed to stop thinking about it before he messed something up.

Footsteps came to a halt as his feet loyally stopped moving at his destination, despite him only just pulling himself out of his thoughts.

"Takahashi-san, back so soon? Was there an issue with the quest?" The guild matron smiled at him pleasantly.

Right, there hadn't been much travel time for him. The sun was still out. Perhaps he should have waited a day, at least. 

He'd reap what he sowed.

Pulling an explanation out of his ass, he gave the best response he could, "I have completed the quest, magic makes it easy to travel."

Surprise flashed over the guild matron's features, followed by awe, she nodded. "As expected of an adventurer of your level. The guild master is currently considering a promotion for you after your victory over Blue Regiment."

"There is more to consider now; I found what was behind the ogres." Hraefn lowered the sack to the floor, careful not to damage it. "Brought this back, figured you wouldn't believe me otherwise. Besides, I'd like to get paid for the extra work." He shrugged idly as the guild matron regarded the size of the bag with confusion.

"We don't accept bodies, sir." That was an understandable conclusion.

"Too heavy for that. I would say guess again, but I hardly believe it myself." He grabbed the top of the sack and pulled it down to reveal the contents. "Four ancient white dragon horns. A pair of them were planning a take over of the area, stealing villagers for food, using the orcs so they wouldn't be found out. At least, that is what I know of it." He chose to ignore the shock in the room. "I couldn't exactly ask questions."

"S-sir, I understand you are talented, but there's simply no way-"

Interrupting calmly, Hraefn bagged them up again. "-Witnesses are currently heading to E-Rantel. They told me they'd share the story there as gratitude for what I've done for them. You may check with them if you wish. Of course, I also expect you'll be checking the validity of these horns?" 

The guild matron nodded shakily. Hraefn had the feeling that she already knew he wasn't lying.

"O-of course, I'll get the guild master straight away, sir!" She dashed out of her seat, hurrying up the stairs to one of the offices.

Climb had been eerily quiet the entire time, so Hraefn turned to check on him. He was met with the same expression that had been on the children's faces after he'd saved them from the dragons. He looked at Hraefn like he was a hero stepped straight out of a fairytale.

"I knew you were strong, Takahashi-san," Climb's voice almost trembled, "But you're even stronger than Stronoff-sama. You're in the Realm of Heroes!"

The Realm of Heroes, huh? 

Well, there was no way for him to blend in now. Part of him wanted to go all in, but perhaps he could play with it a little more... 

It would be best for him to stick to his current plan until he had more information. That was what he decided.

"Miyuki Takahashi-san, wasn't it?" A voice accompanied footsteps, gliding down the stairs. A woman of around forty years of age addressed him politely. "I am the Re-Estize Guildmaster. I have come to assess the horns you have brought in."

Hraefn only nodded in acknowledgment, eager to get it over with. He added as an afterthought, "It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance, guildmaster."

Her face was stern though she appeared polite enough to Hraefn, an authority befitting her station surrounded her like an aura. Though he didn't feel the slightest inclination to follow any of her orders, he'd only do so to blend in. 

It seemed she felt no reason to continue the conversation either as she eyed the bag skeptically. Hraefn revealed it as she came closer.

She reached one hand to it. "Appraisal Magic Item."

A smugness washed over Hraefn as her skepticism morphed into disbelief. "This is..."

She knocked on it, brought her face close as Hraefn steadied the items further, checked each one as close as she could.

"These are real."

The statement was spoken detachedly, as though she could not honestly believe it.

Her shock washed over the rest of the guild, none of whom had believed he was capable of defeating a dragon on his own, let alone two. The guildmaster straightened back up, clearing her throat. Something about her body language told Hraefn that she felt she didn't have much of a choice in her actions.

 "Miyuki Takahashi," She addressed him formally, Hraefn idly thought he'd never get used to having his given name spoken first, "On behalf of the Adventurer's Guild, allow me to bestow unto you the rank of Adamantite."

The previous waves were ripples compared to the rush of emotions that overtook the guild.

"Congratulations, Takahashi-san!" "In one day?!" "Unfair! He should pass tests like the rest of us!" "Are you going to fight him over it?!" "W-well..."

Hraefn smiled graciously, giving a half bow to the guildmaster as his father's servants often did to him. "Thank you very much."

The guildmaster turned her head to the matron Hraefn was always running into. "Grant him the authority to take every quest the guild has to offer. And fetch him a new plate."

"Right away." The guild matron gave a bow before hurrying off.

The guildmaster returned her attention to Hraefn. "Takahashi-sama, I would love to talk to you more; however, I have pressing matters to attend to at the moment. Please, if you have any questions, bring them to me. We'll prepare your payment for pickup by tomorrow morning." She gave a bow before she left. Hraefn had a feeling that adventurers were usually paid upon turning in the parts. Though with monsters twenty levels above their strongest warrior, they likely need more time to put the money together. Perhaps they hadn't assigned a price for such beasts to begin with. 

"Incredible, Takahashi-san! I knew you were Adamantite, but I didn't expect you to take the rank so quickly. You were Copper just earlier today," Climb was quick to praise him, stars in his eyes, "I was right to help you in!"

Oh right. "Speaking of your help, Climb," Hraefn dug into his pocket and retrieved one of the gold coins Renner had given him then held it out for Climb, "Please take this as repayment and a thank you."

He immediately held his hands up. "I could not-"

"Take it. I wouldn't be here if not for you." Hraefn gave his best smile. "And I have a feeling even more good things are on the rise."

The nod Climb gave was so serious that Hraefn wanted to laugh, ever dutiful, wasn't he? He took the piece and added it to his coin purse. "Thank you very much, Takahashi-san. Or should I be calling you Takahashi-sama now?"

Shaking his head, Hraefn said, "Please, call me Miyuki."

"Miyuki-sama, then," Climb decided, and Hraefn didn't bother to correct him.

The matron arrived back with Hraefn's plate, and he took it with a smile and his gratitude. The matron flushed red and shook her head, stuttering out a reply as she took his old plate.

With that out of the way, he returned his attention once again to Climb. "Now, you told me Renner wished to speak with me?"

"Ah, yes." He nodded. "This way, please."

"The Princess again, huh?" Someone in the room mumbled.


The halls were every bit as extravagant as Hraefn remembered, but not as oppressingly so that he'd once believed castles would be. Perhaps it was to a lack of funding rather than a design choice, he thought as he looked at every attempted detail. If they'd had more funding, surely it would be over the top.

Tacky, the rich were.

It was just like his mother's suits and dresses.

Hraefn took his attention off of it. He'd wanted to see that Stronoff again (what was his name? It was beginning to annoy him. Ha... Ga... he wasn't sure) but they'd only met earlier that day on a coincidence. If Climb weren't there to question it, he'd sigh from the disappointment.

How annoying it was to have his reason for coming be a lottery.

Hraefn had half a mind to stage a threat to see him again, but he wasn't that desperate. Seeing art every single day would ruin the appeal, he told himself that as they arrived once again to Renner's parlor.

Climb knocked before opening the door for Hraefn to enter. "Princess Renner, Miyuki-sama has arrived."

Something akin to irritation crossed Renner's features, but it was gone so fast Hraefn almost questioned if he'd indeed seen it. No, he had. A previous hunch of his was confirmed at that moment; she was like him.

"It's a pleasure to see you again, Renner, I had not expected this time to come so soon." He smiled pleasantly. "Did you need something of me?"

Renner gave her princess smile in return. "Not exactly, Miyuki, I simply wanted to congratulate you on your promotion. Orichalcum as I've heard? On your first official day as well!"

"Adamantite, actually." He laughed pleasantly. "I brought down a pair of ancient dragons and their underlings earlier today, I apologize if the smell remains on my clothes."

Renner clapped her hands together in joyful surprise. "Adamantite already?" She asked, "I was right with about you, Miyuki! You're something special."

"Thank you very much for saying so."

"Now then, I was originally not going to bring this up-" Hraefn had a feeling she was. "-however, we may be in dire need of someone of your strength."

"I've already promised you my help, Renner. Tell me what I can do for you." Hraefn didn't let on that he knew what, he thought at least, she was up to.

She gave a dazzling smile in response. Maybe if Hraefn weren't utterly disinterested in women, he'd give her a second glance. "Thank you very much. It's not much at the moment; however, I've heard of strange happenings in villagers near E-Pespel-" What was up with their naming of things? "-but the nobility does not believe it to be an issue. I request that when we eventually send aid, you join them. We will likely be sending out the Warrior Troop; at least, I have the feeling of such."

Hraefn only nodded in response. He wasn't too interested, but a job was a job. "That's fine. I'll do it."

Renner gave a kind smile. "I thought you would. I took the liberty of calling the Warrior Captain; he should be here at any moment. I had hoped if you were not willing that he would be able to convince you."

The Warrior Captain, huh? Where had he heard that title before...

Gazef Stronoff! That was it!

It seemed the fates were on his side that day. Or maybe he had a hidden luck stat, he thought amusedly, that or his Probability Manipulation was doing its job.

It took everything Hraefn had not to grin as he gave a thoughtful hum. "Ah, I believe I saw him earlier today - when I first came to meet you." He brought a hand to his lips, pretending he was trying to remember. "My memory does serve me correctly, right, Climb?" He asked, a small, insecure part of him genuinely wishing to know if that was the man.

...was it really earlier that day? He'd gotten so much done already. Was that normal for people? Hraefn had minimal reference, he'd spent his last twelve years in YGGDRASIL and lived in countless other dive games before that.

Climb nodded once, however, before he could answer, there was a knock at the door.

"That must be him!" Renner said, voice sweet as ever.

Dutifully, Climb strode over the door and opened it, revealing the man Hraefn had worked hard to see again. Yes, as much of a beauty as he was before. Though maybe that was just his thing for muscles.

"Princess Renner, you called?" Gazef's voice was as strong as he looked, Hraefn found himself thoroughly entranced by it. He was definitely the type Hraefn fantasized about. Hopefully, he had a good personality, he'd hate for his image to be ruined by that. Dark eyes zeroed in on Hraefn as he took a step in. "I hope I'm not intruding. I hadn't realized you were still here... Takahashi-san, wasn't it?"

Awh, now Hraefn felt terrible for forgetting his name. Though maybe it was his job to remember the names of individuals coming in and out. Or, Hraefn hoped, it was a sign of attentiveness.

When Renner didn't speak up, Hraefn took it as a sign he was meant to reply. It seemed she did hold some amount of respect for him after all, it wasn't all an act.

"I only just returned, Stronoff-sama." He gave his best smile, hoping some of his Elder Incubus charms shone through. 

As Gazef approached the table, Renner took the lead. "I had wanted to hire Miyuki as help after I heard he was already promoted. I believe, even with the Warrior Troop's strength, that you may require specialized help with the situation around E-Pespel."

Gazef looked unfazed. "Thank you for thinking of us, your Highness." He turned his attention to Hraefn. "Congratulations, Takahashi-san on your-" His eyes dropped to the plate hanging around Hraefn's neck, his eyes widened. "Adamantite...? I was under the impression you'd just started today. Hadn't you been a Copper?"

Hraefn nodded once. "Yes. I signed up last night under Climb-san's recommendation. Though I had already been promoted to Gold for my assistance with the kidnapping ring."

Renner piped up, taking her opportunity to strengthen her appearance. At least, that's what Hraefn believed she was doing. "Isn't it amazing?" She half-gushed, "Miyuki solved the disappearances around E-Rantel! He defeated the ogres and the two ancient dragons behind it all. He even recovered the remaining victims!" He hadn't told her that... "I'd initially invited him because I heard about his victory over a Mithril adventuring team, but I'd ended up catching him right as he returned. I just knew there was something special about him!"

She sounded so excited and innocent. Hraefn wondered when she'd picked up that facade.

Almost jumping from surprise, Hraefn's cheeks burned as Gazef bowed to him. Distantly he thought his form was perfect. "You have my deepest gratitude. Saving those people should have been the job of the Kingdom, my job. Thank you for your work."

...Yes, he liked that.

"It was my pleasure, Stronoff-sama."