Back to the recent past.
Far below the Central Continent was the Southern Continent. Two large countries and five small countries lay claim to the continent, and neighboring them were two island countries.
The island countries only had populations of about 50,000 people. Barely enough for a single decently-sized town. All the same, apparently in this world, any population group congregating around a World Tree Sapling could be legally considered a ‘country’, and so that was what they were.
I had had some time thinking about where to attack first. According to the guidebook, the Central Continent was the original birthplace of the human race. Civilization there were quite advanced, plus those countries had a lot of people too. Which meant their military were possibly the most difficult opponents I could face.
The guidebook also included the order in which the Saplings were discovered. Countries until 50 had the ancient history to back them up. They really seemed like proper nations.
The Touze Empire, where Tiz was, was number 12. It was even in the Central Continent to boot. Military, population, history, it had it all. This one was going to be a pain in my neck.
And so I decided on the Southern Continent. Reason number one, it wasn’t the Central Continent. Two, the countries there were only about halfway through the numbering.
Getting there was going to be so troublesome. Continent-crossing without using an airship would waste tons of my time.
If I was a normal human, I’d have to take an airship or a ship ride from Ayune to Cinqres, then transit through Neuft and Quarondeux to enter the Southern Continent. But I didn’t have the time for a world tour.
The world wouldn’t die off in just a decade or two, obviously. But if I took too long to move between the Saplings, it would take dozens of decades to destroy them all. I was worried that Earth would have begun large-scale mana harvesting by then.
Thankfully, my ‘partner in crime’, the World Tree, had solved half of the problem for me.
The World Tree and its Saplings were networked together, transporting mana and souls between them. So I thought, maybe I could hitch a ride on the network, considering I was a spiritual lifeform? It was a simple idea, but it worked… partially, at least.
If I turned into mist, I could travel through the network. But once I reached the barrier of the human country surrounding the Sapling, I’d bounce off it, perhaps due to me being a Demon. And I couldn’t turn back to human during the ride anyway…
“…where was I?”
After hitting the barrier, my landing spot was a forest somewhere between the mountains.
Oh, Blobsy was looking as lively as ever. My [Subspace Inventory] skill, the evolution of [Packer], couldn’t store living beings. Or to be more precise, I could force them in if I wanted to, but their biological activities would cease within storage and they’d die. Blobsy was only fine by virtue of being my Kin.
Still, she seemed bored after her time in storage. She bounced to her usual spot on my shoulder.
First off, I’d need to know where I was. I took out and wore my cloak from [Inventory], then ran up the mountain. Within a few minutes, I crossed the distance a normal human would need half a day to make.
On the way, there were a few times I detected hostilities from what I assumed to be wild monsters. I just focused and threw [Fear] at them and none would dare get any closer. All hail high combat power.
As I reached the mountaintop, I searched for a tall tree. I climbed to its top, standing on tiptoes.
To my left was the sea. Far off to my right, I could see a town.
With how close it was to the ocean, maybe it was one of the small countries on this continent? I was closer to my target than I thought. I jumped off the tree, transforming into mist and flew.
I just needed to flash my adventurer card to the guards and they let me in without any problems. Border control was as lazy as always. Well, I supposed a traveler entering the country on foot wasn’t exactly a common occurrence around here.
“Hey, you over there!”
For some reason, one of the gate guards called at me. The young man nearing his twenties said something to the other guard and ran toward me.
“Where did you come from?”
“No, that’s… well, yes, but that’s not what I’m talking about.”
He leaned closer and spoke in a whisper.
“Looking at your shoes, you’re a noble girl from somewhere, right? Did your carriage break down and you had to walk here?”
Whoops. I forgot about my scarlet stiletto heels (which were actually as deadly as their namesake, I might add). They were still peeking out from under my cloak. You’d never see normal adventurers or travelers wearing these.
Was the guard planning on threatening me? As he saw me slightly raising my guard, he hastily jumped back.
“Wait, no, I’m not going to do anything to you! I mean, you were going to a noble’s mansion, right? Maybe the guardhouse? It’s dangerous if you were alone on the way.”
Hmm… apparently he was just worried about me. Of course that’s all it was. I never thought all humans were trash in the first place, but maybe I did have a bit of a bias.
“…I want to go to the governor’s mansion.”
“The Governor?! No, I mean, it’s fine, but it’s quite far, you know?”
“I can guide you there, if you don’t mind? I can show you the town on the way too.”
He might have been friendly, but it looked like he had ulterior motives, too. Well, it was convenient for me anyway, so I nodded. He waved to the other guard. They smirked and gave him a thumbs-up.
He told me about the city express stagecoach, which we found and got on. His name was Laurent, nineteen years old. The fifth son of a destitute knightly house. The family was still of nobility, more or less, even if in name only.
“Well, we’ll drop back to being commoners if we don’t contribute anything worthy, though.”
Laurent told me a lot of things, all the while sitting unusually close to me.
We were in the Principality of Rantetrois, a small country situated to the north of the Southern Continent. Despite being called a ‘country’, it was composed of only the capital, where we were, and a large cherry plantation for wine-making. The population was only around 100,000 people.
I had known it was different from the Central Continent. Still, I never realized how wide the gap was until I noticed there wasn’t a single classy-looking establishment in the whole city, like those I saw in Trestan Kingdom’s capital.
“This place used to be called ‘the front door to the Central Continent’ in the old days, but once airships were invented, the only people coming here were merchants after our wines.
“…but you have a Sapling, so you’re living just fine, right?”
“Yeah, thanks to it, we don’t even need to worry about wasting magic. I once heard a geezer working on the fields complaining that the vegetables were growing so fast due to the mana, he were having trouble eating them all before it rots.”
So they were wasting magic.
It looked like the World Tree Sapling was truly at the governor’s mansion, then, considering how heavily guarded the place seemed to be. Most countries were probably the same in placing their Saplings inside the palace.
A few hours later, we reached the district in which the governor lived. We got off the express carriage and started walking there. My steps carried me through the streets… and away from Laurent every time he started up another one of his constant attempts to hold my hand.
Now that I was aware of the truth, the town in my eyes no longer looked the same.
Here and there, air conditioners ran with doors opened. Glowing sign boards lit up the street even during midday. Piles of produce overcrowded groceries, grown in excess due to the mana.
And no humans were working the fields. Only the demihuman slaves they had captured.
The mana here was like oil of Earth, I suppose. It could even work as electricity without needing to go through power plants.
If the mana went away, what would happen to this country?
The ensuing chaos wasn’t difficult to imagine. Once again, the impossibility of any attempts at persuasion made itself apparent to me.
I stopped on a clothing store along to way to buy new cloaks and boots for disguising purposes, plus the latest guidebook. We were standing in front of the governor’s mansion a while later.
It really was a mansion, not a castle. Three stories, looked quite spacious.
“Hey, hey, tell me your name already. I came with you all this way, why not have a bit of a drink with your hard-working guide?”
Laurent must have gotten impatient with how I’ve been shrugging off his approach. He kept trying to touch me, to drag me to the bar.
“So, just hypothetically… what if mana is no longer free?”
“Whaa? Why would that happen? We can get as much mana from the Saplings as we wanted, right?”
“And what if this world gets worse in the future because we keep doing it?”
I stared into his eyes. He just snorted.
“Heh, you’re joking, right? No way that would happen. And even if it does, it’ll be way after I die of old age anyway.”
Was this the general opinion of the human race here? So much like Earth of old, back when people there were still aloof to the environment.
Yet in the end, all the countries still continued to leech mana. Once they knew of the comfort it brought, no one had the courage to stop.
No one wanted to be the first to speak out and be branded a villain.
To change things, Evil was necessary. An overwhelming Evil to become the target for humankind’s displeasure and resentment.
“Well then, thanks, Laurent. I can find my way from here.”
“Hahh? What’re you saying?”
At first, I had thought to just sneak in and destroy the Sapling in secret. But then, the resentment of humanity would just be vented upon the weak.
Just as they’d always done to the demihumans. Just as the adults had done to me when I was younger…
A few dozens meters away, the governor’s mansion guards looked at us with dubious gazes. At Laurent walking around in his gate guard uniform, and at me hiding my face under my hood.
For better or for worse, I had quite the reputation now. I intended to use it.
I slowly walked toward the gate. Laurent put a hand on my shoulder.
“Come on, enough al-eeek!” He yelped at the whiff of ice-cold air.
I stretched out a hand and blasted arctic mist at the gate.
“Aaaeeyyaaa! W-What happened?!”
The gate froze in a blink of an eye. The edge of the frigid cloud hit Laurent. He screamed, tumbling on the ground.
Eddies of wind whirled from the temperature difference, blowing off my hood. The moment the onlookers noticed my snow-white ears, their eyes widened.
I took off my cloak, showing off my rabbit ears, tail, and the scarlet bunny girl outfit. I turned my mouth into a goading smirk.
“Hurry up, people. Get out of my way if you don’t want to die.”
Author Note: Shedy had resolved herself to play the part of Evil. Still, that doesn’t mean she should be picking head-on fights like this!
This chapter takes place in the 43rd country, the Principality of Rantetrois.