The Unfortunate Adventurers
Editor: Joker, Speedphoenix
The definition of an adventurer, as I learned it, was a vague one. It denoted the profession as one consisting of individuals that discovered, sought, and confronted the unknown. Adventurers accepted all sorts of requests, fulfilled them, and then returned to their clients for rewards agreed upon at the onset. In some cases, the rewards were plentiful and generous. Many adventurers had, throughout history, amassed immense fame and wealth through their actions. Some even went on to become nobles and were granted pieces of land over which they could lord. Thus, adventuring was a career often sought by those that dreamt big.
On its own, the term adventurers actually referred to a large and varied group of people. There were all sorts of different requests for individuals with different skill sets. But even so, adventurers still fell into three main buckets. The first contained those that earned their livings by defeating monsters. The second focused more on gathering resources and materials. The third and final type consisted mostly of scholars involved with the excavation and examination of ancient ruins.
Regardless of specialization, there was just one thing that remained true of all adventurers. Every last member of the profession was, at least to some extent, well versed in the art of combat. Our villages, towns, and cities were safe. But that was it. Venturing outside a human settlement was never any different from putting a noose around your neck and stepping atop a stool. Monsters and other non-humans could be found around any corner. And most were hostile.
Earning a living in such an environment was something that could only be made possible through a combination of strength and courage. Only the strong could take down their enemies and protect themselves. And only the brave could continue to struggle without yielding, even when while looking death right in the eye. Adventurers that lacked the two aforementioned properties had only two possible fates awaiting them. The first was to die, to be weeded out by tasks and monsters that they were unable to handle. And the second was to stagnate, to be forever stuck at the same rank without any hope of advancement.
But that much was common knowledge. It was just what it meant to be an adventurer.
Of course, specialization was by no means the only manner in which adventurers were sorted. With it being as important as it was, adventurers were obviously grouped based off of their combat prowess. There were seven different ranks. In ascending order of strength, they were bronze, iron, silver, gold, mithril, adamantite, and orichalcum.
We, my two companions and I, were considered mithril. We could only ever possibly ascend another two ranks, so it was safe to say that we were quite strong. Individuals belonging to both the ranks that stood above our own were monstrous in nature. Adamantite tier adventurers were well known as one man armies, whereas orichalcum tier adventurers were pretty much on the tier of strategic armaments. There were as many adventurers out in the world as there were fish in the sea, but even then, there were rarely any more than a few dozen people amongst the top two ranks.
Alfyro, the city we were based in, was located in our country’s fringes. There were a lot of monsters in the area, and therefore lots of experienced adventurers. But in spite of that, it wasn’t home to any of our orichalcum class coworkers. Most were under the country’s employ and hidden away except for in times of need. There were a few adamantite adventurers around, but they were currently out of town on a job. And it was precisely for that reason that the Adventurers’ Guild, the organisation responsible for gathering adventurers under their banner, had ended up looking for a party of mithril ranked adventurers to handle a certain task. My party was free at the time. We had just gotten back from another job not too long ago, so we happened to be lazing around the town resting and recuperating. Thus, it was only natural for the aforementioned task, investigating the Wicked Forest, to fall right into our hands.
The Wicked Forest was home to the strongest monsters in the area surrounding Alfyro. And if that wasn’t bad enough, the number of monsters the Wicked Forest contained was through the roof. Its population density was ridiculously high despite the environment being far too harsh for human life. It was said that any who entered and attempted to explore the uncharted territory would never return, that thirty minutes was the longest any normal person could ever survive within it. Stepping into the Wicked Forest was no different from entering a dog eat dog world. Might was right within its bounds, and the only laws that applied were those enforced by nature itself.
No adventurer ranked gold or lower was allowed to even enter the region, and even orichalcum class adventurers were strictly banned from the forest’s inner sanctum. Anyone that broke any rules related to the Wicked Forest would suffer harsh penalties, regardless of who they were.
And it was all because of a single monster: the overwhelmingly powerful creature that lorded over the mountain at the centre of the forest’s deepest depths.
Biological superiority was a trait long associated with dragonkind. Dragons had always been and would forever remain the world’s most powerful race. The greatest of them all, the entity that reigned above all other members of its race, was a creature that appeared in historical texts and legends alike, a living calamity. And thus, it was denoted The Supreme Dragon.
Calamity class monsters were, in general, capable of ravaging an entire country all on their own. But the Supreme Dragon was different. To it, crushing one measly country was barely an achievement. For it had, in the past, destroyed several at once. Every group sent to subjugate it was completely obliterated. Every attempt on its life was thwarted. And everything that opposed it was met with brutal retaliation. The legendary dragon was so much of a threat that it had forced several countries previously at each other’s throats to form an alliance, one created solely to bring it down. The combined army that was sent to defeat it numbered a whole three hundred thousand strong. Historical records from the era testified that there were even many adamantite and orichalcum adventurers among their ranks. Even so, the army was defeated. Of the three hundred thousand men that left their homes in a quest for glory and justice, no more than a thousand returned. All the others had literally been reduced to ash in a single night.
And that was only one of the tales of which the bards would sing. Many, many more had been handed down. They testified that the beast could warp the terrain with but a breath, that the magic it casted matched even the most powerful magus’ trump card, and it would fling them all over with ease. Every single story concerning the dragon sounded more like the tale of a natural disaster than it did a living thing. Fortunately, the creature had little interest in anything but itself. It didn’t care for us humans so long as we left it alone. And so, the allied forces announced a decree. They stated that the Supreme Dragon was to be left to its own devices regardless of the circumstance. A decree still enforced to this very day. There had been over a hundred years since the Supreme Dragon last saw any human interaction, so there was little knowledge regarding its intentions. No one knew if it had changed its mind during the many years it had shut itself in the Wicked Forest’s depths.
Or at least that was how it had been.
It all started rather recently. The almighty legendary beast that rarely left its nest had been witnessed moving about on more than just a single occasion. Following that came reports of strange occurrences within the Wicked Forest. Territorial disputes had started to occur much more often than ever before, and the many monsters that had been displaced as a result had scattered into the surrounding areas.
At first, the guild wrote the occurrence off as a result of the Supreme Dragon’s actions. They thought that the greater frequency with which it moved about had scared the nearby monsters into fleeing further from its domain. But they soon realized that their assumption was off. Supreme Dragon sighting reports failed to always coincide with reports centered around changes in monster activity. It was deemed that the two events weren’t necessarily correlated. The guild instead began to suspect that both the Supreme Dragon’s actions and the monsters’ actions were instead the cause of a third party. Something was making the monsters flee. And that same something was causing change in the Supreme Dragon’s behaviour.
Of course, the monsters that left the forest were the less fit, the ones that found themselves unable to maintain their hunting grounds and territories. But even so, they were only weak by the Wicked Forest’s standards. They were still much more powerful than any of the monsters that lived in the areas surrounding it. So much so, in fact, that they immediately ascended to the top of the food chain in any environment they conquered.
Fortunately, monsters had the tendency to prefer areas with more magical particles in the atmosphere. These areas were the exact opposite of the areas humans preferred, and thus, very few casualties came as a direct result of the monsters’ movements. Still, the situation was one in which the guild could not simply sit around and twiddle its thumbs. There was a need for an investigation.
Risk was the first thing that came to mind when I heard the request’s details. It was a mission that would put the lives of both me and my party members in danger, one that I had honestly wanted to refuse. But I chose not to. The guild’s system was set up in such a way that refusing a direct request from it meant sacrificing one’s reputation. And more importantly, I felt that the issue was one that simply could not be left uninvestigated. It was one that could potentially spiral out of control if left unchecked, and we were the only group that was even potentially up to the task.
With that in my mind, my two party members and I soon found ourselves within the Wicked Forest..
“What the fuck!? This is bullshit!” screamed Reyus, the party’s scout.
“Shut up and run, you idiot!” I yelled back. “Save your breath if you don’t want to die!”
“I can’t believe it!” added Lurolle, the party’s mage. “The rumours really were true after all!”
Both Reyus and Lurolle were running as hard as they possibly could. I was following right behind them, and right behind me was a horned tiger. We could hear entire trees splinter as easily as would small branches as the beast plowed through one after another to catch its prey, us, as soon as it possibly could.
Monsters were, in general, grouped into seven different tiers: non-threats, hazards, menaces, destroyers, disasters, catastrophes, and calamities. Horned tigers fell into the middle tier, the destroyer tier. It was weak enough for a single adamantite adventurer to somehow handle on his own, but mithril class adventurers like us needed a lot more effort to subdue the beast. On average, it took an entire party just to scrape by with a narrow victory.
It was strong enough to merit folklore had it taken up residence anywhere outside the Wicked Forest. But with the uncharted region being as ridiculously abnormal as it was, the tiger wasn’t anything special. That said, its presence still did indicate that something was amiss.
As mithril ranked adventurers, we had been on expeditions to the Wicked Forest on many an occasion. And never before on any of those journeys did we ever run into such a beast only a few hours in. It was far too close to the forest’s edge, meaning that it had been pushed out of its natural habitat. Further evidence of such a claim could be garnered just by giving the creature a second glance. The feline was thin, abnormally thin. It had very clearly failed to eat for several days, and the way it regarded us made it obvious that it was desperate and impatient. It understood that it would die from starvation if it allowed us to escape its grasp.
“How’s your MP looking?” I asked the mage as I maneuvered past a tree.
“Sorry Griffa, it isn’t looking good. I’ve still only got less than a tenth!” she replied.
As was mentioned, a party of mithril adventurers would normally come out on top if forced to fight a beast on the level of a horned tiger. The reason that we were running from it regardless was because of the precise issue that I had just mentioned: Lurolle’s MP.
Our mage was out of mana.
The horned tiger wasn’t the only destroyer tier monster that we had encountered thus far. In fact, we had been fighting monsters equal to it almost nonstop. We were all exhausted, but our mage had it the worst. She was completely out of mana and we had already used up all our options. Knowing that the situation might turn sour, we had brought more supplies than we would have for one of our usual expeditions. But not even that had been enough for us to engage the Wicked Forest’s denizens without rest. My mind was plagued with regret. I knew now that I should have chosen to sacrifice my reputation. The request we were given had turned out far beyond the scope of our abilities.
“Woah!” I smashed my foot into the ground and brought my body to a complete stop. The feline at our backs used some sort of skill and suddenly gained a burst of speed, one it used to circle around us and block off our intended route of escape. “Damn it. It looks like we’re going to have to fight.”
I drew my sword and grimaced as I resolved myself for death. But at that exact moment, the situation changed. I heard a pair of sounds. The first was a sort of whistling accompanied by a sudden rush of wind. The second, which followed a moment after the first, was also one I easily recognized. A raw, bloody splat.
The horned tiger that had cornered us only a moment earlier was lying on the ground, dead. And above it, where it had been only moments prior, towered an even more powerful monster. The aura it exuded was so overwhelming that just seeing it had caused me to completely stiffen up.
The creature, the giant wolf, had fur so beautiful I found myself charmed. But accompanying its glamour were four legs, each thick as a log and constructed purely of muscle. It was tall too. The creature stood at about the same height as a single story house, roof and all. Its jaw, which was large enough to swallow any of us whole, contained sharpened fangs massive enough to induce fear.
Laying eyes on the creature had caused my heart to begin beating like crazy. I was an experienced adventurer. I had spent much time in the business, honing my senses. And now, every single one of those senses was telling me that I was no match for the creature. My fight or flight instinct activated and urged me to flee. But I couldn’t.
I was frozen solid, unable to so much as budge.
It felt like death itself would lower its scythe and tear my head from my shoulders the moment I so much as blinked. The little bit of willpower that I managed to scrounge up allowed me to turn my eyes towards the two companions at my side. Like me, they too were frozen stiff. They could do nothing but watch as the overwhelmingly powerful creature standing before them did as it pleased.
Fortunately, it cared not for us. Its glance had momentarily fallen upon our forms, but it soon turned its head away in disinterest. It instead grabbed the tiger it had just killed with its mouth and left.
All the strength drained from Lurolle’s body; she collapsed onto her butt the moment the creature vanished from her sights. It was malpractice. We were still in the middle of the wicked forest. Monsters could appear from anywhere at any time. But though I wished to scold her, I was none the better. My knees were weak and my palms were sweaty. I was sure that I would begin to tremble the moment I stopped trying not to.
“W-We’re alive…” Lurolle muttered under her breath as she stared off into the distance. Her voice was filled with a hint of relief, one that made it seem as if she was still trying to process the situation that had just unfolded.
“Yeah…” agreed Reyus. “That wolf’s gotta at least be disaster class or somethin’.”
“…That’s not even the worst part,” I said.
“The wolf. It was collared. It was wearing a choker with engravings around its neck, the same type you’d give to a pet dog.”
“What!?” Reyus’ eyes bulged out of their sockets. “You mean to say that thing’s acting under someone’s orders!?”
I knew exactly how he felt. Seeing the collar had led me to suspect that my eyes had gone bad. Disaster tier monsters were incredibly powerful. It would normally take an entire army just to exterminate a single one. Taming them wasn’t supposed to be possible. I knew for a fact that no human was capable of such a feat. And I doubted that demihumans or beastkin had the means to do so either. Hell, not even the demons, mankind’s most detested foes, could pull off anything that ridiculous.
“There’s probably something absolutely absurd living in this forest,” I said.
I had come to a conclusion. Something was terrifying all of the Wicked Forest’s beasts. That same something had even tamed a disaster tier monster. Even now, it was lurking within the forest’s depths. And there was no guarantee that it wasn’t watching us at this very moment.
“We need to get out of here,” I said as a shiver ran down my spine. “As it is now, this place is way beyond us.”
“Agreed,” said Reyus. “We could be immortal and still not have enough lives for this shit.”
“Yeah, let’s just leave. I really don’t want to be here,” said Lurolle.
With a unanimous decision made, we retraced our steps at full speed, almost as if to flee the something that lay within the forest’s depths.
Editor’s note: Hey, guys! Joker here. Well, this chapter is following a group of adventurers rather than our demon lord protag. Shift in tone and what happens in the chapter probably gave it away, but just in case, I figured I’d make a mention of it. Let’s see. So the monsters in the forest are trying to get the hell out of dodge to avoid… something. Lefi? Yuki? Or maybe the new big dog on the block, Rir? I’ll take a safe bet and go for all three. All three sounds like a surefire win to me. I’m a guy who likes a surefire win. Like that time I bet on the 1919 White Sox to win it all. *Family Guy style sketch plays* Son of a bitch! Why the hell did they lose this World Series?! They were a surefire win! What, did they cheat or something? Throw the game? I lost thousands on them! *back to the present* Ehehe… maybe not. But I feel confident about this one. Considering how strong they all are, after all. Well, that’s enough from me. See y’all in the next chapter!