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5. Not Like me

I stared down the [Demon Larva] that I had just saved as he stood in front of me. At first I had thought he was about to attack me too, but when he did not move, I concluded that that was not the case. However, as to what he was really trying to do? I had no clue.

He had been on the verge of death before I interrupted his battle with the other Demon— the one that I recognized as an ‘it’ and not a ‘him’ or ‘her’. I still didn’t fully parse this distinction, but that did not matter at the moment. Because right now, I was trying to figure out what to do with this Demon.

It was odd— for some reason, he seemed to have recovered from his injuries rather quickly. I would have thought earlier that I would be able to defeat him with a few regular attacks, but with the way he was looking now, it would probably take more than just a [Fire Strike] to take him down.

In fact, he was not only looking better than before, he was also slightly bigger. His body appeared to be more solid. Perhaps…

I used [Identification] on him.

[Demon Larva - Lvl. 5]

It seemed that my musing had been right; this Demon had leveled up, which healed him somewhat from his injuries. Not only that, he had probably spent a significant amount of his Stat Points on his [Vitality], further regaining his health, as well as giving him a bigger form than before.

But how did he level? Was it because he had contributed in hurting the other Demon before I had defeated it? Was my experience shared with him because he damaged it beforehand?

I intuited that that was probably the case. And that irked me somewhat.

This Demon, who barely did anything and who I had inadvertently saved, had taken some of the precious experience I deserved from me? I had fought and struggled to gain that experience, and he reaped part of that reward? That was ridiculous!

I was irritated at him. He was simply just standing there uselessly in front of me, as if he was gloating that he was able to... to... steal from me. If I… defeated him, I’d get the experience back from him, right? That made sense, did it not?

But— something held me back; I… recognized him?

That was right. He looked slightly different now— he had limbs where he did not before. His entire body was red, which was not an unusual color; I had seen others of that color before. But the black and yellow spots on his back were what clued me into the fact that I had met him before.

He was one of the others! The ones in the first group of Demons I had met!

If I recalled correctly, he was only Level 2 back then. And now he was Level 5, after having escaped that large Demon that slaughtered the others...

Apprehension seized me, stopping me from raising my limbs at him. Wouldn’t I just be like the large Demon if I attacked him now? It attacked us without reason, other than maybe the desire to level and grow. Just like the other corybantic Demons. I did not want to be like them! I wasn’t an it. I was a she!

They were not like me!

I felt my irritation dissolve as a slight fear stopped me from doing anything to him. I took a look at his clueless face one last time before I whirled around. I’m not doing it. I started away from him. I will not do it!

With that resolve ingrained within me, I began my search for the next group of corybantic Demons to fight. As I did, I decided to test my new Skills out. First of all, I had leveled in [Basic Mana Manipulation]. It was now Level 2, which I could infer meant that I could manipulate mana better?

Sure enough, I could feel the flow of mana within and around me far better; it wasn’t the most drastic change, but it was noticeable. I decided to leave it be for now— I looked over at the first regular Skills I had. These weren’t General Skills, but Skills I gained because they came with my Subspecies? I wasn’t entirely certain, however there was a limit to how many I could have.

Right now, I had two of them. [Fire Strike] and [Basic Fire Conjuration]. I had distributed a Skill Point to each of them, and they were now both at Level 2.

[Fire Strike]. It wasn’t exactly what I used to defeat that Demon from earlier. It was similar, but while what I did was rough, simple, and differed with each hit— I could tell that this Skill was a lot more refined and consistent.

I raised a single limb, activating the Skill as I thrusted it forward. For a moment, red fire surrounded the nub I had swung, and with it came a power. A force that I knew dealt more damage than I could do just by swinging my limbs by itself. At the same time, I felt an equal amount of energy deplete from within me; the mana I had just felt surging through me earlier was less now by a small, but significant amount.

Alright, I already knew what that Skill was and could do. What I was more fascinated by was the other one— [Basic Fire Conjuration]. Judging from its name, I could extrapolate that it allowed me to conjure fire?

I had to test that out. I was almost giddy in excitement as I brought my forefront limbs out and focused. [Basic Fire Conjuration]!

I tried to create a fire. I was curious, but still reserved. So at first, I conjured a small flame. A tiny bead of crimson flame came to life between my limbs, staring up at me like a glowing eye. It reminded me of my own eyes— red, blazing.

Seeing what I had been able to create, I felt emboldened to do more. I was capable of more! I didn’t want a small fire anymore, now I wanted a big fire! One the size of me!

I felt a large chunk of mana leave my body into the surroundings, before it connected to the fire I held. The fire flared—

And my entire body sagged. I stopped in my tracks, feeling utter exhaustion set in. I could barely even hold up my limbs to keep the flames from falling onto me. And it was not even like the fire was that big. It was only about half the size of my head now, not anywhere near as large as I wanted it to be.

This was bad. I was so completely tired, I could barely even move. If I was attacked now—

Something bumped into me.

I spun around in a panic, throwing the fire at whatever had hit me. The fire simply fell to the white ground, lighting the rocky floor up for a moment before it was snuffed out. I stared at where my fire once was. This Skill was useless! I couldn’t even use it as an attack!

I stomped my limbs on where it had once been, more annoyed than anything that it had been a dud. I almost completely forgot that I had been bumped, and only remembered that happened when I saw the Demon from earlier tilting his body at me.

He had followed me. Why did he follow me? I glanced up at him curiously; was he planning on attacking me? I did not think so. Not only had I never been attacked by a Demon like him before, but he clearly did not mean to bump into me since it was so light I hadn’t even taken damage from that.

I dragged my tired body a tiny bit closer to him, and he did not move. He did not prepare to fight. He was just staring at me— at every one of my movements. I paused for a moment, considering this. Only a single logical conclusion crossed my mind.

He must be following me to learn how I became Level 7!

That had to be it. I remembered following the Level 3 Demons because I wanted to find out how they reached the level. It only made sense that he was doing the same here.

I looked at him— at his levels and his appearance— and decided that there was no harm if he followed me. So I waited there with him until I felt the exhaustion leave my body; that was something I had to deal with later. I had an inkling of an idea that I could increase the mana capacity in my body by raising my [Endurance]. But to do that, I had to level.

So once I was well rested, I turned once again, facing away from him, and continued my hunt for those wild Demons.

 

—--

 

Defeated [Demon Larva - Lvl. 5]!

Less experience is awarded for defeating an enemy with the help of others!

 

Defeated [Demon Larva - Lvl. 6]!

Less experience is awarded for defeating an enemy with the help of others!

 

Defeated [Demon Larva - Lvl. 3]!

Less experience is awarded for defeating an enemy half your level or less!

 

This wasn’t working out.

I had defeated a lot of Demons, many of them close to my level, and yet I still hadn’t leveled up yet. Normally, I would’ve probably reached Level 8 by now, and would be on the way to Level 9. But because of that Demon with the black and yellow spots following me, I was still at Level 7!

He would always rush in to attack any Demon that charged at me before I could defeat them myself. And maybe it was because he raised his [Strength] or something, but he was doing enough damage to them that I was apparently only getting ‘less experience’ from these encounters.

Of course, I was faster than him, so I would always be able to reach a Demon before him. But I would only be able to quickly defeat the lower leveled ones before he came— which made no difference since those gave me less experience anyway!

Because of this, my progress had slowed. And I really didn’t like that my progress had slowed. I needed to get rid of him somehow. But he was relentless.

Even if I moved at my top speed, trying to get away from him, he would always eventually catch up to me. And what was worse was that he realized that he had to keep up with me, so when he eventually leveled from these encounters against Demons more powerful than him, he increased his [Agility]. Now it was even harder to put distance between us!

It was almost like he was just following me to siphon free experience from the Demons I defeated.

I had been at a loss on what to do. I had contemplated maybe injuring him badly, letting me get away from him before he could catch up. But I remembered he had a lot of health. I would have to attack him for a while— and what would happen if he fought back?

These were difficult questions for me: I did not like having to think about this. So I put it off for the moment, having spotted a group of Demons in the distance. There were about five of them, and they were gathered at the foot of the small hill I had just finished cresting.

I was nearing a level up. I could tell I was almost there. So I approached them, looking to at least hit Level 8 before I decided on how to deal with the Demon following me.

However, as I got closer— close enough to use [Identification] on them— I realized these weren’t wild Demons. They were Demons like me.

He— no, that’s a she— is Level 5. She is Level 4. He is Level 6. She…yes, she’s Level 6. And he’s Level… 9?!

The highest out of all of them was even higher leveled than me. I was impressed, as well as curious. What did he do to get so high leveled? I knew now how to level unlike before, but still it struck me as odd that he was able to reach that level even with a group following him. Was there a special trick to it?

I wanted to go down there— I wanted to follow him to see what he did differently from me. But then, from my peripheral vision, I saw the Demon with black and yellow spots sidle up next to me. Then I remembered how little experience I would gain if I joined and fought alongside this group.

So I thought to leave; I thought I had no reason to approach them any further, since I was neither planning on following them or attacking them. However, as I was about to scuttle around the Demon with black and yellow spots, I realized he was looking longingly down at the group. Then I had a brilliant idea!

I had been about to go and he had begun to follow after me, but now I turned back around. I started down the hill, making sure that he came with me as I approached the group of Demons down below.

They all looked up as I arrived with him, turning to face me with slight confusion in their faces. A Demon, the highest leveled one who had a pair of odd, jagged protrusions on his head— were they horns?— stepped forward, glancing between the two of us.

I wasn’t sure what he was thinking, but that did not matter. I scurried behind the Demon with black and yellow spots, ushering him forward. The horned Demon cocked his head, as his group exchanged glances with one another.

I stopped right in front of him, raising my front limbs and pointing them at my unwanted companion. Take him! He can join your group! That was what I tried to convey.

I wasn’t sure if it worked. In fact, I thought it didn’t work when the Demons at the back just stared at the Demon with black and yellow spots, unmoving. He didn’t move forward either; he just looked at me with the rest of them.

I was left frustrated, frantically gesturing at him and at the group, until the horned Demon raised one of his long, sharp limbs. He held it there until I took notice of it and stopped moving, then he slowly aimed it in the direction of the Demon with black and yellow spots.

The horned Demon made his way towards him, as I backed up, and gently rested a limb on him. He patted him on the back once, and raised a limb in the direction of his group.

My unwanted companion looked back at me hesitantly. He pointed at me, but the horned Demon just nodded in my direction— as if he understood what I had been trying to do. I eagerly copied that gesture, nodding my head in return.

Three of his Demons came forward and began to lead the Demon with black and yellow spots to the rest of his group. I continued my enthusiastic nodding, as I watched my unwanted companion join the group.

I was overcome with relief— I could finally level myself without any trouble from him. It could go back to gaining regular amounts of experience for defeating the wild Demons. I was just about to leave, when the horned Demon raised his limb again as if asking me to stop.

I was grateful for what he did for me, so I halted as he approached me. He began making weird signals with his limbs, ones that I did not understand this time. I stared at him in confusion. What does he want? I wasn’t entirely sure.

I had been trying to decipher the meaning behind his actions when he finally reached me. He brought two of his limbs up—

And he struck me.

His sharp limb cut through my skin, spraying black out at him. I jerked in pain as he drew his limbs back up, as if to attack me once again. I just barely dodged it, putting a small distance between me and him.

The Demon with black and yellow spots had been staring in horror at what had happened, when suddenly the Demons at his sides assailed him too. My gaze snapped between the horned Demon and his group of Demons, as my mind slowly registered what was happening.

They weren’t the wild Demons who attacked everything without thought. They were Demons capable of thought. They were Demons like my companion. They were Demons like me.

And they had just attacked us.

 

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A note from MelasD

The Jungle Book's "I Wanna Be Like You" is such a good song


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MelasD

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