11. My Companion
I yelled at Haec as I flung myself out of the way of the large fangs bearing down on me. My companion struck the [Arachne] on its hind legs. The giant Demon with eight jointed appendages fell, its two back legs broken by his [Crushing Blow].
I leapt up to the head of the wild Demon as all of its dozen eyes snapped towards me. It tried to lash out with a spray of a dangerous liquid that melted through even the rocks on the ground. This acid went past me as I landed on its face, slicing down at its neck with my Spear of Flames. The spear jammed halfway through before I activated [Fire Strike], allowing me to shear the rest of it off before I lost grip of the weapon.
The [Arachne] collapsed, dead.
Defeated [Succo Arachne - Lvl. 17]!
Less experience is awarded for defeating an enemy with the help of others!
Subspecies [Zelus Imp] Level Up!
[Zelus Imp - Lvl. 14] -> [Zelus Imp - Lvl. 15]
Gained 5 Stat Points and 3 Skill Points!
I landed nimbly on my two feet, having completely accustomed myself to this body now. Black blood spilled behind me, pouring out of the decapitated Demon’s head in a deluge. I turned to Haec as he approached me.
“Did you finally level?”
I replied, grinning at him. Then I narrowed my eyes.
“You leveled too!”
I pointed out. He nodded eagerly, smiling and gesturing at himself.
“I’m Level 13 now, after that last encounter.”
I folded my arms instinctively, in what I recognized was a petulant action. I saw no reason not to act that way, so I did it.
“Hey! You leveled twice while I only leveled once! And in only two encounters too? That’s unfair!”
Haec simply raised his shoulders in a shrug.
“Those [Gadarenes] were all higher leveled than me, and so was this [Arachne]. Even though we beat them together, their experience is worth more to me as I was only Level 11 and 12.”
I lowered my arms and picked up my spear. I spun it around and inspected it— it seemed weaker now. It was still considered a Medium Grade Weapon, yet I knew it was degrading with each use, probably as a result of it being a fully magically created weapon.
I shook my head and turned to my companion.
“I just want to level faster.”
I was still higher leveled than him, but I couldn’t help but feel slightly envious that his rate of leveling was faster than me once again; I had felt this way before, and now I felt that way again. He would probably slow down in leveling speed once he was close to my level, but for now, he would level twice for every level I gained.
“Maybe we should leave this place then?”
My companion opined, glancing at the distant mountains behind us.
“We’ve barely encountered any of those ‘wild Demons’ as you call them, since we’ve come here.”
“But we’ve barely even explored this [Demon King’s Domain]!”
I protested, waving my hands up and down. I gestured at the hillocks— the sinuous landscape— around us.
“Come on! Aren’t you curious about what makes this place different? It’s a new area— it has even got its own name!”
“I know where you’re coming from, Salvos—”
I perked up as he mentioned my name.
“—or at least, I can try to see what you mean. But look at this place.”
The two of us looked at the ground around us. At the place we were at, and at the place we had come from.
“So far, there hasn’t been anything different about this [Demon King’s Domain] and out there. It’s all the same landscape— all the same hills.”
Haec turned back to me, a worried look drawn on his face as he continued.
“Don’t get me wrong. I’ll do whatever you want to do. You’re our leader. But I don’t know— I just don’t have a good feeling about this place.”
I considered this for a moment, torn between finding what made the [Demon King’s Domain] so special that it had its own name, and going back to a place where I could level faster. I rested the butt of my spear on the ground and huffed.
My companion brightened as I spoke hesitantly.
“You’re right. I just wanted to see what made this place different, but I guess so far that’s nothing. Anyway, it’s probably dangerous here. I had a feeling this might have been where that procession of Demons went— and if they find us, they’ll force us to follow them. And I don’t want that.”
Haec paused, staring at me. I cocked my head.
“Oh— I just never considered that.”
I stared up at the Demon with black hair and yellow streaks as he shifted his feet.
“Wasn’t that why you were apprehensive of this place?”
“No. I just didn’t like it because it was… different.”
I wasn’t sure how to respond to that, so I just made a noise. I turned around, picking up my spear and gestured for him to follow me.
“Come on then. Let’s just go.”
He was fain to do that, having stood there and averting his gaze from me for a bit. We left the body of the [Arachne] as we started back to the distant valley we had come from— or at least, I thought that was what that place was. Everything looked the same to me, so I wasn’t entirely sure if this was the right direction. Fortunately, the words in my head informed me that we were at least heading somewhere else.
Now Leaving [Demon King’s Domain].
I swung my spear around casually to accustom myself to using it— and also because it was fun. As I did, I began distributing my current Skill Points and Stat Points, having just leveled up again.
Alright, so I have 4 Skill Points and 5 Stat Points to use. I want to raise [Basic Fire Creation] because that’s good, so I’ll add 1 Skill Point to it. Hm, I also like [Fire Blast]— it’s useful when fighting packs of [Hellhounds] or groups of [Gadarenes], so I’ll give it 1 as well. I haven’t had a need for either [Double Step] or [Passive - General Tool Proficiency], so I’ll leave those for now. I guess I’ll just keep 2 Skill Points for later. And as for my Stat Points—
“Oh, I got a new Skill.”
I looked back at Haec as he spoke up. My companion stopped in place and I gave him an eye.
“Really? What’d you get?”
“[Passive - Tough Body]. I feel like I can take more damage now with it. And my skin feels more rough. It’s my fourth Skill— I got it from leveling up.”
“Wait, you got it from a regular level up?”
I gaped at him as he nodded slowly. He had a confused look on his face.
“Yes. What’s wrong?”
“I’ve only learned Skills or gotten them from my evolution! That’s unfair! How’d you get that?”
“I don’t know. It’s the second one I got from leveling up— the other two came from my evolution.”
I found myself frowning, but he went on.
“I’m just a [Tank Fiend]. Your Subspecies seems far more rare than mine— almost like that [Arachne] we had just killed. Perhaps that’s why you aren’t getting Skills from regular level ups? Because you’re learning them on your own, which lets you get a rarer Subspecies, which in turn gives you only the rare opportunities to get better Skills?”
I gave him a dubious look. I wasn’t sure if that fully made sense, but I accepted the explanation as I had none of my own.
He was probably telling the truth— or at least, believed that that was the truth. He did tell me he got [Tank Fiend] from his evolution, even though I only saw him as a [Fiend]. But that had been how my [Identification] had worked against those wild Demons as well. So I believed him.
He was my companion, after all.
We continued cresting up the small hill we were on as I glanced up to the sky, a thought crossing my mind.
“Hey, ever wondered what makes us different from those wild Demons?”
“Like are we different just because we’re different? What makes me Salvos, and what makes them… them? If it’s just instinct—”
I paused as a shadow loomed over me. I glanced up at the top of a hill, seeing a large light blue figure standing there. He was huge— twice the size of Haec, even. As large as the [Arachne] we had just killed.
The figure had straight black hair tied around the back of his head and facial hair that only ran down his chin. He was also wearing a strange piece of cloth around his legs and chest, an odd glowing ringed object around his neck, and he had on his hand a spiked weapon— a mace.
I took a step back as the figure spoke.
“Oho, what’s this? Two survivors— and Lesser Demons at that? That’s quite a feat, evolving even before the Desolation has come to an end.”
Haec backed up behind me, speaking in a warning voice.
“That Demon— I can’t see his level. What is he?”
What? I whirled around and to face the blue Demon, quickling using [Identification] on him as I raised my spear warily.
[Djinn - Lvl. 42]
I can see his level just fine? What is Haec talking about? As I glanced back at my companion, confused, the [Djinn] bellowed in laughter.
“Of course not, measly [Fiend]. I am a Greater Demon— far above your level. You can’t fathom the power I hold as opposed to you.”
Haec tensed, but I spoke reassuringly to him.
“Don’t worry. I can see his level. He’s a Level 42 [Djinn]. I— I don’t think we can fight him.”
The [Djinn] cast his gaze to me, eyeing me with sudden contempt.
“You— I see, you must’ve spent quite some time raising the level of your [Identification]. Hrmph, an unexpected ability to level. But it would only make you more valuable.”
I jabbed my spear in the direction of the Greater Demon, bringing a hand out in front of my companion as I shouted at him.
“What do you want, [Djinn]? We do not wish to fight you, and you have no reason to fight us. Even if you defeat us, the experience you gain will be meager. Leave us— we will not bother you.”
He laughed once more, this time placing his hands on his rotund belly and bending over.
“You won’t even be able to harm me if you tried. No— I have no reason to fight you either, imp. So follow me, or I will make you.”
“I'm not just an imp. I'm Salvos."
I bared my teeth dangerously, mimicking a [Hellhound].
"Where will you take us if we go with you?"
“I was on my way to a contract. So first, I’ll bring you to my lair. Then I shall bestow you to our King, Regnorex. He shall greatly reward me if you prove yourselves useful to him.”
King? As in Demon King? So he wanted to take us back to the [Demon King’s Domain]. I had my interest slightly piqued by this: I wanted to ask this Demon King what he did to get such a vast piece of land to himself.
I felt a tap on my shoulder. I looked over at my companion as he whispered to me, panic in his voice.
“Maybe we should just listen to him, Salvos. He’s more than twice our level— and perhaps this Regnorex will be nice to us.”
I was tempted to agree, although I had a warning voice in the back of my head telling me not to, because the Greater Demon might have been with those dangerous Demons we had seen in the valley. I was still in thought when I snapped my head to the side. The [Djinn] blurred forward, suddenly towering over Haec.
The Greater Demon struck down at my companion, striking him across the chest with a fist and forcing blood out of his mouth. I stared at this, aghast.
I sliced my spear at the [Djinn], but even at his size, he managed to dodge it. I ran over to Haec as the [Djinn] backed away.
“Are you alright?”
“I’m… fine. I just… agh.”
He coughed up more blood as I held him by his back. The [Djinn] simply shook his hand as he muttered.
“Hrmph, more durable than I thought.”
I glared up at him.
“Why did you do that?! We said we would go with you!”
I raised my Spear of Flame in his direction, yelling at him.
“You did. But you disrespected our King. That is a sin deserving of death. Be grateful that I only struck you once. Perhaps you shall remember to never refer to King Regnorex with familiarity.”
“You attacked us for that?
I looked at the [Djinn] disbelievingly. Then I turned back down to my companion who was struggling to stand up.
“Yes. Now come. We don’t have time to waste— I shall complete this contract quickly, and you shall present yourselves to our King.”
I slowly turned away from Haec as he got on his feet. He tried to say something, but clutched his chest as I patted him on the shoulder. Then I stared up at the [Djinn] with defiance.
The [Djinn] narrowed his gaze. Then he sighed.
The Greater Demon crashed his mace to the ground, sending a plume of smoldering gas in my direction. I leapt to the side, going around it and rushing in at him. I closed the distance as fast as I could, then slashed at where he stood—
And he wasn’t there.
I whirled around as the [Djinn] appeared behind me.
“Fast, but not fast enough.”
He swept the ground with his giant mace, cracking the ground as it came at me. He was faster than me. I watched the weapon come at me, too fast for me to dodge.
I just barely moved out the way in time. But the [Djinn] wasn’t finished. He charged after me, swinging his mace wildly. I tried to parry the attack with the Spear of Flames— and while the weapon absorbed most of the impact, the hit still sent me flying.
I landed at the bottom of the hill, rolling for a moment before I forced myself up. I glanced up to see the [Djinn] running down after me. I pointed and sent a [Fire Blast] at him. The Greater Demon just laughed.
He didn’t block the attack. He let the fire burn at his skin, only leaving a slight mark on his exposed stomach. I stepped back, creating a small ball of fire and threw it at him instead. He frowned, then knocked it aside.
“A fire creation Skill? Hrmph, so a rare evolution then.”
He then reached to grab me.
“Come now, or I shall have to break your legs.”
The [Djinn]’s palms hovered over me, about to close on me. Then I stabbed it with my spear and he howled, backing up.
“What is that?!”
I spun the spear around, grinning.
“A Spear of Flame. And [Fire Strike]. Also, you talk too much.”
He didn’t get to finish his sentence as Haec leapt on him from behind.
The Greater Demon recoiled, staggering forward as I rushed forward at him, aiming for his eyes—
An explosion of fiery smoke burst out around him, sending Haec and I flying back. I tumbled on the ground, skin flaking off from the heat. I finally came to a stop, but as I tried to stand up, the [Djinn] was there. He swung out at me once again and I tried to dodge—
And I did, but the Spear of Flames went sailing away as the mace struck it out of my hands. My eyes widened as I saw this, and before I could run to get it, he picked it up slowly.
“A Medium Grade Weapon— how did you get this?”
“As if I’ll tell you!”
I flung another small ball of fire at him, and this time he took it. He actually flinched as it broke on his chest, leaving burn marks where it struck. But other than that, he was unharmed.
He gripped the spear which seemed relatively small on his hand and pointed it at me.
“If you won’t come— I’ll just kill you and take the [Fiend] instead. One is better than none.”
A ball of smoke shot out at me. I used [Double Step] to dodge to the side, but the impact still knocked me back. It felt almost physical— no, it was physical. Ash? It was ash! And it was burning off my skin!
The [Djinn] was preparing another attack. I saw it, but I was already hurt. Even when it missed, it damaged me significantly. If it actually hit me— I would die. I didn’t know what to do. I almost stood there, frozen, when a voice broke me out of my stupor.
Haec leapt onto the back of the [Djinn], knocking him off balance and making the ball of ash go wide. I blinked, unsure of what to do for a moment. Then I saw the Greater Demon struggle to pull my companion off his back as my companion pointed.
“Escape! You can do it!”
I hesitated— then I obeyed.
I spun on my heels, dashing up the hill and away as fast as I could. I heard the [Djinn] shout and a loud crash as he threw Haec off his back. He tried to run after me, sending balls of ash in my direction.
But I remember. At this moment, I spent all 5 of my Stat Points on [Agility] and all 2 of my Skill Points on [Double Step]. I activated the Skill as enough time had passed, and crested the hill, escaping from the ash balls flying over my head.
I continued running even when the attacks stopped. Even when I turned around and saw no one there, I continued to run. Then finally, I stopped.
I had escaped the Greater Demon’s pursuit. I wasn’t sure when he stopped chasing after me, but he did. And he had taken off with my companion— Haec.
I walked around in a daze, as though a veil were hanging over my head, and at a loss of what to do. Was [Rest] working at the speed I was moving? I didn’t really know. All I knew was that I was alone now.
Was that so bad? I had been alone for most of the time I had been alive. Even the time I had spent with Haec was minute in comparison to the time I had spent on my own.
He did save me. He helped me escape. And now he would be taken to some king— Regnorex. Perhaps it wasn’t so bad. Perhaps the Demon King would help him become a Greater Demon too. That was always a possibility, right?
But then, what would I do? That seemed simple, right? I would just level, like I had always done!
And I saw myself— an [Imp], just standing there alone. I was throwing fire at my enemies, killing them solely for their experience. Just to level up, again and again. There was nothing else to my actions. To my existence.
Was leveling all there really was to my life?
No— I had to have a better reason than that. I enjoyed leveling. Everytime I evolved, I felt more complete. But that was not me. I was already me. If I were to act only on my instinct to become something else, I would be no different from the mass of wild Demons.
I had to have some sort of discerning quality beyond my physical appearance that distinguished me as myself. I was not just another rock lying amongst an endless sea of rocks. I would not drown in my own revel that came from evolution. I had to become more than another piece of the rubble that came from the mindless breakings of life. That was why I decided not to kill Haec in the first place.
He was my companion. I didn’t really think of myself as his leader— but perhaps I had been. Whether or not that was true didn’t matter. We both agreed that we were companions, and he was the only one who ever recognized me as… me.
Maybe we would not always be together. Maybe something could happen in the future that would separate us. But that didn’t matter, because he had acknowledged me, I, too, would have to acknowledge him.
I slowly felt myself regaining control of my movements, no longer in a thin-stringed trance. I stepped forward and finally sheared the [Imp] in half, my claws breaking into its face as it struggled, trying to burn me. I finished the wild Demon off, and got up.
Defeated [Imp - Lvl. 20]!
Experience is awarded for defeating an enemy!
Subspecies [Zelus Imp] Level Up!
[Zelus Imp - Lvl. 15] -> [Zelus Imp - Lvl. 16]
Gained 5 Stat Points and 3 Skill Points!
With those words of victory in my head, I started back in the direction I had come from, searching for Haec.