My shadowing led to the entertainment district for the rich. The carriage went backstage, behind a large booth guarded by security personnel so I stopped and took a look around.
The stage was set up at a clearing in the streets, garnering quite a bit of attention from passers-by. Rows of chairs were prepared for some kind of show, with quite a few people already seated. The event was drawing enough of a crowd that the soldiers on patrol had begun to take notice. However, it seemed like they weren’t going to intervene in an event that was most likely sanctioned.
After catching my breath for a bit, I saw someone handing out flyers. I came up to him.
“Excuse me, could you tell me what the commotion is about?”
The person looked up at me and paused for a moment when he saw my face, smiled and handed me a flyer.
“Here you go."
I took a look at what was written on it.
“That’s right.” The flyer boy nodded as I looked at the outline of the program. The way it was advertised with a mish-mash of uncoordinated colors made it appear incredibly shady, and it made me feel like the event was being presented in a comedic fashion.
Despite the tone of the flyer, the actual event itself was a formal auction, with this ‘Miledy’ person as its host. The items prepared for this auction appeared to be from the snowy mountains in the far north.
Snowy mountains. So that’s how it is, I scratched the back of my hair impatiently.
Just how unlucky is that girl.
“I heard that it’s going to get quite competitive too!” The flyer boy added.
“Is that right…”
“Yeah, everyone heard that Miledy brought back some insanely rare items, so various influential people are also participating tonight! Ah speak of the devil, there’s Amos-san.”
I looked at where he had pointed.
“He’s a famous gem collector, looks like he can’t wait as well.”
I immediately noticed who he was talking about because the person in question looked slightly different from the others. Amos had what one would call a “Sebastian” appearance. The aged man sported silvery white hair and a monocle on his right eye, giving off the vibe of a serious-type leader. His black suit was weaved with very intricate patchwork, and its shoulders adorned with a set of jewels. It was the second time I’d seen someone who exudes that kind of ‘rich’ aura. Amos just so happened to be eyeing his surroundings quite a bit, and his hawk-like eyes coincidentally met with mine. I frantically moved my face away from his line of sight. After a few seconds, that pressure of his gaze was finally gone, and I heaved a sigh of relief internally.
The flyer boy looked back at me and grinned while giving me a pat on the shoulder.
“Well don’t worry, Amos-san only bids for the gems. Unless you’re competing with him, you should be safe.”
(I’m not even sure I’m bidding though…) I nodded and left while retorting internally.
At the very least, I get the gist of what is happening now. I tucked the flyer into my pockets and exhaled a deep sigh. The problem is, what do I want to do about this situation.
...In the end, I decided to join the auction.
“Why am I even going this far…” I pressed my palm on my face with a groan. Did I really want to save that girl so badly? Or was that just an excuse to sate my curiosity?
Either way, I felt like I had to be here.
Seated in the fully-packed auction house, I looked at the pouch of coins that I had returned to the dormitory for. This was everything that I earned from all the odd-jobs that I’d done for one whole month. There was a bit more than what was recorded in my journal as it also included my emergency funds.
“...Five silver and sixteen copper coins.” I muttered under my breath.
When I looked at some of the people who were dressed far better than me like Amos-san, this sum of money looked even smaller in my hands now.
Whatever. In any case, I was already here. I might as well stay till the end and make a decision. Whatever happens, happens. I convinced myself.
As I waited for the auction to start, I also noticed that the woman sitting beside me had a collar on her neck. That was a mark of a slave. Now that I look closely, there are so many slaves around here. I guess it must be a common commodity for the rich...
The woman noticed that I was looking at her, and she nodded towards me with a smile. I nodded awkwardly in return, and turned my head away to look elsewhere. But every now and then, I could still feel her gaze on me. It was a little uncomfortable.
Before long, the auction signaled the start of the event. The commotion from earlier dwindled considerably, and there was a drumroll.
The large red curtain opens up to a woman with a conspicuous-looking top hat standing on stage.
Wearing a tailcoat along with a rainbow-colored scarf around her neck, her appearance resembles some sort of showy performer who parodied magic tricks. I immediately associated the name “Miledy” with this woman. It was definitely the style of the person who made that flyer.
“Mina-san~ How have you guys been? Did’ja miss Miledy-chan?”
The woman spoke into some sort of mic, transmitting her voice loudly. As expected, that woman was Miledy, I smiled wryly.
A round of laughter came from the audience, but not of the mocking kind. Even from the response of the flyer boy, I could tell that this woman was most likely a familiar face to the people in Halvan. When Miledy held up a hand, the laughter stopped.
“Okay okay, calm down, calm down. I know you’re all excited to see me, but let’s set the ground rules for the auction first.”
Miledy walked to the rightmost corner of the stage and pulled down a white sheet covering a floating pad.
“First, the audience must observe silence during a bid. Simple enough, because we don’t want troublemakers okay?” Miledy winked towards the audience, and another small round of laughter ensued. When she held up her hand, it stopped again.
“Second. Each bid goes up in increments of one silver coin—”
(One silver coin!) My forehead was filled with sweat. I wonder if I can even take the starting bids. Miledy continued while tapping on the pad with the rules written on it.
“The bids cannot be withdrawn once given, and if the bidder is found incapable of procuring said sum after the auction, some draaa~stic actions will be taken, so be careful okay~?”
Miledy nudged towards the side, where a group of dangerous-looking men stood. Looks like Miledy had prepared an ample amount of adventurers as her security detail. I wouldn’t expect anything less from an auction that probably had quite a bit of money at stake.
Speaking of which, I recalled that there was a quest for up to twenty Gold-ranked adventurers or higher as bodyguards a week ago. So that was in preparation for this auction.
At the front, Miledy continued speaking with a flamboyant tone.
“Finally, the highest bids win, of course. Immediately after each successful bid, personnel will escort the bidder to a room where the transaction of the auctioned items will be carried out~”
“Well then, enough of that. Today, we have quite the stock of quality items with us, sooo prepare your bids and make them count! ” Miledy scanned the audience and kept up the suspense. There was a wave of expectations when the crowd heard her proclamation. When she was finally satisfied with our reactions, Miledy raised a finger and pointed.
“Without further ado, let’s begin~!”
Applause was given to the end of her speech, and it died down as the lights on top of the stage went out. The auction was starting.
A man came from the side of the stage, pushing a stand on wheels covered with a red cloth to the center of the stage. When he locked the bottom of the stand firmly, the man returned to the side again.
“Thank you, Goro-Goro-chan~ Here, we haveee~”
Miledy unveiled what was covered under the cloth.
“Uooahh…” The crowd gasped in awe.
The stagelight shone down onto a glass case which stored a crystal dagger. Even at a distance, I could feel that it was a treasure that costs quite a sum.
“The first item of our catalogue featuring treasures found in the Altaur Mountains, [Glacial Thorn]. As you can tell, this dagger is created with the finest… …. ...”
—The auction continued for a long while. [Ice Resistance Gems], [Nevermelting Snow], [Skillbook, Frost lance]... ... With each and every item that came out, bids ended in numerous gold coins, and I continued through the show feeling even more defeated than before.
But while the items that were up for auction were definitely attractive, I had not intended to bid for them in the first place. Time passed like this as I continue waiting for the girl to appear on stage.
Then finally, Miledy began to introduce the one I had been waiting for.
“Next on the catalogue, we have… believe it or not, a beast-kin girl!”
My attention became focused again.
There was a commotion and some annoyed faces forming around me when Miledy declared the next item. I realized that these demihumans were hated more than I initially thought.
In that case, wouldn’t I stand out too much if I tried to bid now?
“Now calm down everyone… I understand what everyone is thinking, but this beast-kin is from a rare species of snow wolves. They are known to possess great strength and endurance, and through our appraisal marble we found out that this girl is actually already Level 9!”
“Level 9…” My eyes widened to Miledy’s introduction on the demihuman girl. There were a few voices of praise that roused the crowd too. However it wasn’t her level that made the girl more attractive. After all, most of Halvan's adventurers I overheard on the guild counters were roughly Level 15 to 40s. That is why a simple level 9 wasn't enough to entice the bidders. It was the more crucial fact that the demihuman girl could level up. A trait that allows her to raise her growth up to that level, only meant that she was in fact, an Ascendant! An Ascendant beast-kin, it was considerably rare to see one. I had no doubt in my mind that she would be heavily bidded for. No matter how much one detests their kind, it was a known fact that demihumans had far superior physical aptitude than humans. They were promising war potential in a party.
I immediately became worried, and looked around me. Everyone seemed to be interested in the girl too, as expected.
“As they say, it’s easier to see the girl in person. Bring her in.” Miledy beckoned the stage helper.
But he didn’t come out. Miledy’s smiling expression soured.
The audience began to turn restless, and Miledy too, revealed an impatient look.
“...Apologies, everyone~ It seems like there has been some problems backstage. I’ll be right back okayy~?”
Miledy trotted over to the side of the stage.
Miledy suddenly paused. Not many had paid attention to her as the audience had begun to talk amongst themselves, but my eyes had never left her. My improved eyesight caught every single detail.
Her eyes dilated for a second before it turned white, and her head lowered slowly—
—Miledy collapsed onto the ground.
To be precise, her head had fallen off her body separately.
A beat later when time had resumed from a brief, standstill moment, a fountain of red liquid gushed out of the point where it had been severed, landing onto the front row of the audience who had yet to comprehend what had just happened.
I as well, who had seen it from start to finish, had my mouth agape with shock. In that very moment, a cold silence fell upon the surroundings.
The head rolled down the stage, and fell onto the lap of a girl, its lifeless features facing her. The girl happened to be right beside me, so I could see the contortions changing gradually on her countenance.
From blankness, to surprise. And from surprise to realization. Realization to fear, and fear to—
That single scream incited the moment of panic. The girl fainted while holding on to the dissected head.
“What... the fuck?!”
“M-Miledy is… is dead!”
Everyone kicked away their chairs noisily and started scrambling away in all directions. With such a gory end to the presenter, the auction house was instantly enveloped in chaos.
Not many had paid any more attention to the center stage, and even for those that did, they were seemingly at a loss of what to do. The personnel were a mess, having not expected such a turn of events. But the alert few were already rushing up to the stage.
It was almost as if I was listening to my surroundings from the bottom of the ocean. All drowned out, disorganized.
Only I stared fixedly at the corpse, no, the thing behind the corpse.
That familiar window that appeared before me, I understood what it was immediately.
“Level… 50! And... a Boss monster!” The Abyssal Reaphrit was a monster I had never seen in the game before. I was completely taken aback by its chilling appearance.
A translucent being draped in a black coat. A large scythe was held in both of its hands, just like a grim reaper.
Did no one else see it?
Just as I thought so, one guy who was moving the headless corpse suddenly seemed to have taken notice of it! Invisibility? Cold sweat ran down my forehead, as I realized that this may have been the case, as its translucent state had completely materialized to an opaque black. Was a "Phantasm" a spirit too? Was that why I was able to see it first?
It was too late, the scythe swung down without warning, and this time its second victim was split into vertical halves. A heartless, split decision that ended the man’s life.
“AHHHHHHH!!!!!” The screams became even louder for some who had turned to look at what was going on. The crowd became even more frantic and ran haphazardly.
“A-Ah… eeh… u-uerghhh!” The other person beside the second victim vomited from the sight, but the reaper did not stop there, and he seemed to have realized it a moment later.
“A-gehh…W-Wait a moment, please… no, I don’t w—” He was still wiping the sides of his mouth, but the sharp edge reflected in his eyes had fallen down before he had any time to react.
The scythe swung in a crescent arc, a speed almost impossible for my eyes to catch.
And his death came just as explosive as the rest. Blood spilled from his body, splattering onto the stage in a wide crescent with its execution.
“Kentooooo!!!!!!!!” A man yelled out in grief. I just stood there in complete shock, unable to move.
Just then, one of the spectators who hadn’t left brushed past my shoulders, and turned back at me with a daring smile. It was a beautiful woman who had a very expensive looking robe. It had gold trimmings at the hems, and the majestic-looking art of a lion at the back.
“Don’t worry, commoner.” She declared confidently.
“This situation is under control. I’m a powerful mage! So stay behind me if you don’t want to get hurt! My spell is going to destroy everything!”
My heart was tense, unable to move at first. But hearing that proclamation, I thought that things were going to be in control. That’s right. There were other adventurers in this city. The authorities too… they were going to subdue that monster!
I could finally control my body from that paralyzing fear, and I scurried behind the woman.
“Here I come!”
A red formation glowed underneath the mage’s feet.
It really seemed like the spell was going to be strong enough to kill it!
“Air, expand and combust! Turn into a meteorite that obliterates my enemies!「Grand B—」”
—The incantation did not finish.
The reaper had blinked right before the mage and had extended a bony hand towards her. The magic circle was shattered.
S-hin—Just with that, the mage’s head was cleanly sliced off. Her headless body fell into my embrace, and I caught her on instinct.
Her life had ended in an instant.
Her bravery was not backed up with enough skill to surpass the monster, and the result was death.
The body fell down to one side, devoid of her initial vibrancy.
She was dead.
I fell down onto my butt, unable to come to terms with her loss.
She wouldn’t have died if she didn’t step up to help. She should have ran. I should have ran. Why am I not running. Why are my legs not moving. Move, goddamnit. MOVE! MOVE! MOVE! MOVE! MOVE! MOVE! MOVE!!!!
Standing before it, I stood there, motionless.
My mind was blank, but I kept my eyes locked on to the creature. I looked at it with such intensity that I slowly started to make out its eyes beneath that cloak.
It had eyes covered in black smog, a purple glow that symbolized the darkness.
And gradually, realization and fear began to take over. My legs started to shake uncontrollably, and tears were coming out from my eyes.
I thought my existence was going to end then and there. The reaper would take away my life in an instant, just like how it had to the others. At any moment now, it would—
“—How dare youuuu!!! How dare you!” A voice suddenly came from behind the reaper. It was the guy in warrior armor who had screamed the name “Kento”.
He had probably came for revenge, but I knew he was no match for this thing.
I wanted to warn him, but my mouth was dry.
This inability to move was too unnatural. When I opened my status window in my mind, I realized that I had been inflicted with the status impairment: [Fear].
Since when?! How do I remove it?! I raised my head and saw the man swinging down with a large two-handed sword.
Slow… It’s too slow! At this rate—!
“You killed them! UARGHHH!!!! You’ll p—”
The result was unfortunately what I had predicted.
A flash of silver appeared in the air for a brief moment, and the new challenger was impaled by a barrage of spikes that grew out of the monster’s skeletal frame. For a brief moment, I thought I could see the figure of a person beneath the cloak...
A shower of blood doused my face, the stench of iron and guts made my eyes dilate even narrower. My trembling had intensified so much that it had actually stopped for some reason.
My [Fear] debuff had disappeared?
And then, the most unexpected thing happened immediately after that.
As if it had completely lost interest in me, the reaper turned its back towards me and headed towards someone else!
(This… I’m… a-alive?)
The mere notion that I escaped death made me laugh brokenly. But only for a few seconds. Having experienced a near-death experience like this before, my mind cooled down before long and I was able to think properly again.
The final person left standing before the reaper had used the time bought from the previous sacrifices to draw his weapon properly.
But he didn’t seem like someone who stood a chance against that thing.
He steadied a sword stance, but I could tell from the trembling of the blade that he had also lost his nerves. In the face of crisis, not many people would have the willpower to actually remain calm.
“I don’t want to die…”
Rationality is lost under the heavy fear of death, this I understood.
“I DON’T WANT TO DIE!!!” With a battlecry, the man charged forward.
I knew how this was going to end.
With a horrified expression, I held back the surge of disgust welling up in my throat and ran away. I ran far away.
From the back, I heard another loud scream but I covered my ears and pretended not to hear it.
I was powerless. I was powerless again. But it’s not my fault, right?
Many of the adventurers who were hired to protect Miledy had already run away. They had probably only came for the money, and did not expect to stake their lives out against this type of monster. If I run away too, I won’t be blamed right?
...My feet slowed down gradually.
The image of that girl flickered in my mind.
Her eyes on the verge of tears. Her voice…
I remembered why I came here, and I stopped right in my tracks. I took a deep breath, and punched down my own face. The taste of iron in my mouth calmed my nerves.
“Get a grip, White…! Are you going to do nothing again? Is this really the ‘adventurer’ that you want to become? If you’re not going to take a step forward now, then when will you do so?!”
(...I’m… not going to be a coward again!)
My eyes burned with renewed resolution.
The stage was already empty, its surroundings were also devoid of people. Most of those who had kept their lives were the first ones to run. But that wasn’t everyone.
That’s right, there were still people that needed saving! I can’t always think of myself. I don’t want to become a hypocrite!
I hurried over around the stage with unsteady steps, enduring the nauseating feeling lingering throughout my body.
When I arrived backstage, there was only an eerie silence.
Various wooden crates were stacked from the ground.
Those probably contained the items that were originally meant for the auction. The corpses lying everywhere left behind severed guts, torn limbs, and pools of blood, transforming the place into a lair of massacre.
The bad feeling in my chest grew by the second.
(Please be safe… please be safe!) My heart thumped heavily as I repeated those words in my mind. I ran through a ton of bloodied crates, hoping to find the cage of slaves. Seconds had passed, but it felt like an eternity for me.
But even then, I kept searching.
I am going to keep that promise. I will definitely save her, and then… I’ll finally get to ask for her name this time!
The corners of my mouth curled up into a forced smile, and I found a bit more courage to push forward.