“What happened to this place?” Alysia asked.
“That’s what I would like to know,” I said, standing in the town square, a fountain feature in the center not only out of service but looking like it hadn’t been used in years.
I looked around the familiar setting, getting a sense of nostalgia. This was incidentally the same location where I had appeared in this world all those months ago. It had also been the location of my Return skill, the first one I had obtained from my Hero job. It had been months, yet the small village of old Chalm was virtually unrecognizable.
I had decided to return here first after finding a secure place to put Xin. She was basically catatonic since I killed Aberis, and dragging her around would definitely raise some alarms. However, upon arriving, the place was barely recognizable.
With the settlement and growth of Chalm proper, this village had been mostly converted as a service area for the main city. It functioned as a farmer’s market, a trading post, and a location for those who didn’t want to be restrained by the big city. Thus, it had ironically grown quite a bit as well over these last few months.
There were hundreds of new homes, taking advantage of the lack of a wall and the spacious natural plains that existed to the east of Chalm on the Aberis side. A couple of mansions were being built to cater to wealthy merchants and nobles who wanted larger places out in the country. There would likely be a time in a few decades when this would all become a suburb of Chalm, and these homes would be prime real-estate.
This town was only about a half-day journey from the main city of Chalm now that a road had been established between the two, so it was a good place for craftsmen to sell their wares rather than travel to the city where they would have to face trade taxes. I didn’t enforce the taxes, by the way. This was done by a trader’s guild. There was a guild for just about everything in this world, although I was only personally familiar with the adventurer, traveling, and slaver’s guilds.
What caught me off guard about this place was the current state of disrepair. It looked a bit like Chalm had looked when it was under the oppression of the dungeon, except that place had been haunted and it had been twenty years. This was only two months.
There was a distinct lack of people. That’s what caught me the most. With a frown, I walked down the street, looking around for anyone present. The town wasn’t to the level of being abandoned. I could see flickering candles inside various huts. They weren’t adapting glow stones for lighting like Chalm proper was. That meant that there were people here, but it was more like everyone was afraid to go outside. Work that had been taking place had just been abandoned on the spot.
“Hey, wait!” I saw a man sneaking from an alley.
As soon as I called him, he jumped and then began running, trying to enter one of the houses. Of course, how could I let him get away? He only made it two meters by the time I cleared fifty, appearing right in front of him. He ran into me, falling back onto his butt. He immediately cried out, backing away desperately.
“What is going on here?” I demanded.
“P-please! Let me go!” The man muttered desperately. “If I don’t get home to my family, they’ll find me!”
“Who? Who will find you? Who is doing this?”
“Come out… come out… wherever you are?” A voice sang out over the city.
“Oh… gods, they’re here!”
I frowned, looking up in the direction of the taunting call. The man turned and ran while I wasn’t looking. However, his ears weren’t very good, or perhaps his home was in that direction and he had no choice because he ended up running in the direction the voices had come from. I watched with curiosity as he made it about fifty meters when suddenly three women appeared from behind a building and grabbed him. He screamed as they tackled him to the ground.
These women were attractive girls, but they wore cloaks over their bodies hiding much of their figures. I could only just make out their faces. Two of the fairies held the man down while a third walked up to him. In her hand was a long whip.
“Well… well… well… look what we have here.”
“P-please… I need to get home to my wife and dau-” He stopped in mid-speech.
The lead girl’s eyes brightened. “A daughter? How interesting. I was just going to borrow a bit of your life force, but since you’ve got a daughter.”
“No! I misspoke!” He started to cry. “I don’t have a daughter.”
“Hehe…” She slapped the whip. “Tell me about this daughter of yours.”
She reached out, a long fingernail dragging down his cheek. “If you don’t tell me, I’ll suck you dry, and then find your wife, and I’ll suck her dry too.”
“P-please, no!” He shook. “She’s only six…”
“Oo… young…” One of the women laughed.
“Boss likes them young.” The third girl added.
“She’s just a little girl! Please don’t take her away!”
“You’re not in a position to bargain!” The woman snapped before looking at her the other two. “Strip him naked.”
“Ahhh!” The two subordinates used their sharp nails to cut away at his clothing.
I just stared at the scene with a blank stare. What the heck was I looking at? This was a roving band of women? They were so pretty it was hard to take them seriously, but they seemed to have taken over the town. More than that, they were acting like gang members or some kind of mob unit. What was this talk about sucking him dry, and why were they interested in little girls?
I decided that watching the guy get stripped naked wasn’t going to get me any answers, so I started to walk toward them. As I got closer, the lead woman who was watching the other girls strip the man finally noticed me.
“Eh? Another one bold enough to be out?” She muttered.
The other girls looked up from their tasks, seemingly easily distracted. “Huh? Someone else?”
“Ooo… it’s a big one.” Another said.
“There is… something alluring about his energy.” The lead girl looked on curiously.
“I want to suck him!”
“Me too! I want to suck him as well.”
As I got close to them, the leader threw a finger pointed right at me. “You! Big boy! Consider yourself lucky! You’re about to get sucked by three of us at once!”
A complicated expression appeared on my face. They seemed to have no awareness of the phrasing they were using at all.
“Master, yo-you mustn’t agree!” Alysia declared.
“Who said I was going to!” I shot back.
“I have to say that I’m confused.” I admitted. “What is going on here?”
“Hehe… so we have a virgin who hasn’t been sucked before.” The lead girl giggled in a lewd voice.
One of the other girls licked her lips. “He looks tasty.”
“I’m sorry, isn’t this the territory of Lord Deekson?” I tried again.
“This is boss’s territory!” One of the girls shouted.
“Who is Lord Deekson?” Another asked.
“I-I’m sorry to say… he died…” It was the man on the ground who spoke, looking nervously at the girls as he spoke. “These mons… these girls moved in shortly after.”
“Monsters?” I blinked.
Were they some kind of presence from the wilderness that took over in the power vacuum left over?
“You call us monsters! Do you want to be sucked dry?”
“We should stop talking and just finish him off already!”
“I don’t understand…” I shook my head. “Where is Elaya? Astria?”
The man jerked at those names, and the three women suddenly quieted. A dark expression started forming on each of their faces.
“You… you dare…”
“You blasphemer! You dare to use her name!” The leader shouted. “Girls, punish him!”
The man looked at me pitifully and then turned away. I didn’t have time to process anything else, because two of the women lunged at me. I turned; dodging the strikes they made with their claws.
“Fast!” I admired as I watched their hands move past me.
These weren’t common thugs. Their speed and deadliness were clear. They definitely would have put up a challenge for normal guards and soldiers. At my level, however, they were sorely lacking. The two girls slashed again and again with their hands, but with my status, I simply dodged each of their attacks, barely moving each time.
That’s when one of the girls suddenly disappeared and reappeared. That was a phase shift. It was a skill I wouldn’t have expected them to use. I instinctively pulled out Alysia to block her claw coming in from the side, but I was too slow.
“No!” I cursed, but it was too late.
I chopped the hand off of one of the girls. Alysia was just far too sharp.
“S-sorry!” Alysia cried out.
She hadn’t held back her physical cut. As the girl lost her hand, she leaped back. The other did as well. As far as I had come in white mage, I wasn’t at the point of being able to reattach limbs yet. Of course, there was always the option of killing and resurrecting someone, but going to that extent wasn’t good either.
“I’m sorry…” I responded, only to realize that while all three girls were glaring at me, the girl who lost her hand wasn’t reacting like a woman who had her hand cut off.
“You dare…” She growled, holding out the stump.
Suddenly, her hand seemed to reform from nothing. I looked down to see the hand I had chopped off disappeared into white light. Alysia tended to cauterize wounds as soon as she made them, so the lack of blood hadn’t caught me off guard. However, her arm reattached like it was nothing.
“Hehe… do you see now?” The leader grinned defiantly. “You can’t defeat us, puny human. It’s best if you just accept your fate and die!”
I glanced at the three strange women and then nodded. “So, you’re not human after all.”
She grinned. “Nope!”
“Good.” I smiled back. “Then I don’t have to go easy on you anymore.”