At this point, the sun was starting to set. It had been an extremely busy day for me. I had accomplished so much, but it felt like it wasn’t nearly enough. I had hoped to make it to Chalm today, but I still had a lot that needed to be handled here. Astria was still shaken, and Celeste had only just appeared. I still had to do something with the fort Astria had started to build, as well as the fairy army.
Since Celeste had emerged from the mana spring, its strength had severely declined. Now, it was little more than a sputtering crack of mana, and I had a feeling it wouldn’t survive much longer. In Celeste’s final push of evolution, she had consumed the majority of the remaining mana. It proved that Astria’s actions hadn’t been in vain, and she had succeeded in making Celeste more powerful than before.
The three of us left the area where we had battled and walked toward the castle. As it grew closer, I shot Astria a look. She seemed to wither under my stare.
“I know what Master is thinking. Master is thinking I was building the fairy palace to satisfy my own vanity.”
“Master is correct!”
“You admit it?”
“S-sorry! I just felt that if I was going to protect this land, I should rule it from a proper position…” Astria cried. “I was weak!”
That was quite an understatement. This palace was only started, but I could see that it would have been many times larger than my mansion once it was complete. Furthermore, the way it had been positioned, it was being showered with mana, which likely soaked into the building materials and also changed the nature of this palace. Then, there were the fairies that had been fluttering around it, weaving mana into its very seams. It was an incredibly ambitious project, started by an uninhibited dark fairy going all out.
The fairies weren’t in the sky currently. Instead, after having been knocked out of the sky once by me, and then denied flight by the wind fairy Celeste, they had all watched us from a distance. They looked on curiously, but at one point I heard one of the fairies call out.
“It’s him! It’s Mistress’s Master! He’s returned!”
All of the fairies kept their distance, but they all looked on with curiosity and excitement, as well as a certain degree of reverence. All of the bitterness they had shown before had been gone. It seemed like some of the fairies that had evolved were fairies that had known me from months before, and had come to recognize me. At the time, I would have said there were maybe thirty fairies around the fountain, and now I saw close to two hundred, so they had definitely multiplied since I had last seen them, and many of them would have never seen me before. Plus, it hadn’t been long after my body had changed that I left the city of Chalm.
The fairies weren’t the only ones waiting at a distance. The people who had been tasked with building the palace and taking care of the children, Astria’s slaves, had stopped their construction and were now watching us with a bit of hope and confusion. Everyone could see that the once proud and overbearing fairy queen that had bullied the entire district from above was now walking alongside and deferring to two others.
As I looked upon the project that Astria started, I slowly nodded to myself. “I think we should continue to build this palace. It’s in a good spot, and I have a feeling my mansion isn’t going to be large enough eventually.”
With that, I had staked the location of my new home.
“Master, here.” A girl handed me a flower.
“I made you a heart.”
“I’m just Lord Deekson to you.” I coughed awkwardly.
Once reaching the palace, I had gone to the children first, using my White Mage skills to their best use making sure they were all healthy. Thankfully, Astria’s actions hadn’t done any lasting damage to the girls. Actually, that wasn’t true. It was clear that her using these innocent girls like a mana sieve had done something to them, but it wasn’t clear whether that something was bad or not.
First off, although they were children, they lacked the dirtiness of humans. That wasn’t meant to be insulting, but humans, especially ill ones, tended to look unwell. These girls all had perfect skin, perfect hair, and it was like all of their imperfections were blasted away. They also seemed to be extremely bold. I never saw myself as being scary, but a guy over six feet tall should intimidate a little girl. Yet, as soon as I appeared, these girls beamed at me and started to fawn over me. Now, they were starting to call me Master.
I shot Astria another look.
She threw her hands up helplessly. “I’m as clueless as you. They aren’t fairies… not exactly. However, they’re not exactly human either. Their souls have been flooded with mana. I suspect, in time, they will all become powerful mages.
To confirm her theory, I used my God and Devil Eye to look at a few of them. Every single one of them had unlocked Basic or Apprentice Magician. She was right, their long-term exposure to mana had somehow turned them into little mage monsters.
“Deek Deekson, my lord. You’ve truly returned.” An unfamiliar man said, wringing his hat in his hands before shooting Astria a nervous look.
“You don’t need to worry about Astria anymore.” I declared.
He let out a breath. “Yes, my lord. However, I want you to know that although we have lived in fear, the fairy queen hasn’t been awful to us. Most of us working on the palace were volunteers because it allowed us to be closer to our children here. She’s kept us fed, and kept any monsters at bay. In truth, if she wasn’t here, many of us would have fled already.”
“Fled?” I started to ask before I understood. “Chalm…”
“It’s worse than before, my lord. The darkness radiating from that city… I… I have something to show you.”
“Hmm?” I put the girls who were climbing on me down and then stood up. “Show me.”
The man didn’t take me far. There was a cage that resembled the slave cages I had seen in the capital, except much smaller. It was placed in a spot hidden out-of-sight. Inside, there was a single man. He was on the ground, his head down, and was rocking back and forth, mumbling something in words I couldn’t make out.
“What is this?” I asked.
“This is a man who came from Chalm. He’s the only one we’ve managed to recover.”
I reached out to touch the cage when the man suddenly looked up. His eyes were red, and he had the sharp teeth of a canine. He leaped at the cage, growing viciously as he tried to bite me. I jerked back.
“He’s been turned into a werewolf!”
“Actually, he’s just a wolfkin. The red eyes and fangs he already had.” The man coughed.
“R-right…” I responded, looking at the wolf tail sticking out from behind.
Chalm was majority animalkin. I had almost forgotten.
Physically, the wolfkin wasn’t any different. However, he wasn’t acting like a standard citizen either. It was like he had gone completely feral. I reached out and cast several different spells to alleviate status misalignments and to heal him. After using Cure Disease, Cure Poison, Remove Curse, Purify, and even Ablution, the wolfkin was still growling in a low voice, unrecovered.
“This might not be something you’ll be able to resolve,” Astria spoke quietly. “We might need the other girls to resolve this.”
“Where are my girls? Have any returned?” I turned to her questioningly.
“They… have not.” Astria shook her head. “I do not know where they are.”
“Shao returned to my old world,” I explained. “I adjusted her bond so her life was no longer connected to my own before she left. I wasn’t sure how it would respond to us being in different worlds, and I wasn’t going to risk her life on it. Besides, the need to restrain her with a bond no longer seemed necessary. As for the Slave Guild, well, she’s in another world, how are they going to know? Either way, she should be safe there. I’m not even sure she’d be aware I died.
“As for Lydia, she went north looking for a skilled swordsman to teach her beyond the restraints of her levels. Terra went underground, following an ancient tunnel to the Deep with Garnet to recover some rare minerals. Miki went west to a certain dungeon to improve her undead abilities. Other than Shao, all three of them said their journeys could take up to three months, so it’s not too worrying they haven’t returned yet. However, if they think I’m dead, that changes things.”
“Miki would be the closest.” Celeste declared.
“Her ability to deal with souls would be very valuable. We should try to find her immediately. Daughter, you have speed. You should be able to find her and return quicker than anyone else.”
I didn’t respond to their decision, as my attention was instead focused on the growling man. I had tried to purify him, and I wasn’t able to fix him. However, what if he was under some kind of karmic infection? It would be something similar to what I had experienced in the Twilight Dungeon. I switched out my White Mage job for Mimic instead. This time, I tried to place him under Karmic Control.
The girls let out cries as I reached through the cage and touched him. However, as soon as I touched him, he let out a whimper. I reached into his soul, and there I found it. For lack of a better word, it was a form of soul control. White Mage purification and Ablution was simply far too broad to catch something like this, which was hidden in the soul itself. I flipped the switch. The man let out a sudden scream and then collapsed to the ground.
The man who had guided me here let out a cry. “Wh-what happened?”
“He’s fine,” I stated after doing a quick check. “He’s just unconscious. When he wakes up, he should have his mind working again.”
“So, there is a solution.” Celeste let out a breath.
“Astria… what exactly is going on?” I demanded.
I had been putting off this question for a while until Astria was prepared to tell me, but now I didn’t feel like I could wait any longer.
Astria’s face flushed. “What is going on in Chalm… I’m not sure Master will be able to fix it on his own.”
“Damage?” I narrowed my eyes. “I think you need to tell me exactly what happened in Chalm.”
“Yes…” Astria looked down. “I’m not sure if I can describe this properly. In short, Chalm is now a dungeon, and everyone in it are Elaya’s monsters!”