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Chapter 134. Correlation Between Changed Variables (2)
The demon spoke very grandly, and he continued his self-introduction like he was fixated on keeping a cool appearance. If he had been on Earth, people would have rolled on the ground, clutching their stomachs at the level of cringe. However, they were on Liber. This wasn’t something they could just laugh off here.
‘Demon Empire.’ They were one of the four main factions currently battling for supremacy over Liber, and this faction had enough power to deal with the Coalition of native monsters and the Abyss from both sides. And in such a faction, this demon had enough skill to be ranked 63. Chi-Woo couldn’t be certain, but it seemed clear that this demon was some important figure, incomparable to the lich they had met before at least.
‘Why is the Demon Empire…?’ The expedition team appeared agitated. Chi-Woo forced himself to shake off his thoughts and make guesses later. He needed to weigh the importance of their current problems, and the matter in front of him took priority. Thus, Chi-Woo decided to ask once more.
“Did you cause this situation, sir?”
Andras, the owl demon, looked quite offended. His pride seemed to have been injured, and his face seemed to say, ‘Even after I revealed my ident.i.ty, you dare to accuse me of such?’
“…You respond to my question with a question of your own? But since you at least have the basic courtesy of addressing me with respect, and we are in a situation such as this, I will think of this as an information exchange.” Andras spoke like he was doing Chi-Woo a favor before continuing his speech.
“If you are asking about the situation of this mysterious world, I’m not the one who caused it.” Andras then stated that he had only found the barrier to this world by mere coincidence. “When I came, this place was already in this state.”
After Andras ripped through the barrier with some difficulty, he found something that intrigued him. This was a world dictated by strange rules he had never seen before: humans were either hiding or running away while begging for mercy, while alien species ran amok. Since it was something he had never experienced before, the place piqued his curiosity very much. Unfortunately, this satisfaction didn’t last long, and after playing around the area excitedly for some time, he quickly became sick of the place, chiefly because he no longer had any playmates to enjoy the fun with. Thus, he decided to return. It was then he realized…
“I couldn’t go back,” Andras said calmly, “Unlike when I first entered, I couldn’t make a mark on the barrier no matter how much I tried to get through,” Andras spoke like he wasn’t willing to reveal this truth but couldn’t help doing so. “It seems they created this area so that beings inside couldn’t get out, and only those from the outside could open the barrier… I must admit it. Whoever created the barrier is quite skilled.”
Andras licked his lips with his long tongue. “Even in the Demon Empire, there is unlikely to be many who could create such a meticulous yet long-lasting barrier. I really want to see the face of the person who made this.” Andras said. After a short pause, he added, “Well, if only I hadn’t lost most of my powers as soon as I entered, I could have broken it in an instant.” It was as if he didn’t really want to admit all this. Anyways, to summarize, it didn’t seem this demon was connected to the current situation at the academy.
“But why were you on the roof…?”
“Because there’s a method that should get me out of here,” Andras answered, “I’ve finished a.n.a.lyzing the barrier. All I have to do is solve this problem. But…since the barrier is so big, this isn’t enough.”
Chi-Woo had been listening intently to the demon when the demon’s words suddenly derailed all his thoughts.
“Perhaps I need more sacrifices.”
“…What? What did you just say?”
“Hm? I said sacrifices. Sacrifices.” Andras very nicely pointed at the pile of corpses at the center of the roof.
“Then, regardless of the situation, the reason why the roof ended up like this…”
“Ah, yeah I did that,” Andras immediately admitted, like the fact was entirely trivial. “…What’s that look on all of your faces?” Andras tilted his head like he couldn’t understand the expedition team’s reaction. “The humans here drew their swords and murmured incantations as soon as they saw me. Even though I’m not the one who caused this situation, they all jumped to the wrong conclusions. Those stupid fools. It’s the same for the aliens. I can’t even attempt to communicate with them at all, and all they do is rush at me and try to take over my body. Thus, I simply defended myself against those who attacked me first. Is that a sin?” Andras asked. “Winners have full authority over the losers. What’s the problem with using those who tried to exploit me for my own benefit?” After finis.h.i.+ng his speech, Andras jerked his chin like he was prompting them to answer. Chi-Woo struggled to come up with a response; there was nothing in Andras’ words he could refute.
“…Well, there were some who begged for their lives though.”
“But in the end, I killed them all.”
The others’ faces hardened again, while Chi-Woo’s eyes narrowed. ‘Ritual’ was a word he didn’t like very much because of the bad memories he had about it.
“So,” After listening quietly, Shadia spoke exasperatedly, “You killed all of them to break the barrier?”
“That’s right. There’s nothing more effective than offering sacrifices when you lack power.” Andras seemed to suddenly feel tired from repeating the obvious and let out a long sigh. Then, he shrugged at the expedition team. “Hm. I think I have provided you all with enough information on my end now.” Since he had answered all their questions, it was now their turn to answer.
“Let me ask. How did you all come here?” Andras waited patiently at first, but after n.o.body answered, he seemed to reach the end of his patience and demanded, “…Why aren’t you answering?” Anger gave his voice an edge. “For my deal with you, I have faithfully fulfilled what was asked of me. But you all…!”
Seeing signs of an angry outburst, Shadia looked anxiously over her shoulder, meeting Chi-Woo’s eyes once before facing forward again and quickly opening her mouth.
“Don’t you already know?”
“Didn’t you enter through the same method as us?”
Shadia mixed lies with truth and posed a counter-question to determine why the flow of the outside barrier was strange.
“The same method as me…? You all managed to rip through this strong barrier like me?” Andras’ anger subsided. “You did?” His tone dripped with derision before he continued, “…Well, that’s something I can check. You all should be prepared if it isn’t true.”
Shadia frowned. “Check? How?”
And here came her answer. Wing! Simultaneously, there was a m.u.f.fled sound accompanied by vibrations. The blood painted on the roof began to scatter light. The pile of corpses at the center and others strewn everywhere thumped up and down. As if water was rising from bottom to top and the world was turning upside down, the jet black night sky s.h.i.+mmered, and geometric patterns came into view to fill up the s.p.a.ce.
Shadia looked blankly at the air like she couldn’t believe it. Meanwhile, Andras screamed in triumph, “Oh! Oh, oh—!”
“I can’t believe it! The pa.s.sageway is open! Furthermore, it’s being maintained? How! It’s something even I hadn’t managed to do…!” Both his hands trembled and momentarily stopped. “But…why? It’s definitely connected to Liber, but why had the power I lost not come back? Is the pa.s.sageway so specific that it excludes me from it?” Andras muttered while looking at the barrier making up the night sky. “Well, whatever. The important thing is that the pa.s.sageway is open.”
Then, after talking to himself for a while, Andras turned back to the expedition team and smiled in acknowledgment. “Good. Very good. I don’t know what you did, but that is impressive considering what you are. I was prepared to disintegrate and forcefully break through the barrier after gathering as many sacrifices as I could no matter what happened to the outside, but…”
“W-What? Are you crazy?” Shadia shouted; it seemed she understood exactly what Andras meant by this, and Chi-Woo felt gooseb.u.mps for reasons he couldn’t quite explain. For a moment, he wondered if La Bella had led him to this place to stop Andras from doing what he was planning to do.
“It definitely is a crazy thing to do. But you don’t have to worry anymore since I no longer have a need to do that.” Andras smiled brightly and lowered his hands. The strange energy current he’d gathered dropped instantly, and the geometric patterns in the night sky gradually became fainter until silence returned.
“But…” Andras’ voice dropped lower. With his hands down, he turned to the expedition team and said, “I still need more sacrifices.”
The expedition team’s faces hardened.
“I checked the hole you came out of, but it’s already closed. Although the pa.s.sageway has formed, only the connection is maintained.” Andras glanced at the expedition team and said, “If I want to break the barrier there, I just need a few more sacrifices. A tiny little more…”
As they felt Andras’ gaze fall upon them, everyone tensed and raised their guard. Andras smirked like he could read their wariness.
“Don’t worry you all.” He made a placating gesture with both hands pus.h.i.+ng downward. Then, after clearing his throat, he said, “I’m going to make you an offer. Although I took care of most of them, there are still some survivors left—whether they are humans in hiding, or wandering alien species. Anything is fine.”
At that point, everyone understood what Andras was trying to tell them. Then, Andras spoke like a king showing great mercy. “If you all spare me the trouble of finding these deeply hidden sacrifices, I will also spare you all the trouble of activating this magic circle.”
It sounded reasonable at first. The deal would be worth considering if there were only alien creatures who jumped at the chance to steal their bodies. Yet, even after all this mess, there could still be human survivors left, and they might request their help. Chi-Woo hesitated to even use the corpse of the dead knight by the bridge as a sacrifice, how could he catch a living person and offer them as one? It wasn’t something that his conscience would allow. And that wasn’t the only problem.
“Even if we did what you told us to do, what if there aren’t enough sacrifices?” Shadia got to the point of their concern.
“Then…” Andras scratched his chin and spat out, “You will have to number yourselves.”
Everyone doubted their ears.
“Number ourselves? Are you telling us to decide the order in which we’ll become sacrifices?”
Andras nodded to Shadia’s question.
“And you are going to slip away as a result?” Shadia asked.
“I am not slipping away. I’m sparing you all.” Andras smiled. “You don’t think that I, who is ranked 63 in the Demon Empire, would make a deal like this because I can’t do anything to you all, do you?”
It was as Andras said; even if he had lost a lot of his strength, he was still a demon—a particularly skilled, talented figure in the empire. He wasn’t someone a hero who had just recovered a tiny bit of their original power could harm.
“But I don’t want to use my powers meaninglessly. And it’s true that I was able to find another method of escape thanks to you. Thus, I’m sparing you with all that in mind.” Andras waggled his index finger left and right. “Do not misunderstand me. Plus, for the activation of this magic circle, I need to be the last one alive.”
“…I admit that you had worked out the structure of the magic circle. But haven’t you already made it? I can activate it without you.”
“Hm. You can?”
Andras raised an eyebrow as Shadia gave as good as she got.
“Well, then, you can be the last one standing with me. I suppose we’ll go back to this issue should we become the last two survivors.” Andras’ two round eyes radiated a brilliant light. “I’d hash out the details of my deal here. And since I want to leave this place and go outside as soon as possible, I want you all to answer me immediately. Are you going to accept my offer?”
Chi-Woo thought it was a nonsensical deal; as soon as Andras talked about sacrifices, he had no intention to accept; he thought the rest of his team would agree with him for sure.
“Um…What do you think?” Shadia hesitated and looked around. “I don’t think it will be a bad deal to accept for now.”
‘…What?’ Chi-Woo furrowed his eyebrows. He thought he misheard her.
“Are you telling us to join hands with the devil?” Snowy Mountain sounded incredulous.
“What choice do we have? It is what it is.”
“So, are you planning to offer human sacrifices that may or may not be there?”
“Who said that’s how far we should go! I said ‘for now’!” Shadia raised her voice. “You saw it too—the alien creature and the dead knight by the staircase. Would it matter to use those as sacrifices?” The alien creature was their enemy, while the knight was already dead. Then, with some hesitancy, Shadia continued her shocking spiel. “And…even if there are human survivors, I don’t think there’s an alternative, either. They should already be dead. And we have to make the right decision for the greater good. I mean, I’m sure you all know… Sometimes, you have to sacrifice the few for the majority.”
Snowy Mountain looked like he couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “Next, you are going to say we should determine the order in which we are sacrificing ourselves.”
“I don’t want things to go that far if possible, but…” Shadia appeared conflicted, and Snowy Mountain shook his head.
“I can’t bear to hear you any longer.”
“Hey, do you think I’m saying this so I can live by myself?”
“That’s how it seems.” Snowy Mountain seethed like he was going to let out an actual roar. “Was the devil’s offer that enticing? When only two of you are left, do you really think the devil is going to choose who’s going to become the sacrifice first through a fair method? Wake up!”
“I’m fully awake!” Shadia shouted. “Didn’t you hear what that demon said! If things don’t work out, he will blow up the barrier! Don’t you know what will happen then!” No one knew exactly what would happen if somebody distorted and detonated a barrier of this size, but it was clear that there would be a calamity on the same level as a great natural disaster. Perhaps the capital would be blown away, or this foreign world would expand and cover the entire Salem region.
“Can’t we kill that demon and offer him as a sacrifice? Why won’t you even consider that method?”
“You’ve got to be kidding me. Do you really not realize the situation we are in? Think about it rationally. What do you think has the higher possibility: doing what you said, or us all dying while fighting the demon?”
“…You’re crazy. You’ve completely lost your mind.” Snowy Mountain rejected the idea, making it clear that he wouldn’t accept it. Then he stepped away and distanced himself from Shadia. The fact that he left their formation indicated that he no longer considered her a fellow companion he needed to protect.
“…What are you doing?” Shadia’s eyes narrowed.
“It’s as you saw. I can’t stand listening to you any longer.”
“Do you want to have a go at it or something?”
“There’s no reason not to. Before we came here, you were a reliable companion worth protecting, but now you are just a crazy b.i.t.c.h.”
“What? Crazy b.i.t.c.h? Are you kidding me?”
…The atmosphere tensed further.