I stared at him as he sat on my lap, looking around the tent in curiosity before looking straight at me.
He was small. Very small. So small that his hips were probably the size of my palms, and my hands were already quite small. But that wasn't the best part.
He was wearing armour. Tiny armour that fitted him perfectly. He wore a tiny silver helmet and what looked like chainmail armour.
A real life, tiny, chibi knight.
He was...he was incredibly adorable.
"H-hi." I awkwardly waved.
With his tiny round hands, he waved back at me.
My heart probably melted at that exact moment. I almost squealed.
Putting my hands together, I reach my arms towards him. I tried to be careful not to scare him. He stared at my hands in curiosity before jumping on my hands. I lifted him closer to my face.
"S-so...So cute!" I accidentally said out loud.
He titled his head at me.
I tried looking through the lines in his helmet, but all I saw was pitch black darkness. Does he have a face?
The tiny knight shook his head.
"Oh..." Did he just read my mind? Or perhaps my expression gave me away?
I sat up slowly, making sure not to hit the ceiling of my tent again.
"Nice to meet you," I greeted, "I'm Aria...0217..."
I moved my hair a bit, showing him the number that was imprinted across my neck.
"W-what's your name?"
He stared back at me, "..."
"You don't have one?" I asked.
"I'm suppose to name you?"
"..." He nodded.
"O-oh, I'm not really good at naming but...hmm..."
I sat there, staring at nothing as I gave it some thought.
Finally, I said, "A-Alfred...Sir Alfred. What do you think?"
It was nothing original or creative but the mini knight seemed to love it as he began to jump excitedly in my hands. Small white words spelling out "Sir Alfred" appeared right above his tiny head before disappearing again.
"My first knight...Sir Alfred." I smiled, "Let's both get stronger together ok."
It seemed the word, "stronger" sparked something inside him, "..."
"Hmm? You want to train now? Against a monster?"
He nodded eagerly.
"You can already fight?"
Alfred by responded by pulling out a tiny, chibi sword which because of its size, looked more like a small dagger.
"That's...so cute. B-but are you sure?"
Mini Alfred nodded his small head.
I looked out the holes in my tent. There was still some sunlight lurking through the horizon but there were many signs of the sky turning dark soon.
"...Alright, just one ok? We can't be out too late."
We both exited the tent. Alfred almost immediately looked everywhere he could. I saw his cute little head look left, right, up and down continuously.
He then jumped in shock when he saw another Aria fake who looked just like me.
Which did remind me, "Alfred, stick close to me ok, please remember the number on my neck if you can."
He turned to face me, "..."
"Hmm? You don't need to know the number to know it's me?"
"Ooooh I see," Apparently summons will just know who their summoner is.
To keep all my belongings safe, I began to pack everything up first, including my tent. Which didn't take too long thankfully. Alfred seemed particular interested in the tent and how I unpacked it.
Afterward, I put my sack over my shoulder, wrapped my arms around Alfred's waist and picked him up. With that, the both of us went towards the nearby forest.
Near the main city was a very popular spot for beginners to train. It was a forest purely inhabited by a certain common F-rank monster. I heard there used to be more dangerous monsters but they were all wiped out since the forest was incredibly near the main city.
"The Great Clearing" they called it. Where a bunch of powerful Generals, hired adventurers and two of the Nine Heroes went to live in the forest for several months.
Now the large forest is universally used by newbie soldiers, fresh adventurers and most fakes as well. That itself has lead to many conflicts in the past. Luckily for us, not many people go here during this time of the day.
We arrived at the entrance of the forest. It was then I realised I had been silently daydreaming the whole time I was walking instead of chatting with Alfred more.
"Are you scared?" I asked.
Alfred shook his head. He seemed even more eager now that we were in front of the actual forest.
I put Alfred down and prepared myself. I better equip my weapons before going in. I reach out my arms. A wooden sword and shield appeared in my hands. Every skill tree conveniently provides the user with a free wooden version of the user's primary weapon. Although it is usually the only weapon the skill tree will give you. If you wanted something with better quality, you either had to purchase or craft them.
in terms of quality, the starter, wooden weapons you get are far worse than even the cheapest of weapons sold in the shops. They break easier and barely do any damage. With that said, most beginners still use them. Mainly because when you lose or break them, they can reappear in your hand, completely brand new. They unfortunately disappear after you let go of them, meaning you can't sell the wood for money.
I weighed both my weapons, swung the sword at the air, held the shield in front of me awkwardly, and tried jumping side to the side. Alfred took out his mini sword as well and began imitating me.
The main weapon for the Angel class was also a sword so I had experience with the sword but I was certainly going to have to practise with the shield more.
"Ready?" I asked.
He looked up at me and nodded.
"Alright, let's go."
The forest was just like your typical old forest: trees, grass and more trees. The trees weren't incredibly tall like other deep forests and there was plenty of space for the sunlight, and soon the moonlight, to go through and illuminate the area. Plenty of open areas as well. All of which were very preferably features for anyone who didn't have much combat experience.
We ventured into the forest, following the rocky path. It did not take long before I saw what I was looking for.
The creature was small, round, green and would drag its whole body wherever it went. Its whole body and skin was made out of this strange, jelly like substance.
Slimes: the weakest known monster. It is currently the only hostile monster who physically cannot kill a person but will still attack you regardless. They're known as pest to most people. The worse thing they are famous for doing is breaking a bone or two.
I first saw two of them. Then there were five. Then I lost count.
It was common for slimes to stick in groups.
I looked over at Alfred who simply gave me a thumbs up.
I picked up a rock and threw it carefully at one of the slimes who was at the edge of the group. The slime was alarmed for a brief moment before calming down again. I threw another rock, then a twig, then another rock. Finally, the slime saw me and began moving towards me. The rest of the slimes didn't notice anything.
We both got ready and waited until the slime was far enough away from the group.
With darkness of the night sky slowly taking over the day, our first battle began.
My weapon began glowing slightly, "Sword Strike!"
I swung my sword and hit the slime right in the head. The wooden sword then broke.
Alfred's mini sword also began glowing in the same way mine did. He attacked right after I did although his attack sounded more like a loud slap than a stab.
The slime then bounced from its spot and rammed its body right into my stomach.
My back hit the tree behind me before I fell to my knees.
Alfred stood between me and the slime before he rapidly started slapping the foe with his sword.
The slime bounced again and sent Alfred crashing into the tree behind me.
I got up, equipped a new wooden sword and struck the slime again. It was ready to bounce again. I raised my shield. I managed to block but the impact caused me to fall over.
Alfred got back up again, ran to the slime and jumped on it. He poked it with his sword.
He managed to poke it about 4 times before I ran in there and pulled him away from the slime. Just when I did, the slime bounced again and rammed itself into a nearby tree.
The slime turned around and faced us.
I told Alfred to wait.
I adjusted the position of my feet this time. The slime bounce again and hit my shield.
I tripped and stumbled back a few steps but did not fall this time.
Alfred then jumped at the slime and slapped it again. I swiftly followed by swinging my wooden sword at it.
Alfred had no shield so I tried my best to tank all the hits.
The slime bounced again and bashed into my shield for a third time. The shield then broke.
I stabbed my sword into the slime while Alfred followed by poking his sword at it.
The slime bounced back before bouncing right back at us. By that time, I got a new wooden shield to block.
"Sword Strike!" My sword broke upon hitting the slime.
Alfred swiftly followed with a tiny sword strike of his own.
We both pushed on and the cycle of blocking, striking and swords breaking continued.
It took us about 35 minutes to kill our first slime. I know this since I used a total of 7 "sword strikes".
The slime's body disappeared into many particles, leaving behind a single slime ball behind.
Panting and out of breath, I fell to the ground on my back. Alfred did the same, right besides to me.
It was deep into the night by now. Through the leaves and branches of the trees, I could see the bright shining moon along with its choir of stars.
I turned my head to Alfred and smiled, I gently rubbed the top of his helmet, "Well...W-well done...we...we did it..."
Alfred stood up and began jumping up and down excitedly. He then made a triumphant pose with his mini sword, making me chuckle.
He then grabbed my shirt and began tugging on it.
"A-again?" I asked.
He nodded eagerly.
"It's very late, Alfred. How about tomorrow?"
He shook his head. He really wanted to fight again.
"W-wait Alfred, please...w-wait...let me...let me rest first..."
I saw Alfred's little head look around the forest until he laid eyes on another slime in the distance. He jumped in excitement, raising his sword.
He sprinted at the slime he saw.
"ALFRED, NO WAIT!"
Too late. He reached the slime, jumped and poked it with his sword.
The slime looked at him. The 6-7 slimes behind it also stared at him. Several more emerged from the bushes and stared.
Alfred flinched, stepping back with shaking hands.
"Oh no. ALFRED!" I screamed. I got up immediately and sprinted towards him.
Three slimes bounced at him. I threw my shield. It managed to hit the three slimes just before it disappeared.
I grabbed my knight and turned around to run.
Another slime bounced and hit me right in the back of my leg.
I wrapped my arms around Alfred as I fell to the ground. I curled into a ball as multiple slimes began bashing themselves against my back continuously. I closed my eyes, and made sure to shield Alfred from all the attacks. I could feel Alfred struggling against me, begging to fight, but I kept him firmly in my embrace.
They continued to beat me over and over and over. It hurt. They can't kill me. But it still hurt. Each time felt like a hard clenched fist. I didn't know how many there were, there seemed to be more now, but I just kept my eyes closed and hugged Alfred tightly, enduring everything.
After what seemed like hours upon hours, the slimes finally gave up and left. Or perhaps they thought I was dead. Regardless, they left me there.
My entire body ached so much that I could barely move.
A familiar bell sound suddenly rang from inside my ear.
New skill unlocked:
Triple Hit Endurance (passive): Your defence will increase by 5% every-time you are hit. Can stack up to 15%. The defence boost will reset after the fourth hit or if 20 seconds have passed.
That would've been nice to have during the beating.
I rolled over to give Alfred some air, which was very painful to do, "A-Alfred? ...A-are you ok?"
Alfred stood up and slowly walked to my face. He placed his tiny hands on my cheek.
"G-good...I'm glad you're unhurt..."
He looked down at the ground, he was no longer in his cheerful, eager mood.
I smiled, "It's...it's okay...don't be sad. Just...d-don't do that again...ok?"
He slowly nodded.
"G-good boy...alright, let's...let's go back now."
I wanted to just lay here and sleep but that would be too dangerous. So I forced myself to get up, which may have taken a few minutes to do due to the aching pain. Alfred did his best to help me. He got the slime ball we forget earlier and put it in my sack. He even volunteered to carry my sack for me but it was too heavy for him since it had my tent and loaf of bread in it.
Once I was finally up, I limped towards the exit. Each step brought agony throughout my body. I could already pin point all the different bruises over my back. I fell over a few times much to Alfred's worry and dismay, but I picked myself up each time.
It was a long, slow and painful walk but eventually we made it back to the edge of the camp outside the main city.
It made me want to collapse on the spot but I still had my tent to set up.
I put down my sack, only for Alfred to go in and drag out the tent stuff himself. I watched for moment as Alfred struggled to drag it out. He picked up the small bits and pieces and stared at each of them with a titled head. He desperately scrambled around, trying to lift up parts of the tent. At one point, he tripped over something and fell over.
I couldn't help but chuckle a bit which brought more pain to my chest, "It's ok Alfred...let me set up tent. I can do it."
He felt really depressed afterwards, but he observed me carefully as I set up the tent.
Once it was done, I crawled in, only to notice that Alfred was still outside.
"Alfred? What's wrong? Come on in"
Alfred had his sword out and he was repetitively walking back and forth, back and forth in front of the entrance of my tent like a guard on the night watch.
I smiled again as I reached with my arms and gently picked him up with my hands, "Come on, let's get some sleep."
Once we were both inside, I opened my sack. It had my soggy half of bread, my seven silver coins and the one slime ball we obtained. I grabbed the half eaten loaf of bread, broke off a piece that was larger than what I usually take and put in in Alfred's hand.
"Sorry I can't give you more."
Alfred looked at the bread, than at me, than back at the bread and then looked at me. He raised his hands and offered the bread back to me.
"It's ok, I ate already." I lied to him.
He shook his head and offered the bread back to me.
"Ok...how about we split it in half then, fair?"
Alfred gave it some thought before nodding. He broke it in half and gave me the bigger half.
He waited for me to eat my piece before he ate his. Speaking of which, he did so by opening the front of his helmet, revealing nothing but black. I forgot he didn't have a face. Alfred then threw the piece of bread into himself, down into the darkness of his helmet which was interesting to witness.
Once dinner was done, I grabbed my sack, and hugged Alfred's tiny body as I went to lay down. I clung to him tightly as well as my bag. I could feel Alfred snuggle in closer as I dozed off to sleep.
~In my dream, I saw...a young man~
~He wore clothes of royalty~
~I could not see his face~
~I could not hear the words he was speaking to me~
~But surrounding him were...~
"Be careful, slowly."
"Sshh! You'll wake her up."
"Hmm? What the hell is that thing?"
"Oww! it poked me!"
"Ah, she's waking up, quick! Just grab it and run!"
I woke up to see Alfred frantically pulling on my shirt.
"Alfred? W-what's wrong?"
He kept pulling on my shirt in a panic, telling me to go outside. It was very early in the morning.
I got up and exited the tent, just in time to see the backs of two people running away. Alfred was frantically waving his sword at them. At first I was confused until I saw that one of the people running away was holding a sack. My sack. The sack that had my seven silver coins, bread and the slime ball we got last night.
I grabbed my tiny knight before he chased after them, "Alfred...it's okay, leave them."
His head snapped towards me in utter confusion. The word 'why' was pasted all over his little helmet.
I gently rubbed his helmet, "It's...it's fine. I...I can just get a new one, ok?...phew, luckily we set up the tent last night. Could've lost that as well."
Alfred still seemed confused which I understood. I...didn't really have the heart to tell him.
"Alfred...I...I'm still very tired. So please...please come back inside."
The small knight slowly nodded his head. I lifted Alfred into my arms before laying back down.
"It's ok...it's fine..." I whispered to him as I gently rubbed his helmet, "B-but...Thank you, t-thank you...I re...really... appre...ciate..."
My eyes slowly closed as my mind drifted back to another dream world.
~In my dream, I saw...red. Blood red eyes~
~there were three pairs of them~
~No, not three~
~There were many more behind them~
~Who...Who are they?~
I woke up again to Alfred. He was pulling on my shirt again.
But this time he seemed more cheerful.
"W-what is it?"
Alfred gestured his hand towards the edge of the tent.
I sat up and looked down. Sitting besides my feet...was a sack.
"Oh wow, Alfred how did you find my-"
Upon closer inspection, it was clear this wasn't my original sack but someone else's. It was a very different shade of colour compared to the one I used to have. Inside it was nothing except for a new loaf of bread which looked recently brought.
Alfred had his hands on his hips, with his shoulders standing high and his head looking up proudly.
"Alfred...did you...steal this?"
He flinched a bit which I took as a yes.
I let out a deep sigh, before saying, "You can't do that, Alfred. We should return it now."
His shoulders dropped lower and his cheerful mood changed drastically. He was even more confused. It was my fault for not explaining it to him properly. Because I was fine with people stealing from me, he probably assumed stealing was an ok thing to do. To be fair, he was literally just born yesterday.
I really wasn't good with words but I tried my best to explain.
"Alfred, did you like it when those two people stole from us this morning?"
He shook his head.
"Then how do you think the person you stole from feels?"
To be honest, that itself was a very naive and childish way to thinking. Especially in an environment where it's every man for themselves out here. But that was just not how i wanted to raise Alfred.
After Alfred gave it some thought, he seemed to agree with my point.
I smiled, "Alright, let's return this shall we."
After wandering around the huge camp with Alfred leading the way, he finally pointed at someone he recognised.
It was a tall male human. One of the homeless ones. He had an overgrown beard and wore ragged clothes that hadn't been washed in ages, same as mine.
I told Alfred to stay behind me as I approached him, "Umm, excuse me?"
He turned to look at me, glaring.
I raised the sack in my hand and showed it to him, "Is this yo-"
"HEY! THAT'S MINE! YOU RAT!"
He snatched the bag away from my hands, clenched his fist and punched me directly in the cheek.
I fell over. Upon hitting the ground, I instinctively grabbed Alfred and placed him under my body to cover him. I expected another kick to come flying but instead-
"Tch, good for nothing fakes!" He scowled as he walked away.
I waited a bit to make sure he was gone, so Alfred wouldn't chase after him. I let go of Alfred and rolled over to my back. I laid there for a few moments which caused a few people to stare.
Alfred stood up and once again placed his tiny hands on my cheek.
"That was my fault, Alfred, don't blame yourself for that." I sat up straight, picked him up and brought him closer to my face, I smiled, "See? I'm fine."
He didn't seem convinced. There was probably a bruise or two on my face and most likely many more on my back.
"How about we go fight some slimes huh?"
His mood instantly changed again as he raised his tiny weapon in the air.
We returned to Slime Forest. There were certainly a lot more people there but we made sure to keep our distance.
Alfred had learned his lesson from last night and never attacked until I lured the slime out. He eventually learned how to lure the slime himself as well.
After about 7 hours of none-stop fighting, we finally defeated 10 slimes. The passive endurance skill I gained was very helpful throughout those 7 hours. However, I did not obtain a single new skill.
Unfortunately, with my sack now gone, we had to carry them by hand. Two slimes balls was pretty much the same size as my hand, so with my arms I barely managed to carry 8 while my chibi Alfred carried two.
While it was tedious and long, it was ironically the most fun I ever had in a while.
We headed for the main city where the adventures guild was located.
I walked for a moment before realising Alfred was falling behind me.
The tiny knight had stopped to look around. He stared at all the different different markets, shops, buildings and all the different people in awe. I had forgotten that Alfred had never seen the main city.
I gave him a few moments to admire. I then whistled at him, "Come on Alfred! Over here! Let's go!"
He snapped back to reality and waddled towards me, still holding the two slimes balls...which was really adorable to watch.
As I walked through the streets, I overhear some townspeople talking.
"Did you hear the news?"
"You mean the new S-rank monster that was spotted."
"Yeah, shouldn't we be worried, I heard its only a single city away."
"They said they'll be sending all the 9 Heroes to eliminate it."
"All of them?!"
We arrived at the adventure's guild. There were many of these throughout the world but this was known to be the largest. It was the main place to sell monster materials. I'm not sure what they use slime balls for but since they were so common and easy to defeat for most people, they naturally didn't sell for much. 10 slime balls equalled 1 silver coin to be more precise. For reference, a loaf of bread is about 10 silver coins. Can cost more depending who you're bargaining with. I heard they are sold to humans at cheaper prices.
The guild hall was very spacious with more than enough room for wooden tables and chairs to be spread out everywhere. Cheers of celebrations, adventurers boasting of their skill and waitresses serving more drinks were heard from all directions. The interior of the building itself was very tame compared to the high-class buildings it lived near. Plenty of windows to allow the sunlight from outside to illuminate the whole place.
Decorating the walls were different banners showing the icons of different famous guilds and clans.
Near the end of the building were all the counters where staff members would hand out quest and give rewards. Unfortunately, that meant you had to walk across the entire room to get there. Looking around, there were also other fakes here and there. Some in groups and others being bullied by the adventurers.
"Hey look at that fake over there."
"Did she get beaten up by slimes? HAHA! How weak!"
"She's pathetic! Thinking she can be anything like the real hero Aria."
"What's that small thing next to her?"
I ignored the insults, gossips and mocking laughs of the surrounding adventurers. I was relieved to see that Alfred also didn't try to cause any trouble.
We left swiftly once we got our one silver coin.
I stared at the coin in my hand with a proud smile. I gave it to Alfred to look at as well. He seemed very curious about it, probably wondering how our ten slime balls transformed into this small silver object.
As he played with the coin, I noticed my reflection in one of the windows of a shop.
I was still wearing the small fake copy of Aria's clothes, the same clothes I was born with. To be honest, I wish I could change but it was the only clothes I owned.
But it wasn't the clothes I was really focused on.
What I was focused on was...my expression. It was still the same calm, neutral expression that I copied from the original Aria. It dawned on me that I was still copying her by habit. A bit embarrassing since I swore to change.
With my fingers, I forcefully stretch my mouth into a smile and then into a gloomy face. But as soon as I let go, it returned to the same calm expression.
Alfred noticed this and attempted to copy me only to realised that he didn't have a mouth...or a face.
"Perhaps I'm overthinking it," I said to Alfred, "this is a normal expression to sit on...right?"
I needed to change. Which meant I needed to stop copying the real Aria. But how? Do the opposite?
The original Aria was quiet and rarely talked. So does that mean...I have to be loud and talkative. I looked at my reflection again. The idea that came to my mind was stupid. Very stupid. But I had to change somehow. I was determined to do whatever it took.
I walked up to a random human who immediately raised an eyebrow at me.
I took in a very, long, deep breath. I had a feeling I was going to regret this.
"HELLO!" I screamed at the human, "NICE TO MEET YOU!"
The human flinched and swiftly walked away.
With the sun once again almost setting to night, I began approaching random strangers and shouting at them.
"NICE WEATHER TODAY!"
"HOW ARE YOU!?"
"NICE TO MEET YOU!"
My face was slowly turning more red. Alfred on the other hand seemed to be having a lot of fun which helped me greatly. If he had a voice, he probably would've yelled with me. At one point, he sat on my head and waved his arms frantically as I would yell.
Most of people I approached either told me to leave them alone, insulted me or left immediately which I was honestly glad they did. Starting a conversation would've ended poorly.
After a few more stunts of me yelling at people, I hid in the dark alley way with a face that matched the colour of a red-horned bird. Anymore of that and I probably would've been reported.
I covered my face in embarrassment, "What am I doing? I don't think that did anything. All I did was make a bigger fool of myself."
"..." Alfred, who was still sitting on my head, waved his arms in the air as if saying "again, again".
"No, not again please." I chuckled a bit at his enthusiasm, "I think it's better we go back to-"
My nose suddenly picked up an horrible stench. It was always there, I was just too occupied by my embarrassment to notice.
I looked down the dark alley way and noticed trash. Lots of trash. But what I was smelling...wasn't garbage. I was sure of it.
I ventured down the alley way. Deeper and deeper. After turning a corner, I noticed a huge pile of trash which consisted of rotten food, scraps, rats, bugs, etc. Without a second thought, I began digging through the rubbish. I didn't mind the filth, I was practically wearing filth anyway.
Alfred jumped in and began digging as well.
Then we both freeze when we saw...a hand. A body was clearly buried under the pile of rubbish.
We quickly dug more to get the rest of the body out.
I soon came face to face with a person who looked exactly like me. An Aria fake. She was dead.
There was a very noticeable stab wound in his neck.
I...wasn't surprised to be quite honest. As the saying goes, it's not illegal if you don't get caught I guess.
The blood had dried up. I wasn't sure how long her body had been here.
Putting my arms gently under the neck and legs, I picked her up.
With that, we silently went on our way out of the main city, ignoring all the stares we got along the way.
The camp didn't only have tents and camp fires. It also had a graveyard nearby it.
I laid the body nearby the place I had chosen and began digging my fingers into the dirt.
As I began digging, Alfred pulled out a tiny, mini shovel from his back.
It took hours but we didn't care.
Once the body was fully covered, I placed my hands together and prayed silently which Alfred copied.
Her number was 4328. That was all I knew about her.
Alfred also managed to find a flower which we left on the grave.
We both stayed there for a moment, in complete silence.
The next day, early in the morning, I wandered around the same alley way.
I never really got a proper look at the area until now.
The alley way went a lot deeper than I originally went. The further you went in, the more increase in filth. It was a true nightmare for anyone who was claustrophobic as probably only about three people max could fit in the width of the alley way. The walls stood tall as the nearby buildings. The walls were the same colour as the buildings of this city yet the dark shadows and filth gave it a much darker ominous feeling.
Most people, especially fakes, avoided these alley ways for obvious reasons.
It made wonder: was she killed before being disposed here or did the Aria fake enter this alley way of her own free will.
Were there more dead bodies hidden deep inside?
Alfred and I found the place where we found the body. It was at a dead end and within the pile of trash, we could still see the dried up blood that mixed in with the garbage. After another quick search, there was no other body here.
I contemplated going in deeper. But decided not too as that would be way too risky.
"Come on Alfred," I called out to the mini knight who was still searching through the filth, "lets get out of here."
I turned around and see another pair of eyes directly in front of me, staring.
I almost scream as I jumped back, trip and fell into the trash behind me.
In front of me stood a person. She had purple hair and the same face as The Divine Healer: Yukari. But anyone would've been able to tell with one glance that she was no ordinary Yukari fake.
She licked her fingers and mouth as the widest, most mischievous smile I had ever seen grew on her mouth, "F~O~U~N~D, Y~O~U!"
To be continued.
This chapter was finished on 13/01/2022. ns22.214.171.124da2