The environment around the tiny village was very favourable for any settlement. The main feature being the beautiful lake that the village was placed next to. In the distance, there were several tall mountains to which I had a perfect view of from here. At the foot of these mountains was a forest which looked much friendlier than the one I was just in. The village itself had several trees planted in it as well.
"Fake Town." I heard Yukari say as she appeared behind me, "But as you can see, it's more like a small village or hamlet at the moment. But 'Fake Town' just has a better ring to it, you know?"
"Fake town as in-"
"A place purely inhabited by just fakes. Our populations is roughly around 50 or so."
"And they're all like us?" I asked.
"If you mean fakes who reset their skill trees so they could find their own way of gaining power than no. We have one guy whose a scout...the B-trio...and us. The rest of them are... 'neutrals', that's what I call them at least."
"Fakes who...on second thought, I'll let one of them explain it to you. Oh and speaking about the scout, you should be getting a message from him in about 3...2...1..." Yukari then spotted something, "Ah! There is it! Look up."
Alfred and I looked up and saw a single leaf falling from the sky. It fell so that is would perfectly land right near my hand. On the leaf, there was writing that read: Hello, nice to meet you. - Scout.
In response, I awkwardly waved at the sky, "H-hi, nice to meet you too. I'm a summoner."
"Very shy that man," The reaper commented, "he is also mute for some reason."
"Is he as strong as you?"
"No...but he is slippery and hard to hit which does make him a good scout. Oh yeah, by the way,...he was the one who spotted you go into the church for a reset."
I did not expect to hear that, "R-eally?"
"Yep! In fact, he probably could've recruited you right there but noooo, he's too much of an edgy, antisocial brat," Yukari said mockingly, "tch! He didn't even bother to drop you a leaf or anything, he just returned to tell me he saw an Aria fake go through a reset...do you have any idea how vague of a description that is! I swear if I ever get my hands on that man, I'm punching him."
We both headed towards the small village. Upon arriving, I felt many eyes stare at me. But the stares I received were nothing like the usual stares I get back at the main city. Some were surprised, some were nervous and others even waved at us with welcoming smiles. Truth to Yukari's words, every single one of them was a fake but what shocked me the most was that none of them were wearing the outfits of any of the originals that all fakes are born with. Instead, they all wore simple peasant clothes such as linen tunics.
The village itself was quite small. I could only see around 20 buildings or so. They were mainly made out of logs and all looked very similar with only slight variations.
"Well, feel free to explore and chat with everyone," Said the reaper, "there's something I gotta sort out first. Have fun."
Before I could even say anything she walked away towards someone who was calling her. So just like that, Alfred and I were left alone, standing awkwardly in a village with still a few eyes staring at us. Perhaps it was because of my clothes. I waved at them, to which they waved back in response.
I wasn't sure where to start. There were fakes walking around, carrying buckets of water while others were either doing day to day activities or simply seating around, talking to one another. But the first thing that caught my attention was a small, wooden stall. A food stall.
I found myself approaching it. Coincidentally, the person behind the stall was also an Aria fake just like me. She had the faded numbers 5489 imprinted across her cheek. She was currently organising something under her stall so she didn't see me approach.
"H-hi there." I greeted.
She flinched a little, "OH HI! Sorry I didn't..."
She gasped suddenly when she looked at me. She reached down and fumbled around for something beneath her stall. She then went around the stall and walked up to me with a wet cloth. I was really confused at first but when she pressed the cloth against my cheek, a little sting reminded me that I still had blood running down from the cut that Yukari gave me.
"Sorry about that, I promise she doesn't mean any actual harm, it's just how her portal skill works." She explained to me.
"It's ok. But thank you so much." I held the cloth close to my cheek to block the bleeding.
"It's the least I can do. Nice to meet you by the way," She said as she returned to her stall and started up a fire, "I might have to apologise again if everyone's stares made you uncomfortable. We rarely get new people here so they're all quite excited...and nervous. But so much for first impression huh?"
"It's fine, I actually felt quite welcomed...this place feels a lot more...comfortable compared to the main city."
She let out a gentle soft chuckle, "Haha, well that could just be because us fakes aren't treated so well over there. I think the city itself is beautiful though. But I'm really glad you feel that way. To be honest, I was really shocked when I saw that the Reaper managed to come back with another person."
"Is it really that surprising?" I asked.
"Well you see... her methods of convincing people to come here usually...drive them away, I'm sure you know what I mean."
"A-ahh," My mind instantly recalled the memory of when I first met the reaper in that suspicious dark alley way. Now that I think about it: her vague statements, crazy expressions, and her unusual desire to get me to follow her would rightfully scare off most people, "Yeah I get what you mean."
She chuckled a bit, "Yeah...but like I said, she may seem scary at first but she's actually a really kind person once you get to know her."
I looked over to where the Reaper was. She was talking to three other people when suddenly her shadow jacket moved again and dumped a bunch of monster meat and materials on the ground in front of the three people. She must've picked them all up from the deep forest when I wasn't looking.
"You see...she's the reason why we're all still here and able to live like this. It would be an understatement to say that all of us here are incredibly indebted to her," She took out a bit of cheese and began cooking it over the fire on an old pan, "she protects us from monsters and frequently brings us food, water and other resources...all without once asking or demanding anything from us. We are very fortunate to have someone like her."
My attention turned back to her cooking. I was very curious as to why she burning cheese. Is that not a waste?
"We are trying our best not to rely on her too much though. Some of the others have started to grow crops...although no one here knows anything about farming so progress on that is slow." She chuckled a bit out of embarrassment.
She removed the cheese away from the fire. The cheese had not completely melted into a liquid but was fairly close.
"Wait..." She looked back at Yukari and the pile of monster meat before turning to look at me with a look of cocern, "did she by any chance bring you past dangerous woods filled with monsters?"
"Y-yeah." I nodded with slight confusion.
The woman behind the stall sighed heavily.
"Is something the matter?"
"It seems I'll have to apologise to you once more." She said.
"Why's that?" I asked.
"There's actually a safer and faster route from here to the main city," She explained, "She must've brought you on a detour to that forest to get more monster meat and materials for us. She probably wanted to kill two birds with one trip."
"Ooh, I see. No need to apologise. In fact, it was a very good experience for me."
She seemed quite shocked by my words, "Experience? You weren't scared?"
"Of course I was...but you see... I recently reseted my skill tree and became a summoner. Oh, this is Alfred by the way," I explained as Alfred raised his hand to wave at her, "Currently, both of us can barely defeat slimes. But I want to one day grow stronger and find my own strength. Going through those woods, I saw scary monsters that I had only ever seen pictures of from the hunting logs at the adventurer guild. Seeing them in real life and witnessing first hand how someone powerful like her defeat them with such ease really...motivated me I guess. I just hope that one day I'll be able reach her level."
Her jaw had dropped as far down as it could.
"Summoner?...Y-you reseted?" Was the first thing that came out of her surprised expression.
She quickly composed herself and closed her mouth, "S-sorry again, it's just...wow, the reaper must've really struck gold finding someone like you huh."
"You haven't reset?" I asked.
She shook her head, "No...frankly even if I wanted to, the church is way too scary for me..."
"...The Reaper called you neutrals." I finally gathered the courage to say.
She simply smiled back at me, "Yeah, pretty much... that is probably the nicest way to describe most of us who live here."
She went down and took out one fourth of a loaf of bread and a small knife.
"To put it simply, at one point in our lives...we just gave up," She explained, "We have no interest in being like the original...but we also don't want to get involved in any action or become powerful fighters...we simple just want to live peaceful and happy lives."
It was my turn to be surprised by her words. All my life, I had only ever met fakes who wanted nothing more than power or the attention of the originals. I had no idea that other fakes like her even existed.
She looked down at the ground, "I know its strange and a lot to ask for but-"
"No, no," I interrupted, "I think that's a very normal things to ask for...I'm probably the strange one, to be honest... "
"Or perhaps we're all just different..." I watch as she presented me with what she had been making this whole time, "alright, finally done. Here, please take this."
"But I don't have money."
"No need. Think of it a welcome gift and also an apology for the cut on your cheek," she chuckled slightly, "Although if you want another, then I will have to charge you."
"Thank you," I looked at what I was holding. She had taken two slices of bread and stacked them on top of each other. In between the two slices was the cheese she had melted earlier. The cheese stuck the two slices of bread together as if it was glue, "What is it?"
"People in the main city call it...a cheese sandwich." She replied proudly.
"Sand...witch?" I observed the piece of food with a questionable look. I could not see any sand on it. I also could not tell how it was related to a witch.
Regardless, I still took a bite. It was good. Really good. I never knew melting cheese could bring such a different form of flavour. It suited the the bread very well.
She seemed very happy by my reaction, "Invented by one of the nine heroes themselves. This is actually just the tip of the iceberg. You see, many years ago, the world of food exploded when some of the nine heroes began inventing delicious food that no one had ever heard of. For example, Pizza which is like this savoury circular dish that's covered in tomato and cheese, there's also burgers which is like a more advanced sandwich, OH! and sushi! It's like this strange small rice dish that's wrapped in seaweed."
"Seaweed?" I never knew such a thing was even edible.
"I know right. Strange. But I heard they're all incredibly delicious."
"You've tried them?"
She shook her head, "No, only the rich can buy them usually. Although... My dream is to taste them one day... and perhaps, be able to make it myself. Haha, although that's probably impossible."
I took another bite out of the 'sandwich' as I watched her expression. She seemed very passionate about cooking and everything related to it.
"OH AND ICE CREAM!" She continued with sparkles in her eyes, "I heard it's this type of food that can only be eaten when frozen. Weird right? How would you be able to stop it from melting? OH! Have you heard of 'HOT DOGS'? I don't know why they call it that because it has nothing to do with dogs but it's this bread dish that has..."
I listened as she went on to talk about al the different types of strange food she had seen or heard about and how the smell of them was enough to make your mouth water. It was fascinating to hear the weird descriptions she had for each food she mentioned. What made it even more interesting to listen to was the fact that I had never seen a fake talk so excitedly about a topic that wasn't directly related to the originals.
So even among the neutrals, they each may have their own different dreams and passions. I thought to myself.
I broke a piece of the 'sandwich' and gave it to Alfred. He loved it. Because of that, she stopped talking about food and was now staring at Alfred with close curiosity.
"Sorry for staring but... Your little knight is...really, really cute." She said with a soft voice, "Umm...c-can i pet him?"
Before I could even ask him, Alfred nodded. He leaped from my arms and on the wooden stall. We both chuckled at his eagerness to get petted.
"Thank you for the food." I bowed my head once I finished eating.
"No worries, do come again- OH! Wait, one more thing," She pointed towards a tree near the centre of village, the shadow of the tree was unusually dark, "If you wish to return to the capital, use that portal. The Reaper said we are free to use them whenever we want. It'll drop you nearby the city. From there, it's only a few hours of walking to get there. I'm about to head there myself actually."
"Why not put it in the city?"
"She said the portals have a limited distance they can travel. Also, they might get discovered by someone so she doesn't want to risk it."
"I see," I looked up at the sky, it was about evening so it was going to be late at night by the time she returns, "Be careful."
She smiled, "Thanks, I will. See you around."
I wanted to ask the Reaper something but I was told she had left a moment ago so I took the time to try meet more people around the village. I was a bit shy at first. But eventually I got to talk with all the other 'neutrals'. Every interaction was pretty much as nice as the first one. They were all kind, fascinated by Alfred, and very welcoming. I discussed many things with them such as the main city, weather, the village itself, the meaning behind the existence of all fakes; you know...just simple day to day topics.
Despite all being neutrals, they were each different in their own way and focused on different things.
I even met the neutral who took the initiative to start growing crops, she was a Yukari fake just like the Reaper.
"Do you have any experience?" I asked.
"Nope." The farmer admitted, she smiled nervously while scratching her head, "To be honest, I thought all you had to do was chuck a seed on the ground, water them a bunch and just wait. Haha, turns out it's way more more complicated than...but I'll figure it out eventually, anything to help the village."
It seemed the people of this village started with pretty much zero knowledge of how to start a village. There was clearly a long story behind the origins of this place, although I didn't ask since it sounded like a personal question in my head.
When I asked one of them how they made their clothes, they simply replied with, "Through months of trail and error. We all used to just wear rags tied up with some rope."
I was also told that the buildings were a team effort. I wasn't able to meet the so-called "B-trio" that Yukari mentioned but peharps they were out somewhere.
Before I knew it, the sky turned dark and the moon had fully replaced the sun.
I was halfway through setting up my tent when I was approached by one of the villagers, a Lily fake.
"Umm hi, you can stay and sleep indoors with us if you want," She offered.
"Thank you so much. Let me pack up my stuff first."
"Take your time, we're in that house over there." She pointed before heading towards it.
Alfred and I calmly went to pack up tent. I began to wonder whether I would still need it in the future or not. By now, my little knight seemed to have memorised how the tent was set up and packed away, although with his small size, the most he could do was hand me certain items.
"So what do you think of this place, summoner?"
I almost screamed as I was jump-scared by Yukari the Reaper who was was standing right behind me.
She laughed at my reaction. Alfred gave her a small wave.
Once I had composed myself, I replied, "It's...very peaceful here."
"It really is, isn't it."
"Are you the founder of this place?" I asked.
"No...it was all started by a very close friend of mine. I simply took over after her."
"...She must've been a great person."
"Yes...yes she was..."
We both went silent for a moment as we watch the last few villagers go inside.
"So then..." Yukari started, "Want to live here from now on?"
"Sure." I answered.
"That was fast. You already made up your mind?"
"Yes... But may I ask why go through such lengths? I'm assuming I won't be living here for free."
She grinned, "Hahaha, you really aren't dense at all, huh...You are correct, but don't worry, it won't cost you any money...you see I...I want to protect this place. What you see here is years of hard blood, sweat and tears. My friend almost spent her whole life trying to build all this..."
"And you want me to help protect this place?"
"I'm still very weak though."
"That's fine...you'll get stronger. I know you will." The reaper said with a tone that was filled confidence and assurance, "As much as I would love to defend this place myself. I have a feeling it'll only get harder if I keep doing it alone. Which is why I'm trying to find and gather more fakes like us."
"I see. Makes sense...But that won't be easy though." It's one thing to find fakes who reseted their skill trees but it's going to be a whole other story trying to convince them to live here.
"Trust me, I know...As you can see, I haven't had much success," She said with a sigh, "so far I've only been able to convince you and the scout."
"How about the B-Trio you mentioned earlier?"
"Those guys wandered into the village themselves," She explained, "but they were homeless like you so they were more than happy to call this place their new home. They're very decent in a fight, but those three do like to go out on a lot long trips... which kinda defeats the purpose of them defending the place...but better than nothing I guess."
That would explain why I haven't seen them around at all.
"So to sum it all up: help me find more allies and defend this place. You in?"
I looked at Alfred who simply gave a thumbs up of approval, "Sure."
She grinned as she offered me her hand, "I look forward to working with you."
Just like that, with one simple handshake, I had found both a new place to call home and another reason to grow stronger.
During that same night, Aria5489 was walking home with her newly brought loaf of bread and cheese.
She stopped when she saw the restaurant on the other side of the street. It was one of her favourite spots to stop by. Through the window, she saw many humans wearing fancy clothing and eating all sorts of exquisite dishes including the different eccentric yet delicious foods that were invented by one of the Nine Heroes.
She clung tightly to her bag of bread and cheese. Once she believed that she had stared enough, she turned away to continue walking...only to stop walking when she looked down and saw blood running down her clothes...it was her blood, flowing down from the dagger that was deep inside her throat.
I stood in front of the wooden stall, waiting.
It was early in the morning as the bright sun had just risen to its thrown in the sky. I didn't have any money for another cheese sandwich but I did want another chat.
However, she was not there. I looked around the stall but she was no where to be seen. Was she still asleep?
Another neutral approached the wooden stall as well. He was a Baron fake.
"Oh?" He expressed slight confusion, "She's not here."
"Is that strange?" I asked.
"Yeah...despite always being the last one to sleep, she's usually always here first thing in the morning, selling her sandwiches." He answered, "and she wasn't at her house either. I know cause we stay at the same place with 2 others."
We both looked at the unoccupied wooden stall.
"Have you seen her?" He asked.
"Yesterday yes...last time I saw her she said she was heading to the..." I froze for a moment...before bolting to a tree in the middle of the village.
The Reaper must've seen the look on my face when I ran past her because she instinctively followed me to the shadow portal.
It was very late at night by the time we returned.
It was raining but no one cared about that when they saw Yukari carrying the body in her arms.
Everyone gathered in front of her. Some were horrified, some couldn't look, and others were in disbelief.
"...A-are you sure you're not mistaken?" One of the villagers asked with a slow heavy breath and shaking hands, "D-did you double...d-double check the, the... the number. You know, maybe...she just has a...has a...s-similar number..." They couldn't speak anymore after that. Someone placed their hand on their shoulder.
Yukari was silent as she gently kneeled down. Her expression was void of any of her usual smiles or grins. I stood there behind her, blaming myself for letting this to happen. Many others were also blaming and cursing themselves.
The ones who were the most devastated were the ones who lived with her. Yukari gently laid down the body for them to embrace as they cried out tears.
We buried the body near the village in silence.
I was the only one there who did not cry though I wish I did as it felt like I didn't really deserve to be there.
What I did feel, however, was genuine anger and frustration at myself. I saw the Reaper clench her fist so hard that it almost bled.
Barely any words were spoken as they felt unnecessary. We all simply remained in front of the grave, mourning until the sun rose.
Afterwards, I would eventually be told by one of the neutrals that while they had suffered many deaths before in the past due to sickness and other natural causes...this was the second time someone from their village had been murdered.
To be continued.
This chapter was finished on 23/01/2022ns22.214.171.124da2