Of the wide range of creatures that inhabit Midgard, most of them come under one of the four major categories. Namely, mankind, monsters, demons, and unclassified.
First off, mankind encompasses humans, flugels, dwarves, elves, halflings, vampires, and beastmen—otherwise known as the Seven Great Races. The requirements of being part of this category are, well, completely subjective. Although you could argue all of them are bipedal, so are goblins and orcs. However, due to their low intelligence, they are lumped together with monsters. It's a matter of value, I think.
Which leads us to the next category: monsters. This word refers to all living things altered by mana outside of the Seven Great Races. Such creatures are born from normal animals, which evolve from excess mana intake. Although elves, dwarves, halflings, and beastmen are fabled descendants of magically altered humans, they are by no means monsters. Again, it's difficult to know where to draw the line,
There's little to know about Demonkind. Even within the game, there was but a vague description of the Demon race. Midgard doctrine told of an eighth race of mankind, close relatives of vampires. Despite their magical nature, they are in no way comrades of monsters. However, their superior taming abilities was an important balance to the game.
OK, I take that back. Demon monster tamers were cheaters. A horde of 100 monsters could be treated as a single familiar under a Demon Tamer. [Goblin x 100]? So is it one monster or a hundred? I don't see why summoning [Heavenly Stars x 12] doesn't work the same way?
But I will cut my complaints short, for I have yet to introduce the fourth category: the unclassified. This one's pretty self-explanatory. Creatures that don't fit into any category, normal animals, are listed as unclassified. Since livestock and insects had little to do with gameplay, they were all but lumped into a single, vague category. Most resemble the animals of Earth and served an essential addition to X-gate online's beautiful scenery.
As one would expect, Aries is a monster. But while it's common sense to assume monster tamers tame monsters, the actual skill is pretty diverse. In reality, all hostile NPC's can be turned into familiars—even humanoid ones, like vampires or dark elves. Players who sought after such familiars were commonly known as "human tamers", often calling bandits and pirates to their aid.
That aside, Aries is an obvious representation of a monster. Although lacking in power, rainbow sheep are hardly products of nature. Their shimmering coats make them easy to spot, and I have long since known Aries' location. What more could I ask for?
I returned the books to their proper shelves and turned my attention to Dina. She was immersed in the eighth volume of her beloved series, eyes glimmering like a pair of sapphires.
"Huh? You're done with what you came for already?"
"Yeah. I've found most of what I was looking for. Let's go."
"Go? …Where to?"
"To the castle where Aries is. Lead the way, Dina."
Dina's spared her light novel a final glance before leaving it on the desk. Soon after she left her seat, we left the library behind. The time was ripe to finally reclaim my lost pet.
Although I had planned to consult Megrez first, entering the noble district unnoticed has proved too difficult. I can think of plenty of ways to infiltrate the palace, but none are very peaceful. It wouldn't hurt to subdue Aries while I wrack my brain.
"Of course. Once we leave Suvell—"
At my request, Dina describes the castle's location. But her words are cut off by a sudden shaking of the ground, pushing her off balance.
I caught Dina in my arms, then quickly retracted them into my overcoat in a single, fluid motion. My movements were too fast to see, and I had checked for onlookers beforehand.
The ground continued to tremble.
Not built to withstand earthquakes, buildings began to visibly sway, creaks of wood and screams following soon after.
Anyways, earthquakes, huh? Pretty large ones at that. I'd say around 4 or 5 on the Richter scale.
"These buildings are quite sturdy for their time."
"Ruphas-sama, you're quite composed for our current situation."
"I'm pretty used to earthquakes."
This is nothing compared to what Japan has to deal with on a daily basis. However, the same can't be said for the residents of this world, their flailing arms only proving my point. I imagine this is what American tourists look like on their first visit to Japan. I stared wistfully, and my inner C*nan began to flare up.
"Dina, how often do earthquakes occur in Suvell?"
"Rarely, if not never."
Seldom do earthquakes occur, huh? Which raises suspicions about its origins. Of course, I don't deny the possibility of natural causes, but this violent shaking tugs on my memories…
Right… Aries had the skill to… intentionally cause earthquakes…
As I've touched on before, a familiar can never surpass its tamer in strength. (That's, of course, excluding rare cases of extreme status enhancing.) Naturally, the level cap certainly plays its part, but another obstacle lies in wait: Skill Management.
Although players can learn as many skills as they please, the skills familiars can learn are limited in number. A tamer's total level divided by fifty, to be exact. Then, taking the skills that familiars learn as they level up into account, the number of skills that a tamer can teach their familiars become greatly limited.
Returning to the subject at hand, Aries was never a battle-oriented monster to begin with. In other words, I taught Aries every combat-oriented skill at his disposal. When it comes down to it, I might know his skills better than he does himself.
Aries' fighting style involves harassing opponents with debuffs before dealing a lethal blow. To overcome his shortcomings, Aries' skills rely heavily on luck instead of status, a clever approach if I say so myself.
Even among these skills, [Earthquake] was among the most versatile of them all. The Area of Effect knocked a significant chunk of agility off its targets, often with a complimentary stun, if the generous gods of RNG willed it. Moreover, flight being a flugel's second nature, [Earthquake] almost never backfired on Ruphas.
"Perhaps, it is a coincidence… but if my suspicions prove correct, then Aries is coming."
"Ruphas-sama, I fear you may be right. I just felt a sudden influx of mana over the… over the Trade District."
"Where Gants is, huh?"
So she can even perceive the flow of mana. I flashed a quick smile at my reliable secretary, then quickly looked over to the Trade District. That's where we parted with Gants. Although the time we spent together was short, he was a rather pleasant old man. I'd rather not see him die this early in the story.
"Ruphas-sama, let's take the monorail back to the Trade District."
"No, that will take too long. Besides, I wouldn't be surprised if it was out of order at a time like this."
"So we're in for a rough ride."
Despite the chaos, I can't remove my overcoat just yet. But how else would I fly? Simple. I'll use something else in place of my wings.
"Let's see… that one looks good."
I caught sight of a collapsed building from the corner of my eye. Shifting my attention to a particularly large chunk of rubble, I began transmuting its surface. The concrete slowly smoothened itself out, forming a crude vehicle to carry Dina and myself. The finished product was a flat, triangular base around 2 meters wide on all sides.
"Get on. This is how we'll fly."
"Um. It doesn't look too safe."
"Then you can hold onto my waist."
I promptly stepped onto the "vehicle" with Dina pressed tightly against my back. Having made sure she was secure, my esper powers whirred to life. And with a telekinesis powered push, the stone slab rose off the ground. Another burst of power shot us into the the sky in the direction of the trade district.
Now then, I hope we make it in time…
A tremble of the earth. And the massive influx of mana. Even without these clues, the keen senses that Gants had trained over decades of battle screamed in alarm. He knew—he could feel something dreadful coming their way.
"Orders! All mercenaries are to prepare for battle at the borders! I repeat, All mercenaries are to prepare for battle at the borders!"
As the messenger boy ran around yelling the orders, the Trade District stirred in excitement. Geographically speaking, the Trade District was the most vulnerable to enemy attack. That's why mercenaries and soldiers were constantly stationed there to fend off oncoming monsters.
However, the occasional onslaught of monsters never called for the aid of soldiers off duty. The mercenaries of Suvell knew this, and they gathered before the city in a hastily arranged battle formation. Gants, who had just caught wind of his orders, hurriedly prepared for battle and ran over to Suvell's gates.
"Chief Gants! What the hell is goin' on!?"
"I'd like to know that myself!"
Gants had bumped into Johnny, a comrade mercenary, along the way. Although neither of the men knew what was going on, their battle-trained instincts blared in alarm. Today… today was the day they would fight. A fight to defend their country!
"But this atmosphere… you understand, don't you? This tingling sensation! It's finally come! The decisive battle!"
"…Aries' raid on Suvell."
Some day. Anyone with half a brain knew that some day, Suvell would have to brawl it out with Aries. The war had fallen into a stalemate, but it would not last forever. It was all but certain that some day, Aries would put everything on the line for a chance at victory. And that dreaded "some day" had finally come.
"Oh, isn't it Gants!"
By the time Gants arrived at the gates, the border patrol had already formed an orderly battle formation. He quickly greeted the massive man working as the commander. A soldier fighting for his country and a mercenary hired with money locked eyes. Despite their different positions, they were comrades in arms who worked themselves to the bone to defend their country.
"How large is the enemy!?"
The commander handed him a pair of binoculars, quietly implying that it would be faster if he saw for himself. Putting them to his eyes, a glimpse of what looked like hell entered his vision. Mountains of monsters, monsters, and monsters were advancing towards the nation. The massive, unorganized force was slowly making its way to the borders.
"…Well, then. It looks like our visitors are quite serious as well."
"Yeah, but the question is why now? …Perhaps, there's a motive? Or maybe he was just in the mood for it?"
"How am I supposed to know? Maybe it took this long to gather an army of that size or something. More importantly, what are we going to do? Are they telling us to hold that back until our main force arrives?"
Gants rested the huge blade of his sword on his shoulder and said in a sarcastic tone. Roughly 500 soldiers and 200 mercenaries guarded Suvell's borders, making a total of 700 warriors. Seven hundred… a trivial number compared to what Gants had seen. Once it arrived, Suvell's main forces posed a chance against that monstrosity. However, whether the National Guard could survive until then was an entirely different question.
"It's unreasonable, but we don't have much of a choice. After all the trouble they went to greet us beforehand, we'll have to receive them properly, don't we?"
"Huh. So that earthquake earlier was some kind of declaration of war. We have quite some time to spare, seeing how far they are."
There was no need for Aries to declare his arrival with an earthquake. To use it to its fullest potential would be to shake the earth right before his rampage, unnerving the enemy soldiers. However, Aries had done the opposite, signaling his arrival. He would invade the country, but would not resort to surprise attacks… it was a rule that the now deceased Ruphas Mafahl had never failed to follow. The fellow only resembles his master in the weirdest ways, thought Gants as he spat on the ground.
"But thanks to that, we're able to prepare ourselves to a certain degree. All magicians to the front! Were going to whittle down their numbers before they get close enough!"
Abiding their orders, the robed figures stepped to the front of the formation. Suvell was the very heart of magic. Not only did the nation house a multitude of magicians, they were almost all first-rate. A barrage of magic from this battalion was no laughing matter.
Countless flashes of magic fired in unison with the commander's voice. It rained down on the enemy, and signaled the beginning of Suvell's largest battle in its short history of 200 years.