Author's Note: Okay, so I know I mentioned in my last chapter for Dark Genesis that my next fic would be Holy Genesis, which would show Ilias' backstory. However, I couldn't work up the interest to write that story, so I instead decided to try out one of my other ideas. Thus, I've now stepped into the territory of Monster Girl Encyclopedia.
Like my previous fics, this one is historical. Specifically, it depicts (my interpretation of) the events that lead to the MGE world actually having monster girls in the first place.
UPDATE 5/11/19: I decided to remove the first section of the chapter, since it was overly pretentious and didn't really fit the tone of the rest of the story.
It was a cloudy day. The sky was filled with grey and white from one horizon to the other. Not the best weather for hunting, Adam thought, but it would be irresponsible to delay.
He prepared his armour. First, he put on his breastplate, a masterpiece of steel that had saved his life far too many times to count. To complement that, he pulled an armguard on his right arm and greaves on his legs. His head was protected by a simple steel helm, which provided adequate protection while not hindering his eyes and ears—keen senses were vital in his line of work. Last of all was his shield. A simple heater design, wood with a steel frame, yet it was marked by the scars of many battles. The shield bore his coat of arms, a golden angel on a blue field.
Now for his weapons. An arming sword, forged by the finest blacksmith in Merith. It was his primary tool of the trade, and he meticulously kept it sharpened and cleaned. A dagger, no longer than his forearm, but still a deadly weapon in a pinch. Both were sheathed at his hips.
He then added his more utilitarian, but no less essential items. A map, which depicted the entire continent with a fair amount of detail. A waterskin, which he filled at the local well. His coin-purse, which he made sure to secure tightly. After some rummaging around, he found his flint and steel—couldn't forget those. And of course, he took his plate, the symbol of his faith. It was a simple wooden disc inscribed with a five-pointed star, the symbol of the Chief God.
Before he set off, he decided to perform a quick prayer. Holding the plate close to his heart, he closed his eyes and murmured a request for success in their venture. From what he'd heard of the enemy ahead, they'd need it.
Suddenly, a rude voice shattered the silence.
"Oi, we're dying of old age over here!"
Adam blinked several times. Then he laughed, and left the room.
Four men were waiting for him outside. As he approached, one of them, short and fair-haired, said, "Hey, what happened in there? Did you slip and knock yourself out for a bit?"
Adam blinked and started rubbing the back of his head. "I don't know, Marcus," he said. "Why… what if that happened? It could be serious—I have to see a healer right away!"
All of them laughed, with one exception, a tall man who merely continued to tend to his equipment.
Marcus sat down. While tapping his fingers against his bow, he said, "Well, just make sure you don't faint on us today."
Still chuckling, Adam turned to the next man, who was bulky and carried an axe. He asked him, "Morning, John. How—how is your family?"
John averted his eyes momentarily, then said darkly, "There's a lot of things I could say about them, but all of them would get me sent to hell."
"Ah. The same as usual, then?" Adam said, trying to be delicate.
John nodded morosely.
"Well, on the bright side, you won't have to see them for a while," Adam said.
This elicited a faint smile from John, but that only depressed Adam. When he was training to become a hero, one of his goals was to be able to help people with issues like this. But in the three years he'd known John, the latter was no closer to being accepted by his family—if anything, it seemed to have gotten worse. Still, he couldn't give up.
Then Cutter spoke up. He had blond hair, an unusual colour in this region—he seemed to have come from somewhere in the north. His features were stern yet handsome, especially his clear grey eyes, and had drawn the attention of more than a few women.
"Hey, boss. What are we doing today? Is it playing with bandits, or—"
"It's a hunting expedition, Cutter," Adam replied. "There's been sightings of werewolves up near Valeria, and we need to sort the situation out."
Cutter smiled and tightened his grip on his spear. "In that case, I hope that we find plenty of them," he said.
Adam couldn't find the words to respond to that. He knew some of Cutter's past—not all, but enough to know that he could never fully understand the man. After all, none of Adam's family had been devoured by monsters, nor was that likely to happen in the foreseeable future.
Finally, Adam addressed the last of his subordinates, the same man who hadn't laughed before.
"Hogan, how are our horses—and donkeys?"
"All in good condition," Hogan said, not taking his eyes off his work. "We can leave at any time."
Hogan was never the most conversational of men, but his reliability was without question. He was always the first to begin his work and the last to stop. Whenever one of the other men had drank himself into a stupor—something that certain individuals were more prone to than others—it was Hogan who'd drag him out of the pub and back home.
At any rate, it seemed that all of their preparations were finished. Despite the dismal weather, it was still perfectly possible to see. That said, darkness would arrive much sooner than usual for this season. There was a common saying that, out in the wilderness, darkness equalled death. The popular reasoning was that night was when the dark power of monsters was at its height, though Adam privately suspected that it was simply because monsters had superior hearing and smell than humans, so were less disadvantaged by darkness. Regardless of the reason, they needed to reach the next village before the light disappeared, so they set out the moment they finished their preparations.
Adam, John and Cutter rode on horses, while Marcus and Hogan rode on donkeys. These arrangements caused much grumbling on Marcus' part, until John then offered to trade steeds, provided that the former first find a donkey capable of carrying John's weight.
They passed through fields of wheat and barley, through rows of verdant orchards, through the pastures where cattle and sheep grazed. It was a peaceful environment, but one that was only possible thanks to the efforts of men like them.
In a matter of hours, they came it to the village of Idris, which lay on the path to Valeria. When it first came into sight, the group began to relax. Marcus was in the middle of explaining how, five months ago, he'd ended up outside a bar wearing a golden crown and a woman's dress, when they saw the first ruined building. The moment they saw it, the five of them spurred their steeds into a gallop. As they got close to the devastation, the horses and donkeys stopped and struggled against their riders. With Hogan's coaxing, the animals relented but didn't stop trembling.
They entered the village, passing empty house after empty house. Every building had at least one door or window destroyed, and many were outright missing walls. No one called to them. There were no craftsmen toiling in their workshops, no women tending to their homes, no children playing in the streets. There were only remains. Bones, picked clean of all of their flesh, a few even cracked open for the marrow. The signs of a struggle could be discerned here and there—stirred up soil, broken axes and spears, scraps of cloth.
As the group moved deeper into the village, they saw a few houses that had been practically levelled, with just a few sorry remnants of wall remaining. Rubble was strewn everywhere. There were even more bones, many of them visibly fresher than those in the outskirts.
Finally, they came to the village square. On one side, wooden pillars had been erected, the kind that criminals were tied to so that they could be publically humiliated. These were battered and covered in dark red stains, while the ground around them was strewn with bones and bits of rope.
Here, the men slowed to a stop. All of them were unnerved, and John in particular seemed on the verge of vomiting. They'd seen the aftermaths of several monster attacks… but never anything on so large a scale.
Countless tracks littered the soil—most of them human, but several that clearly weren't. Bending down, Cutter examined the tracks. Each one was a continuous trail as wide as a man's shoulders, as if a heavy sack had been dragged across the earth. He grimaced.
"Lamias," he said, the spear in his hand shaking.
That put them all on edge. Lamias were among the more powerful monsters, having both great strength and magical ability. Their bodies were like enormous serpents from the waist down, but their upper bodies were similar in shape to a human's. The resemblance was purely superficial, however; their entire bodies were covered in armoured scales, their hands were tipped with claws, and their heads were grotesque, as if they'd been designed by a mad artist combining elements of reptiles and other beasts.
They scanned the surroundings warily. It wasn't uncommon for monsters to attack human settlements that had already been invaded by other monsters. Adam cast a spell, one that sent out a small wave of spirit energy which would react with the demonic energy of any monsters in the vicinity. There was no response to this spell, which could mean that the coast was clear… or that there was a monster skilled enough in magic to cloak their own energy. Either way, they couldn't let their guard down.
Next, they debated what to do. There wasn't nearly enough time in the day for them to reach Valeria, and there wasn't any other source of shelter nearby. They'd have to stay in Idris for the night, a stomach-churning proposition for all of them.
First, Hogan and Marcus took the horses and donkeys outside the village to feed and water them. The rest searched for the most defensible structure that was still standing. They settled on the village inn, which was largely intact and had a stable. After cleaning up the mess inside, they began to fortify the building. The inn's windows, like several of the other buildings', had been boarded up, so all they had to do was repair any damage. The door had been torn off its hinges, but they deliberately made no attempt to repair it: if there were no available entrances, any monster would suspect that there was someone still barricaded inside. As a final measure, Adam cast spells over the inn, to suppress both their physical scent and their spirit energy signatures.
Night fell all too quickly. The men ate their dinner, dried rations from their packs. The horses and donkeys were lulled into sleep with the help of Adam's magic, to prevent them from alerting anyone or anything. Soon after, the men went to bed as well, with two of them remaining on guard at all times.
In less than an hour, the anticipated threat had arrived.
Adam and Cutter were the ones on watch. They heard the sound of flapping wings, faint initially. As it grew louder, it sounded vaguely like a colony of bats was approaching the village. But soon, they heard the shrieks—unearthly sounds that seemed to pierce into the depths of their minds. Harpies.
The two of them didn't need to wake up the rest, since the harpies' shrieks had done that for them. They quickly checked on the animals to make sure they were still asleep, then carefully moved to the windows and peered outside.
Fortunately, the clouds had mostly dispersed. Innumerable shapes were visible against the backdrop of the starry sky, moving at high speed. A terrible cacophony of noise filled the air.
The harpies began to descend. At first, they looked indistinguishable from giant birds in the darkness. As they approached, the humans saw their true appearances: vaguely human faces with mouths full of sharp teeth, wings that spanned twice a man's height, brown feathers matted with filth, and scaled legs ending in vicious talons.
Cutter started to move towards the door, spear in hand. His friends tried to hold him back, and it took three of them to stop him. Trying to fight harpies in the open would be suicidal, even if they weren't horribly outnumbered.
The harpies began to land, and the screech of talons on roof tiles joined the unearthly shrieks. They had to be searching the village, scavenging for anything left to eat.
After a minute or two, one of them spoke, in a harsh yet still coherent voice, "Damn it, there's nothing here! The snakes must have gotten them all!"
"Keep looking! There's bound to be something!" said another harpy, this one visibly larger than the rest.
Cutter struggled, but the others held him firmly. In the worst case, if the harpies found them, it would still be safer to stay inside. The windows and doors would act as bottlenecks, and the confined space would remove the harpies' advantage in speed. It was the only chance they had at survival—and even then, it was virtually guaranteed that only some of them would make it.
They waited out the attack, keeping their weapons at the ready for the entire time. Several times, the harpies came close to the inn. There seemed to be nothing else but bloodcurdling screeches, which slowly but surely wore down the men's resolve.
After what seemed like an eternity, the harpies gave up on their search. With screeches of disappointment, they took flight and disappeared into the black sky.
Marcus swore. "That was a close one. We wouldn't have stood a chance if they'd found us."
"Harpies aren't good with magic," Hogan said. "If it had been another kind of monster, they might have found us from the spells we used to hide."
"Regardless, we can't afford to let down our guard yet," Adam said. "It's still possible that more monsters will arrive."
This statement drew nods from all of the men. It may have been pessimistic, but in this world, optimism had a very short lifespan.