Chapter 1036: A Murderous Crow

Once Tsubaki was able to move, she rolled herself off of the now-ruined mattress that she had landed in, and worked on disentangling herself from the net. Although she had been confident in her escape plan, this was still her first time properly executing it. Once she had untangled the net and freed herself, she held her bad arm steady and turned to look at the broken remains of her gun.

“If I had a good forge, I might be able to fix that, but…” She let her words trail off, seeing the shattered barrel and smashed scope. When she had landed on the mattress, the strap had been what pulled her shoulder out of its socket. Otherwise, she may have just been able to get away with a few bruises and some discombobulation. 

However, while there was certainly a mechanic shop in the city, and even a blacksmith that she found, both of those were taken over by people. Given the settings that Tsubaki asked for in the beginning, there was no way of knowing who among the other residents of the city could be trusted. As time went on, it was actually more likely that anyone she found was possessed by a monster.

Tsubaki let out a small sigh, kneeling down and resting her bad arm on her knee as she used her free hand to retrieve the remaining ammunition from the rifle. Although she wouldn’t be able to reuse the gun itself, there was no reason for her not to use the bullets.

As she was doing this, she was planning out her escape path in the back of her mind. Now that the centipede was dead, it would be attracting some of the other giant monsters to its corpse for a free meal. While Tsubaki was highly uncertain about whether or not its meat was safe for regular consumption, that was naturally not  a problem for these monsters.

The sewers were not an option. Tsubaki had tried to navigate her way through them on her first day in the simulation, thinking it might make for a good network of passages throughout the city. However… something about seeing corpses strung up on a series of webs and spiders more than six feet long traveling in swarms of dozens convinced her quite swiftly that it was best for her to stay above ground.

This was also the reason that she made sure to block every manhole cover that she found. Without magic or any form of special powers, even the weakest of these creatures took careful planning to defeat.

Once she had acquired all of the resources that she could carry, Tsubaki grabbed the silenced pistol she stashed in the building ahead of time and made her way down to the street level. Her safehouse was on the other side of the city, and she had to move fast if she wanted to get there before the sun went down.

Along the way, as she duck between alleys and behind cars, Tsubaki caught sight of a group of six residents, three men and three women. The women were armed with shotguns, while each of the men held a large machete. Judging from the states of the blades, they had seen recent action, blood and hair sticking to the blade.

Tsubaki briefly froze up when she saw the group, doing her best to remain as still and quiet as possible. In order to complete her trial, she had researched each of the different types of monsters that had attacked the city. In total, there were three unique giant monsters, six large beast herds, and what she called the Stalker. 

The Stalker was the monster that would either possess or disguise itself as a normal person. For the most part, it appeared entirely normal. However, it had heightened strength, durability, reflexes, and senses. Judging by the gore on the machete, either this group was composed of stalkers, they had just killed one, or they were simply murderers. With two of the three options ones she would rather avoid, she had to do her best to avoid detection.

This led to her hiding at the entrance of an alley for nearly five minutes, until the group had fully left the area. Only then did she continue along her way. Her safehouse was at the heart of the southern suburbs, as far from the identified danger zones as she could manage. As for its identity… really, it was just an old family home that she reinforced with a bit of easy craftsmanship, such as barring the windows and trapping the doors.

Thankfully, she managed to avoid detection along her route, temporarily disabling her own traps to allow herself inside. When she saw that none of them had been sprung, she was confident that her home was still secure. The first thing that she did was check the time, and then turned on an old radio that she had put together.

Every now and then, Tsubaki had heard broadcasts for help from other survivors, though she firmly ignored them. The reason that she kept listening to the radio wasn’t because she was looking for other survivors, but because she wanted to monitor the government’s response.

On the third day after the attack, she received a broadcast stating that there was a government bunker set up to the west of the city. Out of curiosity, she found a concealed spot more than a kilometer away to overlook the facility and hid within some deep foliage, watching with the scope that had formerly been attached to her rifle.

Through the scope, she saw survivors being escorted by those in military suits into what looked like a large barracks. She watched the scene for more than three hours, until she had to hurry back to her safehouse before it got dark. In that entire time, she didn’t see any of the residents emerge from the barracks after entering it. Every now and then, one of the men in military uniforms would walk in, and emerge carrying large trash bags.

For a survivor camp, this was sending off red flags left and right, to the point where Tsubaki was certain that the base had been overrun by Stalkers. Given how intelligent they were, it was even likely that they had inserted themselves into the highest ranks of the government. Thus, Tsubaki used the radio to listen for any ‘offers of incoming aid’. Because if she heard that, she had to immediately vacate the area. Even if it meant leaving the area surrounding the city.

Hearing nothing but static from her radio, Tsubaki nodded her head, shutting it off again. She wrapped her arm in a simple splint to let it recover, and made her way to the bedroom. Along one wall, she had all of the information that she had gathered about the ten different types of monsters that had attacked the city. Next to the wall of information, she picked up a dagger, and thrust it into the picture of the giant centipede.

For this simulation, Tsubaki had set herself a ‘simple’ goal. Of the ten types of monsters, it was too much even for her to kill off an entire species that had invaded. Thus, her targets were only the three giant monsters, each of which were larger than most buildings in the city.

The first of these targets was the human-faced centipede, which she had previously killed. The next was a serpent. This one was tricky for Tsubaki to get information on, due to its ability to hide itself. The only picture she had of it was when she had lured it to stick its head out of a hole in a building that it had been hiding in.

This serpent used its thin, flexible body to coil up inside of large buildings. If positioned properly, it could occupy multiple floors of an office building at once. At the same time, it was able to change the pigmentation of its skin, letting it be unseen at a distance. It was almost impossible to tell what building it was hiding in before entering, at which point it may be too late to leave.

It was for this reason that Tsubaki avoided using large structures whenever she could, her previous sniping post having been scouted for more than a day before determining that it was safe “The serpent is cold-blooded, too, so I can’t rely on any type of thermal imaging.” She muttered to herself, before her eyes turned to the third picture.

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The third monster was undoubtedly the one that she would have the most trouble killing, as it was by far the most mystical. This monster was a giant crow, its wingspan more than five hundred meters. It only ever appeared as the sun was setting, and was the reason why Tsubaki refused to remain outside after dark. She wasn’t sure how the ability worked, but simply being gazed at by the crow was enough to cause someone to die.

This ability was not limited to the survivors, as even other beasts would be struck dead the moment its eyes focused on them. A massive rhino had fallen dead one night outside of Tsubaki’s safehouse, the tremor from its fall waking her up. By the time she made it to peer through the curtains, she saw giant claws swooping down and carrying its lifeless body away.

“Before I go after that one, I’ll need to find where it roosts during the day.” She nodded her head, though she wasn’t even entirely sure that it slept in the city. It was possible it flew from a distant mountain.

As she said that, Tsubaki heard a distant caw, and her blood ran cold. Twilight was approaching, so the crow was out. She hastily turned off all of her lights, moving to an inner room without windows.

These were lessons that she had picked up during the week that she had survived in this ruined city. If you want to survive at night, stay quiet, stay in the dark, in an enclosed space, and away from windows. None of the monsters in the city had a special ability to pass through walls, so the only thing she had to worry about were the spiders in the sewers. Thankfully, she had barricaded every manhole within a mile of her safehouse, so that wasn’t as much of a concern.

She simply sat in the dark, closing her eyes to prepare to rest. However, before she could drift off, Cici’s voice spoke up. Tsubaki, you previously asked for me to alert you to log out at five according to local Olympus time.

Tsubaki’s brow twitched, but she nodded her head. Thank you, Cici. Please log me out, then.

There was a rush of light in her surroundings that made Tsubaki’s body tense up, before she felt herself returning to her normal body. The flowing energy coursing through her bolstered her confidence, and she put a smile on her face as she sat up from her bed. She even flexed her shoulder, relieved that it wasn’t hurting anymore.

With her routine ‘recalibration’ out of the way, Tsubaki made her way towards the communal kitchen, a bright smile on her face. Along the way, she saw the Keeper standing in the hallway, and blinked, before nodding towards him and offering a small bow. “My Keeper. I was just on my way to prepare dinner. Is there anything that you would like to request for today?”

“Whatever you want to make is fine.” He assured her, looking like he had something on his mind.

“Is anything the matter, my Keeper?” She asked curiously.

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“Cici showed me the simulation you were in.” He answered, and Tsubaki’s ears stood straight up, as if she had been caught red-handed. “It’s fine, I knew you were going to be doing a trial. Still, this one seems intense, even for you.”

Tsubaki gave a small nod of agreement. “In all of my past trials, I had the benefit of the system. Even if it wasn’t a system I was familiar with, I was able to gain levels and skills throughout the trial. This is my first time where I was able to shed even that, and test myself with only my natural instincts.”

“Still… don’t push yourself too hard, alright?” He said in a kind tone. “I know you’ll just restart if you fail, but don’t get too focused on it that you lose sight of everything else.”

“I will keep that in mind.” She nodded her head gently, before pursing her lips. “If you have seen my projection, I do have one question that I’d like to ask of you.”

“Oh?” The Keeper seemed genuinely surprised, and even intrigued by her question. “Go on? I’m not used to you coming to me for help, especially in a trial.”

“My question isn’t strictly related to my trial, I suppose…” Tsubaki shook her head. “Within my trial, there is a great bird that can inflict instant death with a gaze. Given that I haven’t seen any other signs of what could be a void beast infestation in the city, I thought perhaps the void beast might be this bird itself. However, if that is the case, killing it will be truly impossible, so I can only complete my trial by giving accurate information. If it is not the case, then giving that information would result in a failed trial either way.”

The Keeper nodded his head with a small smile. “I actually asked Cici what the void beast in your simulation was. I can tell you if you want, but I assure you that it is not the crow, and will not impact your trial in any conceivable way, whether you are aware of it or not.”

Tsubaki’s eyes twitched a bit wider when she heard that. “If that is the case, could you tell me about it? If it truly will not impact my trial, I would like to remove it sooner, to offer myself some peace of mind.”

The Keeper simply chuckled. “Apparently, your eye color randomly changes every day. That is the extent of the void’s influence on your simulation.”

When Tsubaki heard the Keeper’s words, her mouth hung open, dumbstruck by such a simple answer. Tsubaki never paid attention to her own eyes in the reflection. She always had other things to be looking for, such as movement behind her or making sure that her gear was properly equipped. She considered observing her own face in a mirror to be a form of vanity, something that she simply wasn’t interested in.

“I… I see. Thank you for your advice, my Keeper. If you had not told me, I don’t know how long it would take for me to realize.” She gave a deep bow of thanks, but the Keeper simply waved his hand. At least she knew he was right, the color of her eyes would truly be unable to impact her trial in any way.

More importantly, now that she knew that the crow was not a void beast, she had a better idea of how its power worked.

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