Chapter 479: One Less than Ten Thousand

“Th…thank you sir. Thank you.” The small, halfling-looking world spirit sniffled against my chest, her arms wrapped tight around me. After I returned the class orb to the spire, there had been no immediate sign of her return. As such, I had immediately left for the twenty-third floor of Fyor.

Starting from the nineteenth floor, there were five consecutive layers, each attuned to an elemental world. Water, Earth, Wind, Fire, and finally… the elemental world of life. The area where this spirit had been trapped for so long. In order to save her, it was first necessary to surpass these five floors.

Thankfully, Ryone had already sealed all of the special ore found within this floor, but… that also severed the link to allow the world spirit to return. I had to seek her out myself, using my domain. When I did, I found her once again being hunted. There was a thin, black dagger in her hand as she cowered within a heavy bush.

Just going by her expression, I knew immediately that her situation wasn’t good. If I waited much longer, she might be devoured again. So I pulled her through my mirror by force, startling her. Out of instinct, she whipped the dagger out at me, slashing my chest. The feeling of pain that brought… It was surprising that such a small weapon had enough power to hurt me.

Once she saw who I was, however, that dagger vanished and she let out a cry. The spirit immediately began tending my wound, retrieving the energy her dagger had left before holding onto me and thanking me repeatedly.

“It’s fine.” I whispered gently to her, stroking a hand along her back to comfort her. I could feel her body shaking from the touch. As if she had been conditioned over countless battles to know that anything touching her would only mean pain. “You don’t have to fight anymore…”

When she heard those words, the world spirit lifted her head to look at me, tears streaming down from her eyes. “I can… I can stop fighting?” From the almost desperate tone to her voice, the thought of being able to stop hadn’t crossed her mind in a long time.

“That’s right. Unless we hit a true disaster, I won’t ask you to fight again.” That was a promise I felt I had to make her. After her years in the elemental plane, she was undoubtedly the most powerful world spirit among any of my worlds. Her battle instincts and control would have grown to a point that no other world spirit could rival her. But at the same time, being locked in an eternal torture like that, how could I ask her to continue?

“Really… I can stop…” She muttered again, leaning against me as her strength seemed to leave her legs. Her hands grabbed the sides of my shirt, and I could feel her trembling. However, this time, the trembles from her body were not merely those caused by her tears.

“I got out!” She tilted her head back, laughing loudly. “I made it! I’m free!” Her tears continued to stream down the side of her face as she cried out, and I could feel the energy surging within her body. In order to hide from the predators of that world, she had to restrain her energy to the bare minimum.

Finally, she seemed to start to come to her senses, gathering strength in her legs to stand up. She stepped back, looking down at her own arms. “It’s true… the world isn’t rejecting me anymore. I don’t have to go back to that elemental plane. I can finally join the others…”

I gave a small nod of my head, reaching up to brush the tears off of her cheeks. “That’s right.” There were so many questions I wanted to ask her, but now wasn’t the time. When my eyes glanced over her level, I saw that it had risen to over a thousand, far above what the level cap was for Fyor. Since she was outside of my ‘domain’ within the elemental planes, she had been unrestricted by the level limit of this world.

Thanks to my own experiences, I knew that it would still be possible for her to move between layers effortlessly, as long as she took detours through the world of world spirits. That was not a concern.

“Oh!” The world spirit spoke up suddenly, as if remembering something. “I’ve got to tell you something, sir!” When she said that, her face went serious, and she turned to face me.

“Go on?” If it was important enough to snap her out of her own celebration, I couldn’t help but be curious.

“I wasn’t the only person living in that world. They were scattered, but there were others. One of them taught me how to make the dagger that I… err…” She suddenly grew embarrassed as she mentioned the dagger. “The one you found me with, sir.”

“They showed you how to make a dagger that could harm a god?” Okay, now I was even more curious. Just what kind of people did she encounter?

“Not specifically a god… but yes. And one of them asked me to pass a message, to ‘the man who made me’. He seemed quite confident that I would meet that man again, and that I knew he meant you…”

Immediately, I began thinking back, wondering if there had been any other people who had mysteriously vanished after being connected to me. However, I kept drawing a blank. Was there really someone like that? “What did he say?”

“Uhm… hold on, let me think.” The world spirit closed her eyes to focus. “It was… odd, but he said that I had to deliver the message exactly. ‘What’s one less than ten thousand?’ I think that’s how it went. Sorry, sir, I was eaten not long after I met him, so my mind is a bit blurry…”

Terra! I shouted within my mind as soon as I heard the spirit’s words. Someone knows things that nobody in this world should possibly know! Explanations, please!

What was one less than ten thousand? Anyone could give you an answer to that question. But not everyone could understand its meaning. There were only a select few that had the ‘right’ to know what it meant. A group of nine thousand, nine hundred and ninety-nine individuals.

It’s… Terra’s voice actually seemed to be shaking as she responded to me, recoiling from the surprise herself. An Anomaly. An Anomaly among Anomalies, even. He was reborn.

Who was? Don’t tell me it was the lazy bastard I hit! My hands were shaking at the thought of that, the idea that he could be back spelled nothing good.

No, not him. The one before. I-I’m sorry, this really shouldn’t happen. His soul should have been destroyed at the beginning of the last cycle. It’s part of the normal procedure. I need to think.

After saying that, Terra went silent for a few moments, while the world spirit looked at me in confusion. “Do you know him, sir?”

“Not directly…” I shook my head. “But he should have been someone like me, at one point in time…”

“Think, Terra, think!” The catgirl muttered to herself, reviewing the records within her memory to identify the origin of this anomaly. She had already found and confirmed its identity, but this was something new. For a System Companion, new was scary. New meant that, out of the trillions of worlds that had existed in the past, this was the first time an event had happened.

“The soul was destroyed, I’m sure of that.” She nodded her head, pacing in the bedroom as she recalled those logs. “The energy was perfectly dispersed into the stream. Follow it…” Terra ‘tagged’ one part of the spirit’s energy in the record, following it through the cycle of rebirth.

She saw the soul fragment joining together with randomly discarded souls to be reborn in another Keeper’s world, its memories erased. She watched its life and death, making sure to keep that exact piece of its soul tagged to follow it into the next life. And the next.

Through thousands of lifetimes, she followed the fragment of a soul, ensuring that she never lost track of it. At times, it would encounter a few other pieces of its former Keeper soul, but nothing that had ever caused memories to resurface.

“I don’t have time for this.” She growled, and the process sped up tremendously. Hundreds of lives passed in every second. Sometimes, he would be reborn as a frog or a cat, a man or a woman. Once he was a dragon, and once even he ascended to godhood.

Finally, the soul fragment found its way back to Dale’s own world, at the same time as a large number of other fragments found their way back. It landed in Fyor, on a relatively higher floor. Terra felt resistance when she tried to track it, but forced her way through. “I’m not going to tell him anything he doesn’t need to know. But we need to see how this happened.”

After she said that, the resistance loosened. She saw the fragments, which had been apart for so many years, merging together into a new life. Maybe it was because of just how compatible the fragments were with one another, but they caused an anomaly within the game system. One that allowed its archived memories from this world to return. The memories from when he was a Keeper.

“James… you’re actually back.” Terra muttered in surprise, shaking her head.

Okay, I’ve got what I can tell you. Terra spoke, seeming only slightly agitated now.

Please don’t tell me that there’s critical information you have to hide from me because of the system’s rules? I was practically begging at this point.

It’s not… critical, no. I can’t tell you exactly what he has been through, or how to find him. But… yes, it’s him. No, he doesn’t still have his Keeper authority. Even the greatest anomaly in the world can’t override that ruling. Instead, he has his memories from his time as this world’s Keeper.

And you said that it was the guy two generations before me, right? The really hardworking one? I asked to clarify.

That’s right. His name is James. I can easily tell you that much, at least.

And… does he know that I’m not the Keeper immediately after him? That I’m not the one that killed him? I gulped nervously as I asked that, and waited for a while for a response.

…No, he doesn’t. His memories end at his death, and resume when he was reborn as an anomaly. I can’t tell if he holds a grudge or not. I’m not allowed to check that right now.

I had to note there… she didn’t say that she wasn’t allowed to tell me, but that she wasn’t allowed to check. Meaning she herself didn’t know, because the system wouldn’t let her. So, correct me if I’m wrong… the most hardworking, labor-intensive Keeper in our records for this world has been reborn, and could possibly be under the impression that I’m the one that killed him. Did I get that right?

Yes..? He’s not the type to go out of his way for revenge, I think, but I don’t know if his new life changed him. He was a really nice and caring guy when he was the Keeper. His companion had nothing but praise for him.

I gave a small nod at that. I could hope that he didn’t want revenge thinking that I killed him, that his message through the world spirit wasn’t a ‘warning’ that he was coming. I could hope for a lot of things. If he truly was as understanding as Terra’s described him in the past, he could be one of the most powerful allies I could ever get.

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Otherwise… he might be the deadliest enemy as well. Depending on just how high up he was born, it was entirely possible that his power might surpass my own at the moment. Hell, he might even be a god that awakened outside of my territory, since he could know how to cultivate to that level.

I’d just have to wait and see.

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