What did he mean, I need to stop associating with Billy?
I do recall that, back when we’d first met, Dallas had said he was acquainted with Billy, but what’s going on here?
“Sir Billy is a good person!”
Pochi was quite fond of Billy, so her response was understandable. It was all about food and snacks, sure, but that didn’t change Billy’s gestures of goodwill toward her.
“He’s a lover of all animals ever since way back in the day. So much so that he’d spent personal assets to establish and maintain a small animal shelter out of town.”
“Shouldn’t that be a good thing?!”
I’d never known that was a thing. Billy never bought it up during the few recovery magic extra classes I’d had with him.
I know Pochi isn’t so happy now, but it shouldn’t hurt to hear Dallas’ story to the end.
So I waited to hear the rest – and Dallas went straight to the meat of it.
“Here’s the thing. I’ve recently discovered that it was just a front.”
“…Do you mean an incident occurred that prompted you to think that?”
“Just the other day, in fact. I took a request to slay some monsters in the outskirts of Radeata, near the shelter. After I was done, I decided to drop by the place. Particularly because I’d heard that Billy was going to Radeata at that time, you see. Just wanted to see an old friend, nothing grand.”
“Hmm, I bet there were lots of happy animals living there!”
“From what I’d managed to see with a peek above the walls, that was the case, yes.”
He peeked in? He couldn’t have just… looked?
“Why would you do that, Sir Dallas?”
“For one, the walls were incredibly tall and thick. And on the way, I started seeing more dead animals the closer I got to the shelter… Have you heard? That usually means unnatural killing – more meat than all the monsters in the area can eat.”
Pochi piped down, her anger slightly abated.
“Well, I didn’t quite get that at the time, so I was on guard the whole time I approached the place. The facility was separated between the main building, the breeding space, and the main shelter. When I looked into the breeding space, I thought I was just being paranoid. But then…”
“I saw Billy, and he had a brown spotted wolf with him. Its appearance was unusual, so I definitely remembered right. Billy took it from the shelter to the main building. What disturbed me was his face – he had this perpetual creepy grin on him…”
Pochi swallowed a lump in her throat.
Right, I’d never seen Billy acting like that, let alone heard anything of the sort.
“The facility had security guards, so I couldn’t stay for long. In the end, I turned in my quest and stayed in Radeata for a few days, but never got to meet Billy during that time.”
“So this suspicion only came from Sir Billy’s grin, then?”
Dallas shook his head.
I inclined my head in doubt, wondering what more could there be.
“On my way here from Radeata, I was attacked by a bizarre monster – well, technically a beast, I suppose…”
So to rephrase that…
“A brown spotted wolf… except it had three heads. Looked strange, somewhat similar to the A-ranked Kerberos, but also very different. Strong and savage, too – not one bit weaker compared to the Kerberos itself. I only realized when I’d killed it that it was ‘just’ a beast. But in my book, that thing was…”
That thing was a monster – was probably what he wanted to say. A three-headed wolf.
Pochi looked as if she’d recalled something – probably the same thing I’m thinking of. It was one of those things we’d researched together back in the day, in fact, so that was to be expected.
“My suspicion stemmed from how the strange beast I fought looked similar to the wolf Billy had with him. That’s all there is to the story.”
I closed my eyes and searched my memories for the exact details. Hmm, it should be around three or four hundred years ago…
“…Left and right heads forcefully stitched onto the center neck, or their furs were ‘fresher’ compared to the rest of the body. Does either of those apply?”
“I’d figured that was the case, so after I killed it, I made sure to check the necklines. No stitches, but as you said, the left and right heads had different fur… How did you know?”
Pochi turned around and called me. She looked quite sad… which is understandable, considering how well she got along with the man in question.
I nodded to affirm Pochi of her assumption.
“Yeah, it’s Chimaera. A high-leveled implementation, at that.”
“…Chimaera? That sounded different. Don’t you mean Chimera?”
“Chimera-type monsters have been around for a long time, but Chimaera refers to a method of artificially creating monsters… well, beasts. The part with the stitches I referred to earlier is a result of installing the heads of other creatures onto the body, while the fur part is… well, this is only one possibility, but I’d say it’s from new heads being grown via mutation over the span of several days.”
Pochi was showing quite a complex mixture of emotions on her face.
With Billy being the Nation’s authority on recovery magic, Pochi knew full well that he was capable of doing this.
“It’s most likely that all three heads had exactly the same face. Did they?”
“Installing heads have a high rate of failure due to incompatibilities and the like, so it’s extremely difficult to put the method to practical use. The case of ‘growing,’ however, is very much possible if the developer has the right spells and enough arcane energy to do so.”
The former case, if successful, would have resulted in a stronger Chimaera beast than the one Dallas had fought. Since the chances of failure were higher, a larger number of experiments were needed as well.
For the latter case, it was relatively easy to succeed as long as the main body was kept intact, and if one had the appropriate recovery magic, arcane energy, and other necessary technical knowledge… But this method would also result in the main body being badly damaged.
The process required one to repeatedly injure the target beast while imprinting the right memes into its brain – for instance, ‘you need to evolve and grow a new head’. The beast’s flesh from the neckline to its shoulders would then need to be cut open, then applied with arcane energy to induce its mutation, certain foreign substances to influence the new growth of its bones, and lastly, kept alive and restored with recovery spells. If that ended up with the neck bones branching out, then the chances of success from there were high.
Considering how good Billy was with his recovery magic and how much arcane energy he had…
After getting the simplified explanations, Dallas groaned to himself as he pondered it over. I waited for his response.
“…Do you think it’s really him?”
I gave him an honest answer that I could derive from all the available information.
“I’m eighty percent sure.”
“…All right. I’ll be investigating more into this. And… sorry for what happened today. Feel free to come here again later if need be.”
“Only because you’re here, Sir Dallas.”
“Heh, I’ll spare you the inconvenience and show up at the Pochisley Agency next time, then.”
It sounds like he isn’t staying in this town long-term.
So even though the Resistance’s hideout is here, Dallas is still wandering around all over the Nation, huh…
Once we left, Pochi wasn’t quite herself… well, no – with the story she’d heard, it was understandable that she would be quite downhearted.
After we were out of the Colorful Food District, I put my hand of Pochi’s head and explained to her,
“Chimaera aren’t monsters, but beasts that listen to humans’ commands. This could mean ‘they’ are preparing this as their force of arms.”
“…What do you mean?”
“Black magecraft can’t control powerful monsters… so ‘they’ are creating what they can control. That’s the conclusion I could draw from the story.”
“See, from what Sir Dallas told us, Sir Billy has always been fond of animals. It’s been ten or so years since he’d moved all the animals under his care to the shelter, so something about him must have changed at around that time… maybe by someone…”
“You mean… he’s being controlled?!”
“Well, we’ll have to wait for Sir Dallas’ future reports to be sure.”
Pochi’s expression brightened up, her broad smile showing her shining fangs.
“All right! If I find out who’s controlling Sir Billy… I’m gonna beat them up real good!”
She stood on her hinds and emulated boxers’ punches with her front legs.
Though that could be considered a battle-ready stance, for some reason, she was also wagging her tail.