Johann only camped the first night in familiar territory. From there, even the forests where he spent his entire life became distant memories. The climate slowly became drier and drier. It was if mother nature’s life force was being sucked out more and more the closer he got to Dis. Even just surviving became exponentially harder as the climate became more arid. Food and water were more scarce, animals were more dangerous, and the sun’s rays which brought life back home relentlessly beat down at the ground, leaving a wasteland behind. Not to mention, even though Johann was a bit of an introvert, he still hadn’t talked to or even seen another human in days, and the isolation was starting to get to him.
He hadn’t prepared properly for this journey. After just four days, he was delirious from the heat and nearly dead from dehydration. That’s when he saw it. Far off in the distance, he saw a stream. Desperate for a drink, he rushed as fast as he could. When he finally made it, he drank as much as he could and then some. He filled up his flask as well.
Just up a hill nearby, he saw the ruins of town. He had seen a few on his way here. Most of them were useless to him, but they were interesting to see. The architecture wasn’t too different from what Flecht offered, but they were filled with all kinds of things Johann had never seen before like giant metal containers, big boxes with empty windows, and boards with letters and numbers on them. Even the old clothes he found were interesting. Whatever Women had lived in those times were wearing some pretty risque outfits, he thought. Of course, he had no need for any of these things, but he was still curious, so he looked.
He made his way to the town, figuring that he could rest up there for a bit, but as he got close, he heard a scream followed by a loud “Help!”
Johann ran to the source of the noise and found a man grappling with an ash-colored demon the size of a toddler, but despite its size, it wasn’t any less vicious as it clawed and bit at the man.
“Help!” the man screamed again.
Johann ran within range and drew his longsword. He entered his stance, readied his blade, and confidently slashed the demon’s back. It then rolled onto the ground and lied still.
Johann let out a sigh of relief and lowered his sword before the demon jumped up and lunged at him. In a panic, he swung it up and lodged his blade into the demon’s neck and jaw thus delivering a fatal blow.
Once he was sure that the demon had died, he looked over to the man.
“You really saved my bacon there, sir,” the man said. “Thank you, the name’s Ivan.”
Ivan invited Johann into a nearby abandoned house. He said that that was where he had set up his camp.
They sat down in the dilapidated living room and Ivan offered Johann some dried meat. Johann, who’s stomach felt like it was digesting itself, accepted.
“Thank you again. It would’ve been really embarrassing to die to a runt of a demon like that.”
Johann responded, “Yeah,” as he continuously chewed on the tough, bland meat.
“I take it that you’ve travelled some way.”
“Where are you heading?”
“A city called Dis.”
“Dis!? You actually want to go there!?”
Ivan had been completely flabbergasted by that answer. Johann still knew nothing of the city, so he didn’t expect such an aversive reaction. Even knowing it was the source of the demons, was it really so bad as to inspire such a reaction?
“What’s so bad about Dis?” Johann asked.
Ivan sighed and crossed his arms. “Dis. It is known as the greatest city in the world. For that is why it is the capital. In Dis, all are equals and all are happy. At least, that is how Dis is advertised. It’s portrayed as Heaven on Earth, but I’d describe it as being worse than Hell.”
“Worse than Hell?”
“Yup, in Dis, everybody is equal. Equally miserable that is. Except for the ruling class, of course. YHWH and their subsidiaries.”
“Yes, YHWH is a multinational conglomerate. It’s a company that owns every business under the sun with only a few exceptions. Dis has a government and police force, but they’re paid off by YHWH, and it’s barely even kept secret.”
Johann learned of what companies were because of his father’s stories, but they were still quite unimaginable to him. After all, in Flecht, there wasn’t even any money. If you needed something that someone else had then you’d just trade, and in such a small town it really wasn’t much of a hassle. Still though, a privately owned company run by unelected officials who got to their position motivated only by pure greed was more powerful than the government? That thought alone was crazy to Johann. It really did sound like Hell.
“YHWH is stronger than any government, army, nation, church, or company that came before it. They run every city in the world. All fifty of them.”
“There’s only fifty cities in the world?”
“Yup, the world’s official population is 500 million. On average, each city has about 10 million residents. However, Dis is the largest city in the world with a population of 100 million.”
“100 million!? That’s huge! That’s a fifth of the world’s population!”
“It is big, but not quite a fifth. The official population of the world may be 500 million, but in reality, there’s probably about 1 billion people. Basically, anyone who doesn’t live in a city isn’t counted. There are tons of small towns and settlements that are totally off the grid, free from YHWH’’s grasp.”
“I see.” That made sense to Johann. Nobody in Flecht had ever even heard of YHWH or Dis. All they knew was their village and the surrounding area. It wasn’t unreasonable to assume that there were other people living similarly.
“Honestly, I was surprised to find you out here. YHWH considers anyone who doesn’t live in a city an invalid of sorts, so they’ve been sending out units to destroy settlements for years. Ultimately, it’s to combat ‘overpopulation,’ but they’ve been successful so far. I read in some old books that the world’s population used to be over 8 billion before a series of wars and plagues culled humanity. Anyway, most settlements near cities have been wiped out, and we’re very close to Dis right now, so we’re in quite a bit of danger of being pinched.”
All this information was a lot to take in for Johann. Not only does he need to fight against demons, he needs to fight against a corrupt mega-corporation too? Honestly, it’s a lot to handle. Demons may be strong, but they’re simple and people can generally recognize them as a threat, but an organization like YHWH which has a vice-like grip on the world will be much more challenging to overcome. First, they have armies that can quell any opposition. Second, they have the media which can dispense propaganda to manipulate the masses. Third, they own all the resources that would be needed to go against them.
Johann sighed, closed his eyes, and slumped over. Dis really was worse than Hell. At least Hell only had demons.
“You planning on turning back now? I can tell that you came from some isolated village. I’m sure your home is far preferable to Hell.”
Johann didn’t respond. He was feeling hopeless, but he vowed to defeat the demons, and if that meant taking on YHWH too, then he knew what he had to do.
“No. I’m going to Dis. I need to defeat the demons.”
Ivan looked intrigued. “I see. Does that mean you’re a Summoner?”
“A Summoner? What’s that?”
“Hm? You don’t know? Well, never mind then.”
He was still curious, but he decided to let it go.
“You know, I haven’t properly thanked you for saving my life, and if you plan on going to Dis, you’ll need a lot more than just what you’re currently carrying.”
“What else do I need?” Johann still didn’t know exactly what Did was like, so he figured his longsword would be enough. His mission was demon slaying, after all.
“You see, Dis is surrounded by a massive wall, and only authorized personnel are allowed through. So take this.” Ivan rustled through his bags and handed Johann a steel gauntlet. Just like the longsword, the metalwork was more advanced than Johann would’ve thought possible. Ivan fit it to Johann’s left arm. “Just squeeze your hand once to shoot it, and squeeze again to retract it. It’ll really come in handy, trust me.”
Ivan dug through his luggage again and pulled out a steel ring. “You’ll need this too. Dis has records of every citizen. This will mimic those records and trick the system into thinking you belong.” When Johann put the ring on his finger, it lit up before slowly going dormant again.
“Well, I suppose that makes us even. It’s been nice talking to you, and I wish you luck on your journey.”
After their long chat, they packed up and went their separate ways. Apparently, Ivan was heading north. If you kept walking for several months, eventually you’d reach the end of the continent where a vast tundra lay. He said that it’d be the last place YHWH would look for stragglers. Meanwhile, Johann went south, braving the harsh, lifeless desert as if travelling deeper and deeper into Hell.