Əsas səhifə Crafting Death: A LitRPG Cultivation Series (Towers & Rifts Book 2)

Crafting Death: A LitRPG Cultivation Series (Towers & Rifts Book 2)

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The Shadow of the Gods

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CRAFTING DEATH

©2021 NEPHILIM NIGHT





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Aethon Books

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Print and eBook formatting, and cover design by Steve Beaulieu. Artwork provided by Fernando Granea

Published by Aethon Books LLC.

Aethon Books is not responsible for websites (or their content) that are not owned by the publisher.

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead is coincidental.

All rights reserved.





ALSO IN THE SERIES





BEGINNER QUEST

CRAFTING DEATH





Contents




Chapter 1



Chapter 2



Chapter 3



Chapter 4



Chapter 5



Chapter 6



Chapter 7



Chapter 8



Chapter 9



Chapter 10



Chapter 11



Chapter 12



Chapter 13



Chapter 14



Chapter 15



Chapter 16



Chapter 17



Chapter 18



Chapter 19



Chapter 20



Chapter 21



Chapt; er 22



Chapter 23



Chapter 24



Chapter 25



Chapter 26



Epilogue





Bonus: Current Progression



Thank you for reading Crafting Death



ALSO IN SERIES



LitRPG stuff!



LitRPG





Chapter One





The world around me disappeared. First to go was the main building, then the two on the sides, the ground, the fountain, and then our little group. I closed my eyes as a strange feeling washed over me, almost as if I ceased to exist, but then I was back again with my eyes wide open.

A strong and flowery scent hit my nostrils, just like when Melina put on too much of her perfume. The bright light that assailed my eyes disappeared and was replaced by twilight. The tip of a sun peeked out behind distant mountains, washing us in its orange and yellow glow. Grass and flowers were everywhere. To the left of the ryokan a forest, while to the right a stream.

“Is this heaven?” Melina whispered as she put her hand in mine.

“I don’t think so,” I replied in an equal state of shock.

It was truly beautiful, but it all looked wrong. So very wrong.

“Vik? Look up, will you?” Mark said from behind me.

I did as he said and looked up to the sky and gasped.

“Shit, what the hell?” I cursed as I saw three moons orbiting the rift. No, not a rift. This was an entire world! “This is much bigger than what they led me to believe!”

“Sure is, but also much more—heavenly?” Melina added.

She was right. It sure did look heavenly. I looked around to see if everything else had traveled over to this place. Donald and Rita looked fine, but a bit shook. They sat on the fountain’s edge and looked up at the moons. Sarah, Laney, and Mark looked fine as well, so did Melina.

I lowered my weapons and then stashed them away. The one thing we didn’t have anymore was a wall and gate. Only the buildings had come with us, the stone yard, the sakura, and the fountain.

“Welcome, Viktor. Welcome, Viktor’s friends. My name is Veles.”

The God’s voice came from everywhere at the same time and was much more imposing than I remembered back up there. Or wherever it was we met first.

“Veles, welcome. It’s good to see you’re here with us,” I replied with as much respect as I could. After all, Veles was the only one who offered direct help.

“Tell me, Viktor, what kind of shape would you like me to take? I have no gender, and I have no real form. How do you want to see me?”

“A beautiful woman!” Melina exclaimed.

“Oh? Something like this?” Veles asked as an almost identical copy of Melina appeared out of thin air. This copy, however, was stark naked and, from the looks of it, also identical to her body.

“Wait, do I really look that good without clothes?” She laughed, trying to play it off despite her face turning bright red.

Luckily, there weren’t many of us here, and both Donald and Mark looked away quickly. I didn’t for some strange reason. Either because it was a copy of Melina or because I was stupid. Who knew?

“Even better than you can imagine,” I whispered to Melina before I walked over to the Goddess. At least that’s how I would think of Veles anyway, as a she. One without a single flaw.

“What kind of outfit do you want me to wear, young Melina?”

“Hmm, how about—”

She stopped halfway as a very revealing yukata appeared around Veles’s body. Her hair turned platinum blonde instead of the dark mane atop Melina’s head. Great. At least I’d be able to differentiate the two.

????? Scan

NAME: Veles

RANK: Major God



HEALTH: ?????

ENMA: ????

SPEED: ???

PHYSICAL ATTACK: ????

Enma Attack: ????: Defense: ????

ENMA SHIELD: ????





I closed the screen, as it didn’t give me anything tangible other than that there were many question marks. I sighed and shoved the thought aside.

“Now, please have a sit. There’s much to talk about,” she said as our eyes met, and she winked.

A single wooden bench appeared in front of her. It was wide enough for all six of us to sit with ease. I took my place at the center with Melina to my right. Sarah sat to my left with Mark on the far end while the older couple sat to our right.

“Where do we start?” I asked curiously.

I was all about information right now, as I wanted to know what we were going to be dealing with here.

“I will dumb it down as far as I can, but I won’t repeat myself. Understood?” We all nodded. “You’re all weak compared to the monsters in this zone. I’ve chosen a slightly worse starting point because it will help you grow faster, but you’ll have to be very careful once you’re inside the woods or enter the plains, even the deep water over there.”

Her hand pointed toward a big rock that sat next to the stream.

“It’s deeper past that point?” I asked curiously.

“It is. Monsters won’t enter past there because of the barrier. You’ll have a square mile of grassland to plant fruit and vegetables, and you can use the rest of the grass for cattle.”

“Cattle? Like cows and sheep?”

Veles let out a deep, rumbling laugh. “Cows? No, Viktor, not cows. Monsters. You’ll have to capture and domesticate them.”

“Domesticate?”

“Yes. Am I stuttering?”

“No, Veles. I’m sorry, but it’s just strange to hear someone tell you to domesticate a monster.”

She frowned. “Isn’t a cow also a monster to someone from another world?”

She had a point there.

“You’re right, I’m sorry. What about water? Are there any fishlike monsters out there that won’t kill us?”

“Now there are,” she replied and snapped her fingers. The slow and shallow part of the stream exploded, drawing our attention. Hundreds of small, finger-sized fish jumped up and down. It was a damn school! “Now, anything else?”

“No,” I replied. “Wait, you were telling us about this world and—stuff?”

“Oh, right. Sorry, I’m not used to being so pretty.” Veles laughed. Melina joined in on the laughter, as it was partially her doing. “Now, you’ll be getting new quests every cycle. A cycle lasts seven of your days. Every quest carries a reward that is generated randomly by one of the Gods throwing the dice. You’ll either get equipment, skills, levels, or even a boon. It all depends on your luck.”

She stopped for a moment as if telling us to ask something, but seeing no one did, she opened her mouth to go on.

“What about equipment, Lady Veles?” Donald asked. “I can do some tailoring, and my father used to be a smith. Can we make equipment ourselves?”

Her eyebrows rose along with the corners of her mouth. “Well, look at this. You’re the first human to ask out of all three rifts. Yes, you can make gear, but only after you complete a chain of quests to get it. The same goes for tailoring, breeding, fishing, and anything else you can think of. You want it? There’s a quest for it. The more important to your daily life and survival, the harder it is.”

“And where do we get these quests?” I asked. “And is there a list of available jobs? Or whatever they’re called?”

“Yes, they’re jobs, and they can level as well. The higher the level, the faster you can finish, the better the quality and stats on the item. As for where, hmmm—why not over there?”

She snapped her fingers again, and a big wooden noticeboard appeared next to the sakura tree. It was about eighty inches in width and as much in height. Pieces of paper appeared all across the board. I couldn’t see clearly from this distance, but there were about twenty of them. I’d have to check them out later.

“We just read the requests and accept?” I asked as I turned to stare at the Goddess.

“It’s as easy as that. You have basic weapons, and you know how parties work. From here on out it’s trial and error, so don’t be afraid to look stupid.”

“Say, can I ask one last thing?”

She nodded. “Go ahead, Viktor, but watch what you ask for.”

It was almost as if she was warning me about something in particular.

“How do we get back to our world? And how do people get here? What do we do with them?”

“What? Start a business, for all I care. Charge them to stay at your ryokan or eat your food. I don’t care, really. You can kill them if you want, or you can help them.”

“So they can kill us as well?”

“No, they can’t,” she replied and shook her head slowly, then pulled at a loose strand of hair and plucked it from her scalp. Shit, that looked incredibly painful. “As the owner, you have complete control over the dome. Here, I’ll make it slightly more visible so you know where the boundary is.” She snapped her fingers again, and a red and black glow appeared all around us.

“So we can defend ourselves without any repercussions?”

She nodded. “That’s right. Kill anyone you wish, and no one will bat an eye. If they try to kill you and you kill them instead, you get their belongings, or whatever drops, anyway.”

I let out a deep sigh and scratched my stubble beard as I sat there.

“As for how to get here and go back, through there.”

She snapped her fingers again, and a small rift appeared, the size of a barn door. Pure darkness lay beyond and was only disturbed by the occasional flash of lightning.

“We just walk through?”

“It’s that easy, but trust me, you won’t want to once you see the benefits of this place. Besides, you can only use it once every day. It resets at 08:00 every morning. Both ways.”

I closed my eyes and rubbed my temple. This was a lot to take in, too much for anyone sane enough to believe it. The worst part? I believed all of it.

“Lady Veles?” Melina asked. “What is our endgame here? How does this stop?”

The corners of Veles’s lips rose slightly before turning into a full-blown grin. “You die, you lose. Other than that? To grow the largest rift possible and defeat the other owners, of which there are three now. Once there are twenty, you’ll be allowed to hunt each other. The one who survives until the end gets to make any wish imaginable.”

“What about the tower, then?”

“Same principle. The tower has over five hundred floors, and every floor is a mini rift where ordinary monsters spawn constantly. Rare and higher-ranked monsters don’t spawn so often and can take anywhere from hours to days to reappear.”

“So it’s like a public rift in the sense that no one owns it?”

“Exactly, but the point is that you can only visit the tower an hour a day, while you can stay in here for weeks without worry, but let’s stop here.”

“Wait, please. When will we see you again?”

“Need-to-know basis. Don’t get too used to seeing me anyway, as I won’t be helping you from here on out.”

“Right, I understand. We owe you, so I’ll be sure to make it up,” I said and nodded.

“You can repay me by winning. Anyway, here’s to surviving your next seven days. Don’t die now, you hear me?”

Veles disappeared into thin air, leaving us in mute silence. A new world, a new and shitty situation, and far greater stakes than there had been so far. Why not?





Chapter Two





The first thing I did was check the gate. A message popped up saying it was on cooldown for the next seven days. A wave of relief washed over me as I realized we’d have some time to get used to this place before we had to deal with anyone else.

“Why do you seem so relieved?” Melina asked as she put her arms around me.

“No one will bother us for seven days at least. It’s not working yet.”

“The gate?”

“Yeah. Gives us time to prepare for guests.”

“Pfft! Guests? I don’t want no damn guests!”

I pulled her in for a kiss and squeezed her hard. “We don’t need no damn anyone.”

“Got that right!” She chuckled and pushed me off her. “Come on, the oldies are watching.”

I let go of her and turned toward the rest. They weren’t staring, but I could see an amused glint in their eyes.

“I think we’ll need to delegate jobs between ourselves. Is everyone alright with that?”

Donald and Rita joined us at the noticeboard first and were followed by Mark and Sarah moments later. I leaned in closer, and a pop-up screen appeared before us.

JOB QUESTS:

SURVIVALIST

HUNTER

TANNER

BUTCHER,

FORAGER

FISHER

FARMER

BREEDER,

BREWER

COOK

BAKER

ALCHEMIST

HERBALIST

WEAVER

OBBLER

MINER

SMELTER

SMITH

ARMORER,

MASON

CARPENTER





“We should read through the available jobs and decide who does what,” I said after reading up.

I didn’t know all of the things written there, but I had an idea. The best choice would be to learn all of them so we were self-sufficient, but not right now, as we didn’t have the time.

“Cooking, baking, brewing, and foraging for me,” Rita said first.

“I’ll take—bah, whatever. I’ll take most of it on myself. Butcher, tanner, farmer, breeder, and cobbler,” Donald said.

Mark and Sarah were next. They stared at the noticeboard and then whispered for half a minute while the rest of us waited.

“Foraging, cooking, herbology, and weaving,” Sarah said.

Mark coughed and leaned in once more to read one of the job notices and then spoke next. “Fishing, survivalist, carpenter, and mason.”

“That leaves me with all the ones about minerals and ores.” I laughed. “Guess I’ll take miner, smelter, smith, and armorer for the group, and survivalist, hunter, and butcher for myself.”

“I’ll do foraging, cooking, brewing, herbology, alchemy, and weaving,” Melina declared. “I want to prepare stuff when I want it without waiting on the others. That alright?”

I shrugged. “Why not? I think doing them all over time is the best option. It’s just that we don’t have the time to do them all right away, Mel.”

“Yeah, and I’ll focus on the missing ones for now, but after they’re done, I’ll start working on the duplicates.”

“Anyone have any issues with that?” I asked and looked around.

No one protested, which was a good thing. After all, having her doing mining or smelting or whatever would be stupid. It didn’t make sense, and to have her do just one or two things was a waste of time as well. Optimally we would always be around so we could fill in the gaps, but no one knew what tomorrow would bring. Especially not in such a strange place.

“What now?” Mark asked as he put his arm around Sarah. “We start right away?”

“Accept all the quests and read through them. Once we’re done, I propose we take a stroll and check this place out.”

“And stay inside the dome?” Melina stressed.

“Yeah, and stay inside. I don’t want no accidents on our first day in here,” I murmured. “There are only seven of us left, so every life means more than we can afford to lose.”

“You make it sound as if a life can be paid for in goods,” Rita exclaimed.

“I’m sorry if it sounded wrong, but that’s how it is, Rita. We need to take care of each other, or the rest are fucked without the jobs they provide. We agreed on this, and now we have to step up and do what we said we will.”

I didn’t like people who changed their minds often and caused trouble, but I would give them the benefit of the doubt. In the end, having someone cook, clean, and do a lot of the chores meant I could focus on hunting.

“We will,” Donald interjected. “Don’t worry, Viktor, but you have to understand that we’ve been peaceful for all our lives. We never argued with our neighbors, never had any problems with anyone but Kihot, but that was mostly handing out pastries. We’re not used to the law of the jungle.”

“Then you’ll have to let us do the killing, it’s as simple as that. You do your part, and we do ours. That way you’ll reap the benefits of being in the same party without having to kill things. Anything else?”

My tone was slightly stronger than I should have used, but the sooner they understood that life had changed, the better it would be for all of us.

“I don’t think so,” Mark replied. “Give Laney to me, alright?” he said and was about to reach for the kid when I hit him on the wrist.

“And who the hell is going to protect your wife if something attacks?”

He opened his mouth to retort but closed it again and nodded. “I’m sorry, it’s just that she’s been carrying the baby all this time and—”

“And? She’s much stronger after opening a meridian, isn’t she? Has she been absorbing the crystals you brought home?”

He nodded.

“And then some.” Sarah chuckled. “We still got a few spares that I didn’t manage to absorb.”

“Does your back hurt? Or your arms? From carrying the baby, I mean.”

She shook her head. “No, everything’s great. Why?”

“See? She can handle it just fine. Trust your wife more to voice her opinion if she can’t handle it, right, Sarah?”

She shot me a glare but then chuckled. “You’re a strange one, Viktor. One would think you’re a coldhearted killer, but you’re kind and warm underneath, as well as understanding.”

“Depends on who you ask,” Melina murmured.

“Huh? You got something to say, milady?”

“Who? Me? No, I just coughed, is all.”

The group let out a hearty laugh, and strangely, I didn’t mind it was because of me. It felt natural and good, and as if I’d found a new family. Family. Why did the word sit so hard with me? Because I’d already lost one in my previous life, only to find out my child was still alive, and I would forever be barred from getting there.

“Alright, give us a minute to go over our quests and we’ll be ready to move out,” Mark said as the laughter died down.

I nodded and pulled my job quests up.

JOBS:



NAME: Miner, Level 1, 0/10

DESCRIPTION: Gather 10 ore inside the Rift.



NAME: Hunter, Level 1, 0/1

DESCRIPTION: Hunt 1 monster inside the Rift.



NAME: Smelter, Level 1, 0/5

DESCRIPTION: Smelt 5 ingots using ore found inside the Rift.



NAME: Smith, Level 1, 0/1

DESCRIPTION: Create 1 tool with ingredients from inside the Rift.



NAME: Survivalist, Level 1, 0/12

DESCRIPTION: Dig a pit and keep a fire going for 12 hours inside the Rift.



NAME: Armorer, Level 1, 0/1

DESCRIPTION: Create 1 armor/weapon using ingredients found inside the Rift.



NAME: Butcher, Level 1, 0/1

DESCRIPTION: Butcher 1 Monster using a cold steel weapon or knife inside the Rift.





I was surprised by how easy the requirements were to do the quests. Veles had mentioned they had levels, and that meant more work, but if it was worth it, I was happy to put in the time. We only had the rest of our lives to work on it anyway.

Melina was done first, or she just stopped reading when I moved.

“Hard?”

“What? You?”

“No, not me. Your quests, Mel.”

I sighed and rubbed my temples. Headaches were becoming more frequent by the day, and it had come to a point that I would need to figure out a way to reduce the pain or it could start affecting me.

“Oh, yeah, not that hard. You?”

“Likewise. I think we can do all the jobs over the week with ease.”

“But is it necessary?”

“No, not really, but if it helps, why not?”

Mark and Sarah were next, and then the older couple. Not waiting for any comments or chatter, I pulled the gladius out and held it in my right hand. It was shorter and easier to walk around with, so it was the better choice. I decided to check the stream first since it was the least dangerous.

I walked over to the edge and stared into the crystal-clear water. The small fishes swam around and enjoyed themselves from what I could see, and they were rather energetic. I looked up at the other side of the stream. It was still inside the boundary of the dome for about fifty paces, but beyond that was a void, pure nothingness.

The dome ran straight up into the sky, which told me it was possibly a dead end. Great. We could use the other bank for breeding once we had some cattle monsters, making sure they couldn’t escape.

Melina knelt and touched the water, cupped her hands, and took a sip. “It’s clean as can be, fresh, and cold. This is perfect.”

I followed suit and drank some as well. She was right. It almost tasted as good as drinking from a mountain spring.

“Yeah, but I want it separated before it reaches the fish. We should dig a small canal and reroute it into the stream again near the border where the water disappears. We’ll need to adjust the damn plumbing as well and get water for the showers and bath. Fuck, this brings a lot of problems with it.”

“I used to work in plumbing,” Mark said as he had a taste of the water as well. “It won’t be a problem, but we can’t get anything in here for the next week.”

“So I’ll have to take a piss every few hours over here where everyone can see me?” Melina gasped.

“Not just you, sweetie,” Rita whispered, but she was loud enough so everyone could hear her. “We all do.”

“Yeah, well, at least there’s fresh water to clean yourself with right away,” Sarah added. “Maybe some of the fish can nibble you clean if you ask them nicely.”

“Eww, what if there are piranhas?” Melina cried. “Or their equivalent and they bite your—you know? So disgusting!”

“Alright, girls, you’re going too far with your fantasies. Let’s move somewhere else.”

I let out a sigh as Melina caught up to me and chuckled.

“Oh, come on! No need to be a party pooper, you know?”

“It’s not that, Mel. I’m just worried about getting everything you need and deserve. I don’t want you to live in a damn wilderness without a semi-comfortable life.”

She gave me a blank stare that lasted for several seconds and then turned into something akin to admiration. “I got all I need, Vik, trust me.” She put her arm around mine and snuggled in close. My heart fluttered at her touch, just like it always did. “You know, I think I can say this now that no one’s around,” she said and looked around to verify no one was too close, and then she leaned in closer. “I think I love you.”

I stopped in my tracks and looked back at her, my mouth agape. “What did you just say?”

My voice was barely a whisper, but she heard me loud and clear.

“I love you, but you need to tell me what’s up. Ever since you woke up, you’ve been absentminded and strange.”

I put my arms around her and picked the woman up, then swung her around me. I felt as if someone had just handed me the winning ticket to a lottery. No, even more, almost as if someone had given me the keys to a kingdom!

“You mean it?”

She nodded hurriedly and then stopped as a frown set on her face. “Why didn’t you tell me you love me too?”

“Hey, I needed to be sure.” I laughed. “So here goes.”

I stopped and looked around, waited for everyone to get closer, then dropped to one knee. I fished through a bunch of pinkish daisylike flowers and knitted a ring then and there.

“What are you doing?” Melina hissed through her teeth. “Don’t you think you’re moving too fast?”

I just grinned and finished making the ring quickly, then held out my hand. “Lady Melina, would you do me the honor of becoming my wife?”

Sarah squealed, and Melina started to hyperventilate.

“Are you sure?” she whispered through clenched teeth. “You know I’m flawed, right?” she whispered so the others couldn’t hear her.

“If anyone’s flawed, then that’s me, Melina. So what do you say? Do you want to take a leap of faith and give yourself to me?”

“Aaah! Yes, I do! I want to become miss… wait, what’s your surname?”

I frowned. “Shit, I never said, huh?”

“No, you didn’t.” She laughed. “So? What is it?”

“Promise not to laugh?”

She shrugged and poked my forehead with her index finger. “If you can’t trust me with your surname, why would I trust you with myself?”

“Errm—yeah, that’s a good point,” I murmured. “It’s—”

A sudden chirping sound came from the gate. I looked past Melina, only to see a woman standing not even ten yards from us. I could have sworn she wasn’t there a moment ago, but now she was.

“His surname is Cerna,” the woman said, her voice a mask of… I had no idea what it was.

She sounded both hurt and angry at the same time. We froze at the same time, finally processing what the hell was going on. Was that Veles playing a trick on us? No one else could have come here on their own, now could they?

“What’s that about a marriage, Viktor? I thought we were still married.”

Scar appeared out of nowhere and trudged over to the woman, then pressed his snout against her leg. The woman scratched behind his ears and he shuddered.

“It’s really you,” Scar said out loud. “We thought you were dead.”

“Lana?” I whispered. “You’re… still alive?”

Lana walked up to us and stopped an inch from my face. Her hot, spicy breath thawed my frozen blood and sent my heart into overdrive. She was alive, and she was right here in front of me. But how? And why?

“I think we need to have a long chat, Vik, including that bad copy of me.”





Chapter Three





It could have been worse. Everything could always be worse. Imagine getting caught with your pants down when a monster attacked, or on the bad side of a God or a Goddess. This wasn’t far off, to be honest. Not only was I caught off guard with my pants down by a literal Goddess when it came to power and immortality, but I was caught off guard proposing to another woman in front of the wife I thought I’d lost in my previous life.

The group hurriedly walked off toward the inn and busied themselves doing… things and acting as if nothing had happened. I wasn’t sure, but I thought I caught Sarah chuckling. Bah. Damn woman. As if I didn’t have a hard enough time as it was.

“Lana,” I said as I stepped toward her but stopped as Melina glared at me. “I—this is quite an unfortunate situation.”

“Unfortunate? What the hell did you just say?” Melina demanded. “You proposing to me was unfortunate?”

“No, wait, come on! You know what I mean!”

“No, I don’t!” Melina snapped. “Pray tell me!”

“He meant the part where I saw him propose the same way he did with me. Back then he used pink daisies as well. Heh, some things never change, I guess.”

“Lana, please don’t go there. You have no idea what we’ve been through to get here.”

“And neither do you! I’ve been alive for two decades”

I opened my mouth to protest, but then shut up again as I tried to gather my thoughts.

“We need to sit down and have a drink before anyone says anything. Please.”

Lana didn’t say anything, but she nodded and placed her hands on her hips. I looked back at Melina and she shrugged.

“The fuck I’ve been even thinking,” she murmured. “I knew this kind of day could come eventually.”

She walked past me and Lana, but then the other woman grabbed her arm and stopped her.

“You knew he was married?”

“Yeah, so what? I also know both of you are from that Karmag place and that you have a daughter together. That a problem?”

Lana let go and took a step back, but then looked over at me and scowled. “You told her everything? And what did she mean by ‘have a daughter together’ instead of had?”

“Why would I lie to someone I’ve come to lo—”

“Love? Go on, finish that word!” Lana snapped.

“Yeah, I do love her! But I also think I love… you! Please, let’s have that drink first.”

Lana bared her teeth at me and threw a punch, hitting me right in the nose. I staggered back as a prompt appeared.

Damage Notification:

You have received 37 damage from Lana Cerna.

Do you wish to invoke a death strike on Lana Cerna?





“No, don’t kill Lana!” I yelled, sounding much louder than I had intended. Both women looked at me strangely and then frowned.

“Who are you talking to?”

“The damn rift! You attacked the owner of this rift, and it offered to kill you with a single counterspell!”

Now it was Lana’s turn to freeze. She looked up and then around as if searching for something, but the rift was everywhere and everything at the same time. It was a futile attempt to try to find it.

“Are you fucking with me?” she asked sheepishly.

I shook my head. “No, I’m not, so don’t do that again. It might attack next time without even asking me.”

I sent her an invitation to the party on instinct to try to prevent the worst outcome from happening. Even if it only happened in effect or by accident. Lana’s name appeared a second later after she received the invitation. Lana. It really was her, or at least so I thought. I had no idea who my wife used to be other than that my soul ached as she stood there.

I felt my heart both sink and rise at the same time. How the hell could this have happened? And today of all days. And how the hell had she managed to get in here? As if reading my thoughts, she explained her situation.

“Krajolik teleported me here after meeting me earlier.”

“Bastard,” I murmured. “He has a wicked sense of humor.”

“And he told me about our daughter. That she’s still alive and well.”

I rubbed my neck and face, then pushed my hand through my hair as I tried to stay on my feet. “I need that drink. Right now,” I growled and stormed toward the main inn building.

Melina hurried and caught up with me. She put her arm under mine and I let her. Why wouldn’t I? It wasn’t her fault, and only minutes ago I’d been proposing to her.

I slumped down on my usual place in the main dining room and leaned back against the chair. Melina didn’t follow me in but rather walked off toward the kitchen. She joined me several minutes later, holding a large tray in her hands. On one half there was an assortment of cut cheese and meat, while the other held a small bucket with ice, three glasses, and a pitcher of some clear liquid. Even without tasting it, I knew it was strong. Very strong.

She sat next to me and placed three glasses on the table. One for herself, one for Lana, and one for me. The second woman walked in just then, tossing her long hair about and straightening her dress. She walked over to us and sat to my other side.

“Do you drink?” Melina asked as she held the pitcher in midair, waiting for Lana to answer.

Lana nodded and stared down at the glass. “Thanks,” was all she said.

In my book, it was still an improvement, especially after punching me.

“So, do you want to start, Lana, or do you want me to start?” Melina asked.

“Huh? What do you mean? What does this have to do with—?”

“Everything. I agreed to be with him despite knowing that a day like this might come, so I accept all responsibility, but not without telling you about it.”

“You don’t have to. Krajolik already told me everything,” Lana murmured.

“And you still hit me?”

“Hey!” she protested. “I left a great life behind to come back to you! Show some gratitude!”

I wanted to yell at her and say that no one forced her, but it had already happened, so now I had to deal with it. Melina’s hand tightened around the glass, and she looked away, staring out into the front yard.

“What now?” Lana asked. “I guess you’re not planning on leaving her?”

I felt Melina tense right next to me, but she didn’t say anything or even move. She just kept staring outside, waiting for my words as she drew in a deep breath.

“No, I don’t. She gave me a place to stay, took care of me to the best of her ability, and then that shit happened with all this… chaos.”

“It was no accident, Vik. Krajolik sent you to her. He made you go to that woman.”

I opened my mouth to protest but closed it again as I thought about Krajolik. Could he have gone that far? Sure, why not? It wasn’t like they cared about us. We were all a game to them, one to help pass the time better.

“But our feelings are genuine, Lana! I really love Viktor and want to spend my life with him!”

“That aside, it’s uncanny how much you look like me. Now I understand why you fell for her,” Lana said, trying to keep her voice steady. She was already at her limit and about to burst into tears, just like Melina was.

“Can we talk this through like adults?” I asked calmly. “I don’t want anyone to say or do anything they’ll regret.”

“What do you expect when you put a man, his wife, and his lover in the same room?” Lana snorted. “A happy ending?”

I shrugged. “I do. If there’s still any love left in that woman, then yes.”

Lana didn’t say anything and instead gulped the whole glass down, then held it out in front of her. Melina took the hint and poured her another one.

“Just how do you expect this to work?” she whispered. “I sleep on one side of the bed and she sleeps on the other?”

“Maybe. Or maybe you can sleep on the bed and I can take the sofa. I don’t really care, Lana.”

“Say, why the absent look on your face? Don’t tell me you really don’t remember anything.”

I shrugged and stared down at the drink, trying to gather my thoughts before I said anything I couldn’t take back. She remained silent, staring right at me while Melina’s fingers slid along the sides of her glass, turning it over and over again.

“I don’t, Lana. I really don’t.”

She let out a deep sigh and slumped down over the table. “Shit, I really shouldn’t have come back, huh?”

“Do you remember anything? About our past?”

“I do. All of it,” she whispered. “That’s why this hurts so much, seeing you with another woman after living together for two centuries. To see you threw it all away over a week or two… hurts.”

“Lana, you need to understand something. After you died… well, the only memory Krajolik gave me was the moment of my death when that bastard said they killed you and the newborn. Do you expect me to keep waiting for you after hearing you died?”

“No,” she muttered, “but that doesn’t do anything to lessen the pain.”

Melina put her glass down slightly harder than probably intended, drawing our attention. “It’s both sad and funny how there’s more than enough of him for either of us. Even more so that the two of us look so alike, even our proportions. Just look at us! We could almost pass for twins.”

“I don’t see how any of that is even remotely funny!” Lana snapped.

“It’s very simple, Lana. I’ll agree to anything you want as long as nothing changes between him and me.”

“You what? You’d accept anything I asked of you?” Lana asked incredulously.

Melina nodded as I picked my glass back up and downed it. The strong liquid felt more like water and less like a strong alcoholic beverage than it should have.

“Say, Lana,” I said as I put my glass back down. “Would you be willing to live by yourself out there? Or in here as a guest and nothing more?”

“Hell no! I fucking hate the thought of it!”

“Why?” I asked curiously. “Don’t tell me it’s only because of us.”

“’Cause I haven’t had any sex for a decade. I didn’t want to piss on our memory.”

Melina rolled her eyes and poured me another drink. “That’s quite hard to swallow, don’t you think?”

She shrugged. “I think so, but why don’t we try it out right away? Maybe some of your memories will return quicker that way.”

“Wait, that’s not how this goes,” Melina protested. You can’t just—and without me—and, you know?”

“You want in?” Lana scoffed. “I’m not into women.”

“No, but do you really think it’s appropriate? And who guarantees that he’ll remember? If the Gods didn’t want him to retain the memories, then how could he ever get them back?”

“It won’t matter in the end anyway,” Lana whispered as she gulped the second glass down. “It’s not like there can be anything between us anymore.”

I stayed quiet, trying to process her words and the underlying meaning. It wasn’t anything like “I don’t want you anymore,” no, there was a hint of pain in there.

“What do you mean?” I asked, trying to sound as collected as possible.

She looked up at me and flashed me the biggest grin I’d ever seen since being reborn. “I’m a spirit, just like Scar. I’ve got seven days until my soul has dissipated fully.”

“What?” I snapped, slamming my fist against the table. My glass fell over and spilled the several drops that remained inside. Melina flinched and gave me a frightened look. “Sorry, Melina. And you too, Lana.”

I slumped back into the chair again and stared up at the ceiling.

“Is there a way to save you? Something like Scar?” Melina asked, surprising both of us.

My head snapped around first to stare at Melina and then at Lana. “Is there a way?”

“I think so,” Scar said as he appeared out of nowhere and cuddled up to Lana. She scratched his ears despite sending tiny thunderbolts in all directions. One even hit the table and singed the surface. “See, you know I’m bound to you, right?”

“Wait, don’t tell me I can bind her too.”

“No, I don’t think so. She might be bound to Melina, though.”

I froze as a chill ran down my spine. Cold sweat immediately formed on my brow as I met Melina’s eyes. She looked away quickly, being unable to hold my gaze.

“I can’t do that,” Lana whispered as she got up and ran out.

Melina and I remained silent for several long seconds as we stared at our drinks. I drank yet another glass and then another. The only sound disturbing the silence was the running alcohol and the pitcher hitting the wooden table.

“Maybe I could learn to get along with her over time,” Melina whispered as the silence became almost unbearable. “If you’ve been able to live with her for centuries, don’t you think I could do the same? Especially if it means saving her.”

Melina’s somber expression turned into a weak smile. I had to admit that she’d caught me off guard yet again. Melina had a strange character, one that was the total opposite of Lana’s. How the hell would the two of them manage to get along?

“Don’t do this unless you’re certain it’s something you want. I have no way of… removing Scar.”

To our surprise, Lana walked back in together with the wolf and sat where she’d been earlier. I looked up at her, not able to help but notice the running mascara.

“You alright?” I asked, not knowing what else to say. It was an awkward situation for all of us, even more so for Melina, who was the one person who could theoretically save her. But how? We’d have to ask Veles or try to contact Krajolik, but before all of that, I’d have to get her up to rank three or four at least.

“Yeah, I guess. It could be worse, right?”

“Do you have any baggage?” Melina asked as she looked up at the other woman. “Anything else to wear?”

Lana shook her head. “I got nothing. Only this dress.”

It was then that I noticed she was wearing a tight black dress that came halfway to her knees and showed ample cleavage. It only made me think how little I knew about her. What kind of habits did she have, and how did she dress? What kind of character, and what did she like to eat, drink, and do? How strong had she been?

“You can share mine. I got enough—well, only if you like my style.”

Melina still had her short kimono on, which suited me, but when it came to my… wife, I suddenly had second thoughts about it. No, that wasn’t right. Damn it, all of this was so confusing.

“I guess. We got the same measurements, so why not?”

“Do you want to have a bath first? Or a nap? Food or anything else?”

“I’m fine. I came here after having slept for the biggest part of the day, and I’m fed.”

“Melina? Can you show her around? I want to go out and scout our surroundings as I gather my thoughts.”

“Sure. If she’s willing to.”

Lana nodded. “Yeah, fine. Being an ass will only put me in a bad light, right? Maybe we can become friends. At least for the next week.”

She didn’t sound very convincing, but even saying as much made me feel better… and suddenly so much worse. A week. I’d have a single week with her. Shit, this life surely wasn’t something I’d imagined would go down as it had.

“Say, Scar, how come you’ve got a physical body?” Lana asked. “Should you even be able to manifest physically as a spirit?”

He gave her a wolfish shrug and pressed his snout against her neck. “I don’t know. Viktor has a decent Enma pool, so I can sustain my body, though I can’t become any stronger until he does.”

“Oh? You’d probably get even worse as you got stronger.”

“Find out for yourself, lazy ass.”

I got up and kissed Melina on the forehead as Lana looked away.

“Don’t do anything stupid, alright?” Neither of them responded, but that was as much as I could hope for. “I’m going into the kitchen to get a butcher’s knife. I want meat for dinner, if that’s alright with you ladies.”

“Sure, I’ll make sure to prepare hot water to clean the meat,” Melina replied as she gave me a weak smile. “Come back soon.”





Chapter Four





I found Mark leaning against a tree right at the edge of the dome. Sarah told me he was out checking the area, but I spotted him the moment I got out into the front yard. It was hard to miss the red tracksuit he wore amidst all the lush greenery around him.

Scar followed me out and nudged my leg as we walked toward Mark. “Hey.”

I turned to look at the wolf with a raised eyebrow. “What?”

“Could have gone worse, huh?”

“Yeah, talk about worse. They could have ripped me a new one.” I chuckled.

“Oh, I don’t think you’re quite off the hook yet, don’t worry.”

I let out a deep sigh and tried to ignore the wolf as he fooled around and shot tiny bolts of lightning from his tail. “Do you think we’ll be able to save her if Melina agrees?”

“I don’t know. Probably, but do you care? She can never be your wife for real, you know?” Scar said, his voice close to being sarcastic.

I let out a sigh as I stared ahead at Mark.

“What you up to?” I yelled from a good distance.

“Checking the surroundings, but I can’t see past the barrier!” Mark shot back without even looking our way.

“You want to go out and have a look?”

This time he did turn around and shortly after dropped down the tree.

“I don’t have any ammo for the big gun, only for the sniper.”

I stopped in front of him and held my hand out.

He looked at me questioningly. “What is it?”

“Nothing. I want to thank you for sticking around. Scar and I would’ve probably been able to handle ourselves just fine, but it never hurts to have someone around who’ll have my back.”

I was a bit proud, sure, but that’s how we men were made. Proud but loyal. He understood and just nodded.

“I trust you’ll have our backs as well? I want to see my child grow old in here, Viktor.”

I gave him my most trustworthy smile and nodded. “Your blood is mine, and so are your enemies and friends.”

The man almost tackled me and put his arms around my back. It was a freaking awkward moment, but I did the same and just hoped no one saw.

“So what’s up? Where do we start?”

“Right here. You can use your spear just in case. If there’s a need to run, just do it.”

“Pfft! Yeah, right! You want me to run? Just like you did back in the rift?”

“I didn’t run!” I snapped. Where the hell did he have the nerve to accuse me of running when I did all I could to save everyone?

“Exactly! You didn’t! That’s why I’m not running either, brother.”

I closed my eyes and exhaled. “Sorry, I’m just a bit jumpy with Lana appearing and then dropping a bomb… and everything else going on.”

“Figured as much. I’ve got my hands full with Sarah, if you know what I mean. She’s as horny as a bat and wants another kid. Said this air is good for their health.”

“Really? You two want to discuss which of your women is hornier?” Scar snickered.

“Errm, no, we don’t,” I replied and nudged his haunch with my foot. “So, now that we’re all ready, how about we stop talking about women? I already have a growing headache that isn’t going anywhere any time soon.”

Mark let out a weak chuckle as he pulled the spear from his pouch. I did the same with my nodachi and gladius, holding them in my right and left hands respectively. I took in a deep breath and stepped through the domed wall, hoping we’d find us some good loot out there.

I was half-disappointed when we didn’t encounter mystical creatures right off the bat, for some strange reason. Sure, it wouldn’t make sense to see them, but remembering my old self and how I used to long for the hunt… yeah, I was far from being that man, but one day soon I’d be able to do it again.

I lowered both weapons and stashed the gladius away, but held on to the nodachi just in case. A notification popped up before I had a chance to look around.

Notification:

You have discovered Zone 3.13 of the Living Rift.

Recommended zone for your level: Zone 1.1–1.29

Recommended Monster Grade: Rank 1–5

NOTE 1: Hunting, Mining, and Gathering unlocked.





“Now that’s interesting,” I said. “Veles told us our starting point was slightly harder, but for there to be so many zones, now that’s something I hadn’t expected.”

“I’m more interested in the note at the bottom,” Mark replied. “Hunting, mining, and gathering unlocked. What the hell does that mean?”

“Remains to be seen.” I grinned. “I like the hunting part, though. I want to see what we’re up against.”

“Do you want me to scout ahead?” Scar asked.

I nodded. “Please do. I don’t want to get caught off guard.”

The wolf’s muscles tensed, and he darted off straight like an arrow. I finally took a moment to look around better. The distance caught my eye first. It was a craggy, mountainous area, with a wide stream moving all along the length of the grassland. The stream went on and widened two times but branched off toward the right into yet another stream, the one that ran into our zone. Everything beyond it was mountainous terrain. To my left was a dense outcrop of trees, thick and lush with a cavern of sorts hewn from a rock formation.

“Hey, look over there,” Mark said, tapping my shoulder as I stared out onto the land.

A monster appeared out of nowhere. And another and then another. A whole herd of the things spawned near the stream, some two hundred paces from us. They gathered at the water and started drinking, reminding me of—no, that was no damn chicken, even if it had feathers and a beak.

The monsters had thick hind legs and a long, stumpy tail. Tough hide covered their bodies that were quite small in comparison to the limbs. It almost made them look comical. Their front legs were slightly shorter than their back legs, and they used it to pull water into their mouths. The heads were slightly elongate with a single horn on top that pointed toward their back.

“If anything looks like cattle, it’s those things,” I said after observing them for a while.

They grazed the grass and drank the water, milling around and doing nothing despite having spotted us. I thought about a name and came up with the perfect one on the spot.

“Why are you grinning?” Mark asked as I stared at him.

“Grazers. We’ll call them grazers if you don’t mind.”

He shrugged. “Do I look like I care? Besides, if you check them out, they already have a name.”

“Oh, alright, let me check.”

Monster Scan:

NAME: Grazlitaur

RANK: 4-, Common

HEALTH: 1,000

ENMA: 300

SPEED: 1.3

PHYSICAL ATTACK: 150

ENMA ATTACK: 100

DEFENSE: 70

ENMA SHIELD: 500





“Grazlitaur,” I muttered. “I was close enough.”

“Yeah, you sure were.” Mark laughed. “We’re going to wait for Scar, right?”

“Yeah. I’m not going in there by myself, but I am going to lure one here and fight it. They don’t look that dangerous.”

“I’ll take that tree over there, then,” he said, pointing at our left.

There was a massive hollow tree with a lot of thick branches that started near the bottom. He ran off and climbed up, then lay down across four thick growths and pulled out his rifle as I stood there, waiting and anticipating the kill. Who knew what they would drop if those weak-ass kobolds already dropped good stuff?

“Are you far out, Scar?”

“No, I’m almost there. Why?”

“We want to fight a grazlitaur. Hurry up.”

He remained silent for several seconds before he spoke again. “What’s a grazlitaur?”

“Monsters that look like cows. Something like that.”

I could feel his mental eye roll.

“Yeah, give me two minutes, and we can slaughter some cows.”

I felt like an idiot as I waited there for Scar to return, with Mark staring at my back. I walked around and gathered several small rocks as I waited for Scar. With a flash of lightning, he stopped next to me out of nowhere and sat on his haunches.

“Did you find anything?”

He nodded his head before replying, “There’s one of those mining spots right next to the cave, and several more inside.”

“Any dangers out there?”

“One very strong signature. I didn’t stay around long enough to fight, but it was stronger than the kobold lord.”

I closed my eyes and sucked in air through my teeth. The last thing I wanted right now was another life-or-death battle.

“Do you want to join me?” I asked as he yawned.

“As long as you make it as fast as possible, yeah. I’d like to explore some more of this place.”

I let out a sigh and turned to face the grazlitaurs. When I did, I found one of the closest monsters staring right at me. None of them even did so much as make a move, though. They ate, drank, and sat around.

I knelt next to Scar and mostly hid inside the tall grass with only my head still visible. They quickly returned to grazing and drinking water, forgetting all about me after several seconds passed. I got up again and picked the nastiest rock I had, pulled my hand back, and threw it at the closest grazlitaur. It struck the monster straight on the head, rocking it backward.

“Hah! What a shot!” Scar laughed. “You want me to join in?”

I nodded as the monster reared up on its legs and snorted blood.

“You’d sit it out after promising to join in?”

“Why not? It doesn’t look… so dangerous.”

“The hell you talking about? Just look at those legs!”

Scar got to his feet and moved away from me as the lone grazlitaur stormed right at me, thrashing its head around. Well, to say “storm” was an overstatement, as only several seconds into its mad rush, the beast slowed down to a trot and missed me without any real effort on my part.

I drew the nodachi back over my head and plunged it down against the monster’s backside, hitting the tailbone. The sword bounced off harmlessly and went wide without even touching the skin. It sure had a decent shield.

A shot resounded from my left, but it wasn’t nearly as deafening as the anti-tank gun. That thing devastated both the landscape and our ears, but this bullet didn’t. The projectile struck the grazlitaur’s head, but floated there for a second and then bounced off into the grass. The grazlitaur’s shield held even after a shot to the head.

I sighed and pulled the gladius out. Unless the shield was gone, we wouldn’t be doing shit damage. The grazlitaur swung its stubby tail at me. I blocked it, holding my swords crossed together, and stabbed the gladius at its back leg.

<< SPIKE >>

The gladius bounced off again, but the shield shimmered slightly. I brought the gladius down again at its hind leg and swirled around, bringing the nodachi up in a diagonal slash. It bounced off into the air and just over my shoulder. I threw the gladius up and used the nodachi to cause some heavy damage.

<< SLASH >>

The sword came crashing down and struck its neck. A thick red line appeared along its tough skin and was followed by a gush of blood. The grazlitaur let out a bellow and started to thrash its body around, swinging its tail and snapping its teeth.

A second boom resounded from the tree line and struck the head again. The shield held for a brief moment, but I used the momentum and stabbed the gladius upwards at its neck. It cracked, and the bullet passed through the shield, embedding itself into its skull. The grazlitaur stood there motionless for three long seconds as if deliberating what to do next.

My nodachi cut into the neck from below as the gladius came flying down again, hitting the weak point two times in quick succession. The monster staggered and dropped on its side. I stepped back, unsure if it was dead or not, as the creature hadn’t turned to ash, and more blood was pooling beneath it.

“You little shit! Why didn’t you help out?” I cursed at Scar.

“You didn’t need my help. Why would I put a drain on your Enma pool by wasting power?”

I frowned. “You’re right, but this thing sure had a decent shield.”

“It did. It was stronger than the elites. It’s a sad thing the monster doesn’t have a weapon to fight with. It’s as useless as a turd when it comes to combat.”

“Smart-ass. Tell me why it isn’t turning to ash.”

“This place has a much denser concentration of ether, Viktor. You should have felt that, right?”

I nodded. “So? You want to tell me this isn’t a spiritual body like the kobolds?”

“Exactly. These are real monsters.”

I cursed under my breath as Mark came running up to us.

“That was pretty easy.” He laughed. “What’s the sour face about?”

I turned around to stare at him and bared my teeth. “This little bastard didn’t want to help, so I’m a bit pissed. And it’s not going to turn to ash, so we’ll probably need to carve it up to see if it dropped any kind of crystal!”

“Oh.”

“Yeah, oh.”

I let out a deep sigh and pulled the butcher’s knife out from my pouch, then brought up the quest window and reread the description. It was just as I remembered. I would need to cut up a whole carcass if I wanted the butcher job. Great.

I stopped just before stabbing the knife down and looked over at Mark. “You want to go first?”

He frowned. “Hell no! You do it first since I don’t want to cut myself up trying to do… whatever you’re about to do now.”

I rolled my eyes and shook my head. He sure was such a strange one sometimes. First, he wasn’t afraid of facing the boss with a spear in hand, but now he was afraid of cutting up a dead monster.

I pulled the knife back up and slammed it into its neck. To my surprise, blood didn’t gush out as I thought it would. It just pooled below the grazlitaur. I made a deep gash and pulled the knife all the way around the neck and then down to its tailbone. Next, I slid my blade down the legs and pulled the skin clean; all the while the rest of the herd watched. None of them even came near me, but neither did they run.

The knife was as sharp as a razor and just slid cleanly through the tendons, the flesh, and the skin. One thing that didn’t make any sense was how tough the hide was and the ease with which I cut through it with an ordinary kitchen knife, but then again, this world and everything around it didn’t make much sense either.

I made sure not to rip the skin and dropped it in a heap, then proceeded to cut the head, legs, and tail off, leaving most of the body in one chunk. The meat beneath was beautiful and red. I could already imagine it wafting that heavenly smell as it cooked over a grill or firepit.

Mark and Scar sat close by and stared at me intently as I busied myself with cutting the rib cage open. From there on out it was just a blur of motions and cuts. Before I knew it, I had three piles of… produce. One was the skin, the second was the bones, and lastly the meat. Now the problem remained of how to get the stuff back to the inn.

“You want to carry them bit by bit? This stuff will spoil by the time we’re done,” Mark commented as he saw me standing there, glaring at the meat.

“I don’t know. Could this stuff fit in the pouch? That head is as large as my whole chest.”

“I’ll help.” He chuckled and walked over to me, took the pouch, and opened it. Luckily, the pouch was wide enough for all the bones and pieces of meat to go inside. Once I dropped the knife, I heard a double chime.

Notification:

QUEST COMPLETED:

Butcher Level 1

REWARDS FOR QUEST COMPLETION:

1. +20 Physical Attack, +50 Health

2. Butchery skill

Quest Received:: Butcher Level 2

DESCRIPTION: Butcher 20 Monsters.

COMPLETION: 1/20





Notification:

ITEM RECEIVED:

NAME: Enma Crystal Rank 2

QUANTITY: 2

DESCRIPTION: Very highly concentrated source of raw Enma.





“Damn,” I whispered. “We need to do all the job quests as fast as possible!”

“Huh? Why? We don’t need six—errm, seven butchers,” Mark protested.

“The damn quest gave me plus twenty to attack and plus fifty to health. And I got two higher-ranked Enma crystals as well.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah, oh!”

“That’s kind of good.” Mark chuckled. “Hell, I want to do the next one!”

“Scar? You going to help with the second?”

He shrugged and got up, almost looking bored about it all. “Yeah, sure. I think you’ll have an easier time if he uses his spear. It’s great for penetrating shields.”

I frowned. “And you never bothered to tell me about the difference?”

“You never asked.”

I gritted my teeth and let out a deep breath, then turned toward the second grazlitaur, picked up another rock, and threw it at the beast.





After killing the second grazlitaur, Mark finally realized he hadn’t taken the quest at the noticeboard, so I ended up butchering the second one as well. It took me about ten minutes instead of the thirty minutes it had taken the first time. The pouches were very heavy and hard to move around with despite most of the burden being placed on the pocket dimension.

Donald and Rita stood outside, arguing when we got back. Finding it rude to stop them, I waited for a minute to see what they were on about.

“You can’t mistreat flour the way you do, you oaf! We’re limited with flour until we can get more from our world!” Rita yelled and poked his chest with her index finger.

“I’ll use it to make some pita bread! Why are you being such a witch?”

I wanted to chuckle, but I thought better of it and instead put my hand on Rita’s shoulder.

“Miss Rita? Will you be in charge of the meat?”

“Oh, Viktor. Yes, I will. Why?”

“We caught two animals and cut them up nicely. I just wanted to know who will be taking care of it, is all.”

Donald winked at me, but Rita caught it.

“You! Don’t think you’re off the hook just yet!”

He put up his hands in defense and took a step back. “Don’t you have anything better to do, woman? Go cut up the meat or something so I can be of some use.”

“Don’t go anywhere, Donald. We got two skins I’d like you to work on.”

He nodded and crossed his arms. “See? I’m not useless.”

“Pfft! Remains to be seen what kind of hideous thing you’ll make with it.”

Rita turned around and waltzed off to the kitchen area. Mark and I followed her back in, then helped her clean the counters before we stacked the parts of meat one atop the other.

“You got enough room in the freezers? Though they’re not working, but… wait a minute.”

“Huh? What are you up to?” Mark asked as I walked up to the freezer.

I placed my hand on top and closed my eyes, infusing Enma into the bulky white box. It immediately started working again, as in giving off cold, but it only lasted for several seconds. I frowned.

“Just imagine if we could fix the electricity problem with Enma or crystals,” I whispered.

Mark put his hands on the freezer and tapped it with his fingers. “Why not stick a crystal somewhere and activate it?”

I narrowed my eyes on the freezer and then opened it. “Or just put it inside? Maybe that could work as well?”

He didn’t reply, as he had no idea about the principles behind it, but still nodded half-absently.

“Worst that can happen is nothing, right?”

I pulled two crystals from the pouch and placed them inside, gathered some Enma inside the freezer, and moved it toward the crystals. They cracked slightly and started trickling power into the boxy construct.

“Scar? How long do you think they can last?”

“At the rate they’re releasing Enma and once it’s cold enough—a week?”

“You’re serious?”

He nodded.

“But this isn’t electricity, this is using Enma to cool the air. And you have no way to control how cold it gets.”

“Still better than nothing, isn’t it?”

“Just don’t get cocky or something, Viktor. You’re not as smart as you think you are.”

The wolf walked out slowly, flexing his hind legs for some strange reason. Mark saw the same thing and turned to look me in the eyes. I just shrugged, having no idea how to explain it. Scar was… a wolf. It didn’t have to make sense.

“Anyway, Mark, can you tell Rita, Donald, and Sarah about the job thing? I’ll go talk to the girls and tell them as well.”

“Yeah, sure. I can use something to get my mind off what Scar just did.”





Chapter Five





I walked out and right toward the noticeboard, then accepted all the quests. A sound coming from the balcony drew my attention just as I was about to check the quest requirements. I looked up and saw Lana and Melina drinking.

Lana glanced at me for the slightest moment, and our eyes met. She had a smile on her face, which boded well. At least I hoped so.

“You want to come up?”

I looked down at my body, which was mostly covered in blood. “Let me take a bath first, and I’ll join you in a minute.”

“How?” Melina called as she peeked out over the balcony railing.

“I’m going to wash off in the stream.”

She shrugged and pulled her head back, disappearing from sight. “Don’t make us wait too long. It could be considered rude!”

“Yeah, yeah,” I muttered. “I’d rather not see either of you all day, but who cares, right?”

I walked over to the bathhouse and grabbed a bathrobe, soap, and a towel before I made my way to the stream. I wasn’t looking forward to getting into the water, but I was covered with blood from head to toe.

I gathered my clothes in a heap and jumped into the stream. It was so cold that I felt as if I were about to turn into an icicle. Breathing heavily, I focused and infused some Enma into my body, releasing it steadily through my skin. The heavy, choking sensation turned into a mild prickling, and I didn’t feel as cold anymore, though I was far from comfortable.

I grabbed the soap and rinsed off quickly, then dipped my head to wash my hair. I caught a sparkle somewhere at the bottom of the stream purely by accident, and dove down the eight yards or so, only to come face-to-face with a shiny round gem. No, it wasn’t a gem. It was a sort of mineral, I was sure of it. My hand reached for the mineral, and the bright light suddenly became slightly duller.

A weak chime rang in my mind, startling me as I held my breath.

Notification:

ITEM RECEIVED:

NAME: Shilien Ore Rank 1

QUANTITY: 1

DESCRIPTION: Ore used in production of weapons and armor.





Mining went up to one out of ten as the piece of ore disappeared into my backpack. The spot still shimmered, so I picked another piece of ore up and then another one. After the third time, the light disappeared and the spot lost all the feeling of power radiating from it.

I looked around and found one more. The pieces coming from that second ore spot were identical to the first ones. A total of six gathered ores later, and I was ready to get out of the cold water, and not a second too soon.

Scar waited for me on the bank, lying on his side. I was surprised to see him there but didn’t say anything about it. I climbed out, dried off, and put the robe on. He still didn’t say anything even when I was done. He was starting to get on my nerves. I spoke first.

“What?”

“What do you mean by what?” he replied, his voice neutral.

“What do you want?”

“Me? Nothing much. Maybe a juicy bone or something. I think you tend to forget that I’m a living being too.”

“Pfft!” I snorted. “A living being? You’re a soul living off my Enma reserves. How can you be a living… anything, really? You’re a parasite at best.”

“You don’t have to hurt my feelings, you know.”

My right eyebrow rose in confusion. “The hell you on about?”

“Nothing, forget it. You take me for granted, Viktor. Remember that.”

He got up and ran off toward the barrier, then disappeared through it.

“Strange bugger. What’s up with him today?”

I forgot all about the ores as I made my way back to the inn. Sarah was sunbathing outside in only her underwear, and the baby lay on a blanket next to her in the shade, snoring softly. Mark sat nearby, taking a nap as well.

I didn’t bother them and walked toward the main entrance, then up the stairs and into our bedroom. The girls were still sitting there, drinking. I pulled on some socks and changed the bathrobe for one of my yukatas and slippers.

“I’m so not looking forward to this,” I whispered to myself as I stood next to the bed and looked out onto the balcony. “Maybe that’s why I ran earlier? Shit, what a damn thing to do, huh?”

I took in a deep breath and let it out as I walked out onto the balcony. I stopped next to Melina and shoved her toward the center of the chair. She scowled as I took her spot and then pulled her back into my embrace.

“What happened earlier? Why were you so bloody?” Melina asked as she looked back over her shoulder.

I put my arms around her waist and gave her the warmest smile I could muster. I far from felt like smiles, but it wouldn’t do to break the mood right now.

“There are these monsters called grazlitaurs. They’re just outside the boundary near the stream. We killed two and butchered them.”

Lana glanced at us but then looked away. She didn’t get up angrily or say anything, and that was good. Sure, this might be an asshole move, but she needed to know Melina and I were a thing. Showing any kind of feelings in this already shitty situation could cost me both of the women.

“How hard were they to kill?” Lana asked, to my surprise.

She didn’t look at me, but her voice sounded reasonably normal from what I could hear. Normal for someone knowing they were going to die in seven days.

“They’ve got a tougher shield than the elites back on the outside world, but they’re not dangerous. Imagine fighting cows. You can die, but it’s pretty hard to.”

“Do you want us to prepare a feast using the meat?” Melina asked.

“Nah, let Rita handle it. She looked excited when we stacked the meat on the counters.”

“Wait, what? It will spoil,” Lana said as she turned around to meet my gaze.

“I infused the freezer with Enma, so it’s not going to spoil, though it could break if it gets too cold.”

“Oh,” she murmured. “Right, sorry.”

“No need to be. You had no idea what I was doing.”

She looked away again, her cheeks slightly flushed pink. The air around her had changed slightly. Sure, I could still feel a slight resentment, especially now that I held Melina in my arms, but much more than that, she was jealous.

“So, anything new? Like… did you guys manage to find anything interesting?” she asked again and turned back to look at me.

Her eyes stared intently even though she tried not to show her anticipation for what I had to say. This world was new, so I’d be as interested as well.

“Yeah, there is. I leveled up in Butchery and got an attack and health bonus. I reckon all the jobs give bonus stats, so we should do them all one by one. Oh, and both of the grazlitaurs dropped a handful of rank two crystals each.”

“Oh? Veles didn’t tell me anything like that,” Lana replied inquisitively. “Was it hard to butcher the animal?”

I shook my head. “Half an hour, but I got a Butchery life skill after finishing with the first that cut the process down to ten minutes.” I let out a sigh and leaned back into the chair. “It’s still as bloody, though, so you don’t want to wear your best.”

“Best? I got nothing.” She laughed. “All I have is what Melina decided to share with me.”

“Oh, come on, Lana! Don’t be like that,” Melina replied with a discouraged voice.

I could feel she was genuinely trying to be nice to Lana, and not just because of me, but that other woman was so proud that it didn’t matter.

I decided to change the topic through another approach and show I cared about her and wanted to know what she was up to up until she came here.

“What were you up to after being reborn?” I asked with a weak smile on my face.

She stared at me for several seconds before muttering something to herself and leaning back against her tanning chair.

“I married and was left a widow several years back. We didn’t have any children, as this body—it can’t have children. He was heartbroken when we learned about it and just died from the grief, I guess. It wasn’t even a heart attack. He just dropped dead.”

“And when was this?”

“Some years back.”

“Wait, have you been cultivating all this time since you’ve been reborn?”

She nodded weakly. “The Enma concentration was far too weak to do anything good with it, but it helped me stay young and healthy.”

“Shit,” I muttered. “I’m sorry, I really am, but I woke up only weeks ago, so to speak.”

“I know, but never mind that. What now? What’s our first goal here?”

“We should take it one day at a time and see how far we get. It’s up to Melina if she wants to… you know? All I can do is help her cultivate and get as far as she possibly can, but even if we do, how can we bind you?”

“Why don’t the two of you have some time for yourselves?” Melina asked. “You can do it here or out there. Whatever you want.”

“I’m not against it,” Lana whispered. “If you’re alright with it.”

“Thanks, Mel,” I said and kissed her neck. “Be back in a bit.”

I pulled Lana to her feet, pulled her up into my arms, and jumped over the railing. I landed perfectly and carried her over to the far edge of the dome, right next to a large boulder. I let go of her and sat down, leaning against the piece of rock. She rubbed her wrist and glared at me.

“Why so mad?”

“Why? Because I had to see you propose to her! Because I know I’m going to die, and there’s no way she’s going to help me! What’s worse, she seems to genuinely like you, so how can I hate her?”

“Veles was a bitch for doing that,” I replied weakly. “But they enjoy placing bets and causing strife from what I’ve seen, so there will be a lot of it in the future.”

“Future, huh?” she asked and dropped down next to me on her knees. “If only I could say I have a future. That we would have a future.”

“You know, she helped me with a medicine bath when I got here. The moment I was reborn, her brother and his gang almost killed me, so seeing me in such a state, she decided to help. After that, we had a drink—and then it just happened, but I can’t take it back. I don’t want to.”

She nodded weakly. I could almost feel the cogs in her mind turn, and feel the pain radiating off her. She’d been enjoying this life for a while now, so it was only normal for her to be hurt more than me after being around so long again.

“You know, I missed you. When Krajolik told me you’d been reborn in the same city… I had my hopes up for a while. At least until the moment when I saw you kneel before her.”

“I… I think that…”

“Shh, it’s alright. I was dead, and so were you. I don’t blame you, Viktor. I really don’t. The only thing that bugs me is that I won’t get to see our daughter, even if you somehow managed to win this… thing, whatever it is.”

How many years would pass even if I did manage to do it? The baby wouldn’t be a baby anymore, no, she would be a woman with her own family, one with zero feelings toward us as her real parents. She’d been living with those bastards for so long already that if it were me, I wouldn’t care about my parents either.

“You know, I’d give this life up right now if we could go back to where we used to live,” I whispered. “Even though I don’t really remember anything, I have a feeling we had a good life.”

She let out a sigh and leaned her head against my chest. Her hair smelled like wild berries for some reason. Such a strange thing about how our minds could play games on us and imagine what’s not there, just to please us.

“It was. It really was,” she whispered and closed her eyes as we sat there.

“Say, how long have you been here exactly?” I asked after deliberating for a minute on how to proceed.

“Seventeen years to be precise. I’ve been living for the last years by myself.”

“Waiting on me, I imagine?”

“Yes and no. I hoped they’d do the same for you what they did for me, but… it was something silly. I couldn’t have known if you’d be reborn or not, but I had this feeling.”

“Do you think if Melina accepted you, that you could live with the fact that I wasn’t yours anymore? Maybe we could start over and become friends at first as you tell me all about who I used to be and what we’d been through?”

“I don’t know, Vik. All of this just feels surreal. I’ve been in this rift for a single day and didn’t have the time to process everything. And there’s the fact of me having only several days left.”

“And no one’s asking you to accept it right away. I just want to know if there’s a chance we can live like this. All together.”

“Oh, you would really like that, wouldn’t you?”

“Wouldn’t you?”

“I don’t feel like starting all over, to be honest. Maybe we should just let it be? I could get out on the last day and disappear without you ever knowing where I went. You two could live your lives in peace and prosper.”

“Is that what you want?”

“No, it isn’t,” she whispered weakly. “It’s not what I want, but it is what’s best for… you.”

I let out a weak chuckle and shook my head slightly.

“Really? You know what’s best for me? Losing the only chance to find out about my past would be the best for me?”

“If you knew who you were, you wouldn’t want to ask. It’s not as simple as that. We weren’t the best of people, trust me.”

“What do you mean?”

“Exactly what I said. We weren’t the best people, but that’s as far as I’ll go. If she decides to take me in, I’ll tell you more.”

I sighed and closed my eyes, trying to process what she just said. “I hate this feeling of helplessness and heightened emotions. It all feels so wrong.”

“Well, we shut our emotions off in our previous life, so your soul isn’t used to them. The same happened to me, and that’s why I fell in love with… yeah.”

“So that’s why it feels so awkward, huh? I could have lived without some urges and things going on in here,” I replied, pointing at my chest, where the heart lay deep inside.

Her expression became one of sadness, but not a deep sadness, more like when you found something you’d been searching for all of your life. Only to see it was deeply flawed, chipped, and broken. You finally had it, but you couldn’t be happy because it wasn’t what you expected it to be.

“I just remembered something funny.” She chuckled. “Want to hear?”

“Sure, tell me.”

Lana flashed me a grin and winked before she spoke. “I remember pushing that… bitch who was after you off a cliff. She broke both legs and barely survived.”

“Huh? Who?”

“This girl when we just met. I was trying to get you to be mine when she butted in one day and slid her robe down her shoulders. I walked in on her trying to get on top of you, but you pushed her away. So I taught her a lesson.”

“Oh. And that’s the true… us?”

“More or less. That’s just pretty harmless, though. I’ll tell you more as time goes on.”

“Something’s telling me I’d rather not hear it after all, Lana.”

“Well, that’s your choice. It’s good to see you again, Vik. I’ve missed you. I really have.”

“I wish I could say the same, and some part of me probably did miss you, but I don’t know which one. And why. Maybe we’ll be there again one day.”

Tears formed in the corners of her eyes and slid down her cheeks. She couldn’t hold them back, but she wouldn’t need to. I wouldn’t judge, but I couldn’t help her. The fooling around was probably just a coping mechanism and a bad one at that. Was that how she dealt with stress and situations like this? Just might be.

“Did you manage to kill them back then?”

I shook my head sadly. “No, I’m sorry. I used all I had and killed all of them except for… him. He managed to run.”

“Maybe you’ll get lucky and he remains alive. Wouldn’t that be bittersweet?”

I nodded and suddenly put my arm around her.

“It would. I’m sorry, Lana. I really am. About your death in our previous life and now this. I’ll do anything I can to try to persuade her, so you hang in there. We’ll get our revenge on whoever it was who did this to us.”





Chapter Six





We returned to the inn shortly after and met a brooding Melina sitting under the sakura tree. Sarah was still sunbathing nearby with the kid for some reason. She already had a good tan, so I found it strange why she wanted to burn her skin even further.

I stopped next to Melina and flashed her a smile. She looked up at me and patted the ground beside her. I took her up on the offer and sat as Lana took up her place to my other side.

“So? What have you two decided?” Melina asked impatiently. “Is it time for me to pack my stuff and go home?”

“No, of course not. This here is your home,” I replied and put my arm around her, pulling her in for a hug. “There’s nothing to decide, Melina. You’re my woman now, and I’m your man. We’ll try to get along, though, and see where it takes us.”

“And that’s what you needed an hour for?”

“Oh? Has it been an hour already?”

She nodded slowly as if trying to figure out if I was mocking her or asking genuinely. “It has.”

“Nothing happened, Melina. If you want, I can take my panties off and you can check for yourself.”

“Eww, that’s gross,” Melina cried. “Would you want to check me?”

Lana shrugged. “I’m not that shy, if you have to know.”

“No, I don’t have to know,” Melina replied with a sigh. “Really, you’re just strange.”

“Strange or not,” I interrupted, “I think it’s about time we start doing some shit around here.”

“Like?” Melina asked.

“I want everyone to finish their butcher quest first; then we figure out what’s easiest next and start crossing things off our lists.”

“No! I don’t want to get blood all over my clothes!” Melina protested as Lana just sat there with a smirk on her face.

“Then go naked. I can solo them, and if you two are around, it’s even easier.”

“You really want us to go naked?” Lana asked.

“Why not? No one will see you but me.”

“And her. And what about the rest?”

“You can’t see through the dome’s walls. And it’s not like I didn’t see you naked in our previous lives, right?”

“Not these bodies,” Lana protested and muttered something I couldn’t hear.

“Want me to go naked as well, so my junk flies all over the place?”

“No!” Melina snapped. “If you’re not willing to go naked, Lana, then go waste what little clothes you have. As for me, I’m going in my underwear.”

“You mean that bandage wrapped across your chest and that black little thong?”

“Vik! You make it sound so dirty and… you know!”

I chuckled and got up, then offered my hands to the two and pulled them up as well.

“Guys!” I yelled. “Don’t go out through the northeastern part of the dome under any circumstances! We’ll be doing something there!”

Now it was Lana’s turn to show her displeasure as she slapped my left shoulder. I pulled away and snaked my arm around Melina, then pulled her in for a kiss. Lana watched the interchange and bit her lower lip. She didn’t look happy, but more than that, she had a strange look of longing written across her face.

“Sure thing!” Donald called from the kitchen entrance.

Mark jumped off the balcony and ran up to us. “Need help?”

“No, sorry. The girls will be undressed.”

“Oh, alright. I have my own right here. My undressed girl, I mean.”

I snorted and nodded, then motioned over to Sarah. “You’d better make sure no one gets any ideas, Mark. Sarah is a beautiful woman.”

“Y… yeah, you’re right.” He chuckled.

Lana and Melina shared a look; then they slapped my sides in unison, forcing me to run. I move toward the quest board and waited for them. They caught up with me and accepted the quests; then we made our way into the next zone.

I ran ahead, and the girls protested when they couldn’t keep up with me. I stopped right at the barrier and waited for the two. They were slightly annoyed but didn’t let it show too much.

“So, are you ladies ready?”

“Wait… we’re not ready yet,” Melina huffed as she tried to gather her breath. “Shit! You know I’m not as fit as you are.”

“Same here,” Lana added. To my surprise, she seemed very much out of it, as much as Melina was.

“You just cultivated but didn’t do anything about your body?”

Lana nodded. “Yeah, sort of.”

I rolled my eyes at her and shook my head in disbelief. “Lana, what the hell were you thinking?”

“Enjoying life.”

“Really? You… never mind. Come on, let’s move. You can take off your clothes outside if you don’t want to get them dirty.”

I walked out and pulled my nodachi from the pouch at my side. The herd was up to twenty monsters now, which was more than it had been the first time around. Strange. Other than that, there was nothing new to be seen. Which was good. New meant bad in such a world most of the time.

“Scar? Come out.”

Scar appeared beside me just as the girls walked through the barrier and gasped as the wind hit their faces. It was all open land here, so the wind was much stronger than it would have been inside the forest or inside the dome. Out here, it was as beautiful as it was deadly.

“This place is amazing,” Melina said as she hid behind me. “And are those the grazlitaur things?”

I nodded. “They are. You’ll be waiting here with Lana as I kill two of them. You’ll skin and cut the meat, clean the bone, and I’ll put it away in the pouch.”

They nodded and retreated slightly toward the tree line.

“Say, want me to help?” Lana asked. “I’m not what I used to be, but I have three skills.”

“Three?”

Both women nodded.

“You don’t?”

“No, I don’t. I traded everything in to save… some people we killed the boss with. Stupid move that turned out to be.”

“Hey, don’t say that,” Melina snapped. “You did what was right! Not what benefitted you!”

I let out a sigh and graced the two with a grin. “I did, didn’t I?”

“Oh, God, look at him,” Lana scoffed. “He’s going to be like this forever.”

“I like it,” Melina replied. “Makes him look cute or something.”

“Hah! You’re cute, Vik!” Scar laughed.

I kicked out and caught him in the hind left leg. He growled and snapped his teeth at me but didn’t bite.

“You little shit!”

It only took several seconds before we all burst out in laughter. These were the kinds of moments I wished to create and remember forever. Moments that would stay with us for life and maybe beyond that.

“Come on, let’s get them before I change my mind,” the wolf snorted.





It took us an hour to kill and butcher the two monsters. The girls were painfully slow skinning and cutting them up because they lacked the strength and endurance. They tired out quickly and weren’t able to cut through bone, tendons, and tough muscle, sever the bones, and cut off the head. Once they were done, both women were elated. Their bodies were all smeared with blood, everything but their heads and hair.

I stashed both grazlitaurs inside the pouch and could barely walk from being encumbered. They helped drag me the bag along the grass and muddy soil, leaving a dragging mark behind us.

The two ran off into the bathhouse and ran back out carrying soap, shampoo, towels, and some bathrobes. Or were they yukatas? I didn’t catch it as I stood in the kitchen entrance, trying to take the last few steps.

A heavenly scent wafted from inside, carried along with laughter. Sarah, Mark, Donald, and Rita were busy cooking. Mark’s head shot around as he noticed someone standing in the entrance. Me.

“What the hell? Why do you look so horrible?” he asked and hurried up to help me stand.

“Encumbered by two grazlitaurs,” I whispered.

He put my arm over his shoulder and helped me make the last few steps. I produced the pouch, and he started pulling the pieces of meat out one by one. The weight became less gradually, and I could stand on my own feet again without feeling as if I was about to be crushed.

“Shit, two at once? We barely brought back one the first time,” he scolded me. “Why do it?”

I shrugged. “Couldn’t let the meat go bad. It wouldn’t be right.”

“Yeah, well, we need a cold room in that case. Think this inn has one?”

“I noticed a door I couldn’t get open,” Rita yelled over the ruckus inside the kitchen. “It was pretty cold over there, so maybe that was it?”

I looked where she pointed and walked over. The handle wasn’t budging, but she was right. A cold draft hit me right away as I stood there, but it didn’t carry past me.

“I’ll ask Melina once she’s taken a bath with Lana. They were dirty from head to toe.”

“Oh? Why? What did you do?” Sarah laughed.

“Nothing, you minx. The two of them butchered the grazlitaurs, so they got blood all over them.”

“Minx?” Mark asked. I couldn’t place his tone of voice very well. He didn’t sound angry at what I called his wife, but rather amused. “He finally found a good nickname for you, love.”

“Oh, really? Should I flirt with him, then?”

“No, I mean, wait, what does that have to do with anything? It’s just a word for flirtatious, isn’t it?”

I shrugged. “Think so.”

She chuckled and motioned with her index finger for Mark to get back to what he was doing: chopping some of the bone up.

“We should have all of you do Butchery tomorrow,” I said, looking the others over. “Some extra attack and health isn’t anything to scoff at when we’re this weak.”

“Sure, I’m all game,” Donald said as he dropped his cleaver onto the table. “We’ll be done here soon. Why don’t you go rest up a bit, boss?”

“Boss? Come on, Donald. Not boss.”

He shrugged. “You are as long as you’re stronger and more important than us. At least for me.”

“Shit, this doesn’t feel right at all. Maybe brother? I’d like that more, to be honest.”

“Then brother it is!” He laughed. “Let’s drink one to that later!”

I nodded and walked out, then went to visit the girls. They were just finishing shampooing their hair.

“Food’s done soon.”

Melina looked up at me but never stopped rubbing Lana’s hair. “Want to join us?”

I shook my head quickly, not wanting to look like a perverted horndog. Shit, all these nasty words that were going through my mind got on my nerves. I’d never even known there was such a word. Horndog.

I let out a sigh and spoke. “I didn’t even break a sweat during the battle earlier, so no, sorry.”

“Aww.” Lana chuckled. “Don’t want to see two pretty ladies without their clothes?”

“Oh, why do you think I’m standing here? Of course I do, but I’m afraid if I take mine off, someone might get mad.”

“And who’s that?” Melina inquired.

“I don’t know. The one left looking?”

“Pfft! You wish!” Lana laughed. “You’re not getting any from me even if I turn into a ghost.”

“I wasn’t expecting any either way,” I murmured. “We need to talk seriously when you ladies are done. I’ll be waiting in the dining room.”





Scar appeared out of nowhere as I sat in my usual spot, leaning against the wall and waiting for everyone. He lay beside me and curled up like a pup. The way he acted was strange, and it bothered me. I put my hand on his head and rubbed it, then pulled back as a tiny bolt of lightning discharged against my skin.

“What? Can’t I even lie here without someone bothering me?”

I frowned. “Asshole. Why did you hit me with electricity?”

“Because you’re touching me.”

I rolled my eyes and pulled my hand back. He was brooding over something, but I didn’t know what exactly. I didn’t know what he was like when alive, so I didn’t have anything to compare his behavior with.

“What is it? Why are you down?”

He shrugged what passed for his shoulders and looked up at me. I could swear he looked sad and even slightly different than the last time I saw him. Did he look more corporeal?

“I want to be separated from you, but I know it will never happen.”

“Why? It didn’t bother you the first week.”

“It does now. I feel everything you feel, and your inner turmoil about the women is very distracting and painful.”

“Yeah, you can imagine how bad it is for me, then.”

He lowered his head again and closed his eyes.

“Don’t be so sad, little wolf,” a familiar voice said out of nowhere. “I’ve brought you salvation.”

Veles appeared out of thin air and sat opposite us, her legs crossed as she stretched out in one of the two only chairs in this place. She looked identical to last time, wearing the same short yukata and moving her hand through her platinum blonde hair.

“Greetings, Goddess,” I said and nodded slightly out of respect. “What brings you here?”

“Oh, not much. Do you want me to give you the news once everyone is seated? Or do you want to hear it first?”

“How long until they’re done?”

“Just enough time for us to finish.”

I let out a deep sigh, knowing I wasn’t going to like this. “You might as well tell me right away.”

She offered me a smile and nodded. “The situation is much worse than I thought it would be. The thirty opponents have been chosen, and only seven of them are human, you included.”

“Thirty opponents?”

She nodded. “The others are aliens, as you would call them. The worst part? Seventeen of them have patrons just like you. And most are at the same rank as me.”

A gut-wrenching pain erupted from my chest as she said that. I felt like keeling over and throwing up, but then it stopped just as suddenly.

“What… the hell was that?” I hissed as I pushed myself off the table.

“The game has now officially begun for everyone, so expect to see some enemies soon.”

“How far away are they?” I asked, still clutching at my chest. The pain was gone, but a strange, dull ache remained.

“Most are strewn throughout the first five zones. Or rather the first five layers, as I’d call them. See, the first zone has twenty-nine maps, the second has nineteen, the third has nineteen, the fourth has fourteen, and the fifth has fourteen as well. Everything above that is a giant map for itself. You can only get to them after killing a rank thirteen monster by yourself, and once you’re at the new zone, you’ll have to set up a new base or have your current one teleported.”

“So we’ll face someone pretty soon, I guess? And a rank thirteen is pretty far off, isn’t it?”

She nodded. “You just might. I know there are several others strewn about the third, fourth, and fifth zones, just like you, while the most can be found in the first starting zones.”

“Who’s the one closest to us?”

“A Zanoxian. His patron is Vulcan. They’re the perfect matchup, so you’ll have to avoid him for a long time.”

“Fuck,” I cursed.

“Fuck indeed, but we have a way to get out on top. See, you got a two-day head start, so you need to stop sitting on your ass and start working. I’ll share a part of my power in the form of a buff. Whenever you’re out inside the third-zone maps, the buff will be active from 06:00 to midnight. I’ll use the downtime to regenerate my power.”

“We’ll have to work really hard during the on times.”

She nodded. “Exactly. It’s not just your ass if you lose, as it will be mine as well. I don’t want to be a minor God or, even worse, just a divinity. Fuck that!”

“So what do you propose?”

“Start by clearing out the grazlitaurs. They need to be gone, and I mean constantly. I don’t want to see any of them for a whole day.”

“Wait, why throw away all that meat?”

She frowned. “Meat? Who cares about the meat? They can never run out, Viktor. The whole spawn is restored every six hours, so it’s not like you’ll run out of food.”

“Really? So no matter how many we kill, they’ll never run out?”

She nodded again as a smirk slowly crept up her face. “Yeah, really. But wait, I’m not finished yet. Once they haven’t been around for a whole day, the big guy will wake up and try to root out the one killing them. See, he likes to eat once a day. A whole spawn of them, but it’s totally random, so you’ll have to camp the spot.”

I stared at her for a long moment as I thought about what she just said. “A big guy? As in a big monster?”

“Exactly. A really big one at that. In your ranking system, he goes by an eight.”

I almost choked on pure air as she said that. An eight! We’d barely killed a kobold lord, which was a five, and now she wanted me to kill an eight?

“Why don’t you have us roll over and die, Veles? You want the three of us to kill an eight?”

“No, not the three of you. The five of you. Your group will need Melina’s support skills and her healing, and Lana is much stronger than she lets on. Mark can play long-range support, as he has up until now, while the wolf and you take the brunt of the attack.”

I sat there and thought about it. She wouldn’t have brought it up unless it was possible, so why even bother arguing over it?

“Say, Veles, why do we need to keep the spawn empty? Can’t we just wait for him to come for his food?”

She shook her head and sighed. “Even one of them is enough for him to return to his slumber. He’ll be even crankier if that happens, but that’s not the best-case scenario. You want him enraged. And you want to start making weapons and armor from the grazlitaurs’ bones. You can make good stuff out of them for yourself, even projectiles for his rifles. You’ll just need to mine some of the ore around this place and finish the job quests. Besides, you’ll get a new special stat called Break once you get the new weapons. That stat is purely there to help break the shields.”

“And you think we’ll have a chance? Even with that break stat?”

“You will. See, there are many hidden quests that you don’t know about, and they just pop up once you’ve done something to complete them. I can’t tell you what they are, but one of them is that spawn near the stream.”

“Oh?”

My frown turned into a grin. I liked quests and rewards. What’s more, I was still waiting for the ordinary quests we should be getting from this place. As if reading my mind, she spoke.

“Yeah, oh. As for other quests, you’ll be getting them once the seven-day period is over. No one gets them before the rest. Sorry.”

“No, no, everything is fine. But I was actually thinking of going out and seeing the tower. Go inside and do some killing.”

“Don’t. It’s full of wannabe hunters. Wait until the seven days are over and then go. No one and nothing but the Supreme Lord can damage the dome around your inn, and that goes the same for the other starting points. You will have to wage your little wars out in the wild and catch them with their pants down.”

Everything felt suddenly much easier after hearing her explanation.

“So we’ll be able to go out for a while without a worry?”

“Only for a full week. The dome is directly tied to the owner, so if you go out, the dome goes down after seven days.”

“Fuck, that’s not—no, it is. I’ll just have to be careful when I go out.”

“Yeah, you will. Now, little wolf, will you come with mommy for a while? I’ll return you tomorrow morning when the buff goes up.”

“I will, Goddess,” Scar replied weakly, bowing his head in subservience.

I wasn’t sure I liked what she did with him, but if he was willing to obey, then it meant that he felt safe. And why shouldn’t he feel safe? She was our patron.

“Now, you have until tomorrow morning to rest, Viktor. Don’t disappoint me.”

“Wait, please,” I yelled and then caught myself as she stared at me. “Can we save Lana? Can we bind her to… Melina if she accepts? And if so, how?”

“See, you don’t even have to try until she’s rank four in cultivation. Unless her Enma pool is large enough, she won’t be able to sustain her. As to how? I’ll do it for you on the last day if you manage to get her that high.”

Veles disappeared just as the girls came walking in with Rita at the head, carrying a tray of food. They were followed by Donald and Sarah. Mark carried three pitchers of alcohol and gave me a wary glance. Shit, we would need to start brewing our own or risk running out.

“Who were you talking to?” Lana asked as she sat next to me.

Melina sat to my other side and leaned against me.

“Veles. She came bearing news.”

“Oh? What news?” Mark asked hurriedly.

“Sit down and I’ll tell you. It’s not going to be pretty at all.”





Chapter Seven





It took us several hours to accept the gravity of the situation, and only after I told them everything did I come to terms with what Veles had said. It felt like a punch in the gut after thinking we were going to have a good time of it here. Sure, we theoretically could have a good time, but not the way I thought it would be.

The girls lay to either side of me, both wearing nightgowns and modest ones at that. Neither was in a talkative mood, probably lost in their own thoughts. Melina was deliberating on her choices in life and if going along with me was a good choice. She’d been vocal about it and very honest and direct. Lana wasn’t saying much, probably lost in thought about her last husband and all the years in between, the choice to come back to see me and live here.

I wasn’t losing any sleep over what was ahead of us. It didn’t make sense to do as much. What was on my mind, well, I couldn’t do anything about it either, but at least I could try. The grazlitaurs. We needed to come up with a fast way to deal with them. Sure, six hours was enough time to kill them all, but there were twenty of them, and if we could even kill one every five minutes, that was still an hour and a half of uninterrupted fighting. The girls had no way of keeping up with that, and neither did I. We needed a way to whittle down their shields quickly, or we’d tire out.

Melina’s arm and leg shot out and draped across my chest and right leg. Lana lifted her head and noticed the change, then turned around and faced the far wall. Neither of the two said anything and just fell asleep, snoring within seconds. I couldn’t help but smile. It sure had been a day, one none of us would forget any time soon.

I wanted to push her off me. Melina’s body was so hot and the air inside the room humid. I wanted to get out of here and dip inside the stream. Why was I so hot? No, it wasn’t them. It was me. I was burning up from the inside!

Pain shot up my right arm as all my veins started throbbing and bulging.

“Get—off me,” I hissed and pushed her off.

She just turned around and went to sleep again. Damn it, how could she be such a hard sleeper? A fly could wake me up on a good night, much less on a bad one.

I stumbled toward the balcony and slumped down on one of the tanning chairs. Sweat rolled down my forehead, neck, and back. My palms were sweaty, and my breathing labored. I reached for my pouch and stuck my hand inside, then pulled out two of the crystals I’d gathered from the grazlitaurs. They were more bluish and slightly larger than the ones we’d gotten from the kobolds.

My hands wrapped around them comfortably, and I closed my eyes, trying to steady my breathing, but I was in so much pain. The only thing that hurt as much was the opening of meridians and veins, so I was happy. The pain didn’t bother me so much, knowing what was about to happen. I embraced and loved it!

I grinned as a slightly familiar sensation washed over me, enveloping all of my being both inside and out. My eyes shot open as my body started to glow and ooze a thick, black liquid where my skin ruptured. I hadn’t even noticed it because of all the horrendous pain, but it was there.

I shook my head clear, suddenly finding myself leaning my back against the wooden back of the chair. My thoughts were jumbled and my movements sluggish. I pushed myself up and found my arm was stuck. I had to pull hard to get free. The blood had caked up and glued me to the side of the chair and my boxers.

“Fucking hell,” I cursed as I pulled at the dark blood and muck. “How long have I been out of it?”

My undershirt was dirty as well. Damn. I had to have a bath during the fucking night. I wasn’t looking forward to that. It was already cold enough during the day with the sun out and about, but now? There wasn’t a single ray of sunshine present.

I sighed and jumped off the balcony, only to land… not on the ground, but several inches above it. Enma flowed strongly enough that I could now manifest it around me. Something tugged at my mind, almost as if a lost memory wanted to resurface, but it couldn’t. I focused hard on it, but it just wouldn’t come up. Not wanting to lose more time on it, I let out a deep breath and pulled up my status.

Status:

NAME: Viktor

AGE: 31

LEVEL: 5, REALM: 1, RANK: 5



HEALTH: 640

ENMA: 280

SPEED: 2.0

PHYSICAL ATTACK: 144

ENMA ATTACK: 130

BREAK: 0

DEFENSE: 89

ENMA SHIELD: 620





The fifth meridian had opened, and next would be the head, after which I’d go down to my chest and do the rest of the organs, then into my legs and feet. I’d have to follow the plan precisely for some reason, knowing instinctively it was how this process should go. I needed to have a talk with Lana about cultivation and have her explain things more in depth. I knew how to do it, but I didn’t know anything more than that.

I closed the status and walked over to the bathhouse, stopping there to get a pair of boxers and a towel from the stack Melina had stowed away in one of the cabinets, then hurried to the river. I stopped at the edge of the water and stood there with my mouth agape. The small fishes glowed slightly, and what’s more, I noticed two more mining spots. They glowed as well, but barely at that.

My eyes shut as a thin layer of Enma surrounded me, and I slid into the water, diving straight for the mining spots. The small school of fish swam around me, nibbling at my skin, especially the muck that still clung to my side, as I inspected the ore. I reached out and hovered my hand above the small craterlike protrusion, when a familiar pop-up appeared, telling me I got another chunk. And another, and another. A new chime startled me, however, as I stared at the last piece of ore.

Notification:

QUEST COMPLETED:

Miner Level 1



REWARDS FOR QUEST COMPLETION:

1. +10 Defense, +100 Health

2. Minin