Re: Interference Chapter 30- Pawns

[Navi: Fourth Trial- Trial of The Horde: In the Given time, Repel the Horde and Kill the Hero.

Trial Initializing- Done. Trial Started: during the upcoming two weeks, the Candidate will need to repel and defeat the Monster Horde unleashed by the Hero. The rules for this trial impose that the Candidate and his current Minions (Bishop, Knight, Rook, Queen) must not raise their level during the duration of the trial; The Candidate cannot retreat from the general area where the trial is taking place (current party members are free to move, but must be in the area when the Horde attacks). Bonus objective: killing or permanently incapacitating the Hero. Good Luck, Master!]

I gulp down my saliva, looking once again at the blinking list of rules for this trial. According to Navi’s message, we cannot train ourselves for the upcoming fight, and I am barred from leaving the general area where the trial will take place.

The area is represented by a red circle on Navi’s map, encompassing a wide portion of the Marsh and the territory around the former Aldora fort.

Crossing that red line will result in me losing my life.

However, the message did not contain only bad news.

My companions will be free to move in and out of the area, unless until the Horde will make its move.

That means, we can prepare for it, using strategy instead of just increasing our levels.

After the message is dismissed, a timer remains in my view, counting down the time until the Horde will start to move.

Two weeks from now, during which we will have to prepare as best as we can.

I take a deep breath, calming myself and beginning to sort out what it is that I need to do in this situation.

First, I need to assess the size of this monster Horde, and have some means to be informed at all times about it.

I open the map once again, looking at the place where the Horde is.

Signals are buzzing on the virtual map that Navi displays in my head, red dots pulsing, some small, some bigger.

The largest one is Damian, the Hero I had the misfortune to meet in Nudria village. He’s the one behind this event, amassing monsters as if to build his own private force.

To what end, I ask myself. Besides the former fort now inhabited by freed slaves, there is nothing here worth taking by force.

Perhaps he wants to retake the fort, but such a large force of creatures is definitely too much for a small camp surrounded by wooden walls.

Even a single creature would be enough to deal heavy losses in the encampment, two or three would definitely eradicate it.

Yet, Damian has already two hundred creatures under his control.

It seems too much, both for the strain of controlling them and for the sheer number of this force, just to retake back a small fort.

No, there must be something else at play here.

It could be that he’s simply gathering a monster force here, in preparation for the upcoming war with Sendria.

It’s the most plausible thing, to me.

Using monsters, he will have a disposable army, cannon fodder to use in order to spread chaos and weaken the enemy.

After that, the army will swoop in, ready to fight a weakened enemy.

And Aldora’ s Marsh is a place literally bursting with nasty creatures whose level is reasonably high.

Without any doubt, the Hero controlling them has also cast some kind of reinforcement on the creatures, making them deadlier than their wild counter part.

<<It looks like we have some trouble over there>>

I update Levia on the situation. Her eyes gape when she hears the Hero’s name, perhaps remembering the destruction of Nudria by his hands. Even if she hated that place, it was still her home for a long time.

But the most curious reaction is the one Emilia is displaying. She began to tremble, stuttering the Hero’s name.

Being herself from Aldora, she surely knows how powerful the Hero is.

As I ask her about it, looking to probe her for some scraps of information, she looks down on her feet, fidgeting with her sleeve as she speaks, her voice broken by tension.

<<They call him the Son of Radiance. His appearance is that of a small child, ten, perhaps eleven years old. But…he acts, and speaks, like someone much older. Even among the Heroes, he’s the one renowned the most for his cruelty. Mostly, he is sent away from Aldora, to act as a rogue and a spy in enemy territory. If he’s here, it only means that the Army is about to set on a March of Radiance. That means, they will invade this region, reclaiming back Aldora’s long lost territories>>

Her information about Damian is nothing useful.

Perhaps I held my hopes too high, expecting her to know something more about his powers, but it seems like she does not know.

To her words, Heroes never show their capabilities in Aldora, as there is simply no need.

And they are rarely dispatched in battle, and when they are, it ends so quickly that it is almost impossible to discern what the single Hero did.

<<Although, one thing I know. Of all the Heroes in Aldora, the Pantheon, as we call them, Damian is all but the lowest ranked, the last Hero to join Aldora in order of time. There was supposed to be another one after him, but I recall that something went wrong, some kind of interference blocked the summoning rite>>

I chuckle at her remark, receiving her scornful look as a reward.

<<It’s a long story, but…that was supposed to be me. And yes, something did really go wrong with all that shit. But I’m here now, and definitely I am not a Hero, or on Aldora’s side for that matter. Now, let me tell you what your former country is up to in this region>>

As I share with her what we experienced in Nudria, and the situation in Sendria, Emilia’s face grows paler with every word coming from my mouth.

Her expression grows heavier, as she learns about the possible scenario of an all out war between Sendria and Aldora.

<<It will be a massacre>>

She whisper, her hand to her lips.

<<Yes, it will be. On both sides, that’s for sure. And, whose side will you take, girl from Aldora?>>

Levia’s voice carries hostility, her eyes glaring at Emilia.

Emilia seems taken back by Levia’s hostility.

And I understand well what Levia is thinking at the moment. After all, Emilia is from Aldora, and she was a member of their army.

Of course Levia has some rightful doubts on her.

<<Of course, you’re doubting my good will. Do you think that as soon as the Army comes here, as soon as their banners will be in sight I will immediately go back to them?>>

Emilia’s face is now flustered, her hands tightened into fists that tremble near her thighs.

But the blonde woman recovers her composure, and she sustains Levia’s gaze.

<<I will fight for the people here, for those that have welcomed me. For all purposes, it is not possible for a person to leave the Aldoran Army. Either you die on duty, or you continue your mission until the end. I am a deserter for them now, having even lost my Blessing. Only death will wait for me in Aldora, and as soon as my former comrades in arms will see me, they will carry out capital punishment. I already said it to you, I no longer have any ties with Aldora or the Church. And even if you yourself do not trust me, that will not change my intentions, or my actions for that matter>>

It looks like sparks are about to fly between the two of them. I must admit, Emilia shows some guts in standing against Levia, someone that trumps her own level by a fair amount. In short, she’s talking back to someone that could just kill her without even breaking a sweat.

<<How nice your words are…truly. You want to fight to defend the people that welcomed you. As if. Tell the truth, girl from Aldora. You are only choosing the side that will allow you to save your own skin. If you go back, they will kill you on sight. If you fight for the people here, you may have a chance to survive. No need to embellish your selfishness with pretty words, because, in the end, you are choosing the side that will let you live. Still, do as you wish. If you will fight for us, your help will be welcomed. But I do not trust you, and I never will>>

Surprisingly, Levia is the first one to break away from locking stares, turning away as she finds a rock and sits on it, crossing her arms and legs with a tense face.

<<Your girlfriend does not seem to like me very much>>

As Emilia mutters her words to me, I turn to her with a serious expression. Although she was the first person to treat me kindly in this world, the situation has changed. I have changed, and I cannot take the risk to openly welcome her. If she earns my trust, perhaps, things will change, but for now, she’s someone I need to be wary of.

I clarify things with her, perhaps, I realize, being even too cold and harsh with my choice of words.

But, it is for the best.

<<Now, both of you, drop this little fight and listen well. There is the impending danger of an invasion from a monster horde, led by that fuckin Damian. We need to think about something, and fast even>>

As I ponder about things, I notice some change in the monsters’ signals.

Apparently, some of them had their level increased. I focus Navi on the zone, to have a better grasp of the situation.

It turns out, Damian is making his monsters fight the wild ones, thus leveling up his forces.

If he’s given enough time, he will build an impressive force out of these creatures. And I fear what he would do with them.

I clench my fist, going through my options.

Without any doubt, he must be stopped.

But, the opponent is a Hero. His level trumps mine by a large amount, and his ability makes his skin invulnerable.

When I met him the first time, I managed to wound him, taking him by surprise by using an attack he would not recognize, making him inhale Black Fluid in mist form and then striking from the inside of his body. Even when wounded, he just shrugged off the damage received and destroyed Nudria with a single attack.

Surely, the same trick will not work again.

In short, this is not an enemy I can beat head on. Even if the monster army was not there, he would be too much for me to confront.

If I fight head on, that is.

Still, the trial has already begun. And this time, it compels me to repel the monster horde, killing the Hero.

I imagine that the penalty for failing this are the same as the trials before, meaning, I will lose my life if I fail, or try to run away.

But, it’s not like I am completely harmless in this situation. I have already something planned for him, and I am sure it will work.

After all, Heroes are brought “here” by the same God that “summoned” me in the first place, before Azatoth’s meddling.

Now, the real problem here is a logistic one.

We could confront Damian inside the Marsh, ambushing his location. I could use the same strategy I used against several Champions and Guardians in the Dungeon, using Beelzebub to confuse the monsters into fighting among themselves, quelling their number.

I do not know how strong is Damian’s dominion over them, however. If he has total control of the creatures, then it will be futile to try and confuse them with poison after all.

A large force would be able to deal with the monsters, and we could concentrate on Damian himself.

Using Transfer Orbs, it would be possible to “summon” allies and surround the Hero. The rules of this trial did not explicitly forbid using reinforcements after all. So, it should be possible for me to call in some more fighters without incurring in any penalty. Surely, Telesia will be able to spare some adventurers for this occasion. After all, the opportunity to weaken the enemy by killing one of its precious Heroes is something that she would really appreciate.

And yet, I am not leaning toward this decision. Fighting inside the Marsh will be a double edged sword, since the difficult terrain is ill suited for battles. The monsters will have a clear advantage in that environment, without a single doubt.

We could try another approach, by waiting for Damian to move outside of the Marsh, and confront him on a prepared battlefield.

After all, we already have a perfect position for a fort in our hands…

And without a single doubt, the Hero will move toward the former fort in its path.

If we decide to fight the Horde on our terrain, the settlers will need to be evacuated to Sendria, perhaps.

But, I have the feeling that they could put themselves to use.

After all, if it is to defend their home…

The main problem with them fighting would be their level. At the present moment, no one among them has a sufficiently high level to even stand against a single level 30 monster. Much less the skills, and battle experience, to be of any use in battle.

And yet, why am I even considering this? Thinking about which ways to use to make them stronger, to prepare them?

My vision clouds, and I sway to the side for one moment. A sharp pain in my left temple, lasting a fleeting moment only.

<<Roshal…your nose is bleeding>>

Levia is looking at me with gaping eyes, and Emilia hurries to give me a piece of cloth.

My vision is still blurred, and my hands are shaking.

It was violent, even if it lasted for so little time.

And yet, that moment held a duplicity in it, both lasting a single second and an eternity.

For the first time, I heard him. Although, it should define the thing better. It pushed its thoughts into my head, intruding my psyche with astounding ease. I was defenseless, and yet, something deep inside of me rejoiced that presence, that moment, like a child seeing his mother’s smile.

It is hard to interpret the thoughts of a God, and even harder to sort them out if you hear them for the first time.

It was not a voice that spoke to me, more like a stream of images and notions, superimposed and entwined one onto the other, melted into something that transcend language, carrying pure meaning in its simplicity, as if the God struggled to make its thoughts comprehensible for a lesser creature like me, its humble servant, as it defined me.

The message carried in that single thought, it showed images of the fort, and the former slaves. Images of struggle, repetition, and improvement, growth. Smiles, images of curiosity, interest, and then happiness, fulfillment and expectation. Images of battle, and victory. And the concepts tied to those images, linked together.

Do it, lead them, raise them, bring victory to them.

Please your God.

As my mind processed it, hurting itself in the process, the meaning became clear. My intention to use the slaves to defeat the Hero drew Azatoth’s attention, and he found it amusing, compelling me to do it.

Before, I had some doubts about the divine nature of such beings. Both Azatoth and the one venerated in Aldora, they could just have been powerful creatures, without any ounce of divinity in them, if such thing exists. Now, I am not so sure. One of the defining quality of a divine being, is omnipotence, after all. The ability to impose its will, and reality will abide to it.

Now, I felt the weight of that will, something so strong that reality itself warps to accustom to it.

It lasted only a moment, and my body is still shaking, my mind is fixated on that objective, both screaming in pain and crying in joy.

<<I…I’m fine. Just a moment of weakness, nothing to worry yourselves about. Now, let’s head back to the settlement. We have much things to do>>

The two girls still are looking at me, like they just saw a ghost.

<<You were…laughing. We thought…are you sure you are ok, Roshal?>>

<<I said I’m fine. Let’s go now>>

I raise my voice, interrupting Emilia’ s concerned words.

I was laughing. And I have no recollection of it. Mad laughter…if that really happened…

My hand shakes, and I am forced to exert my will to stop it. The implications right now are crushing me, to the point that I feel my whole being cracking under the pressure.

Levia tries to reply, but I immediately open Inventory and drag the two girls with me.

Inside the dark space, I have some time to think, immersed in that wholesome silence.

First, the feeling of distress and impending crisis I felt before, now I know the reason for that. And, once again, it seems my decision to come here was not even my own, once again I have been led here. Perhaps, it is fate, or something more sinister at work.

Abiding to a God’s will must be the higher pleasure for someone of faith, but I think that if they felt what I am experiencing right now, they too would find the unpleasantness of this whole situation.

I came here chasing what I felt was my own sensation, only for it to reveal itself like another beacon, something imposed from a “superior being”. And this time, the feeling is even stronger. The God spoke to me, for the first time.

Its words, were not a suggestion, or an invitation. They were orders, and every fiber of my being needs to abide to them.

And of course, it’s not like I receive the most logical of tasks. Like evacuating the former fort, call in reinforcements and deal with the Hero and his monsters.

No, it would be too simple, of course. Not entertaining enough.

Because, the underlying feeling that the God transmitted, it was something like excitation, the same I would feel while reading a good book, or those rare times when a movie had a deep and well made plot.

Of course, I never lived those moments, but it is the strongest example I could think of.

In short, It, The Almighty Azatoth, He who Interferes with Rebirth, The one who is responsible for everything that happened, he wants to watch a good show.

And for that reason, he will have me take command of a bunch of former slaves, and make them confront a horde of monsters. Just because it thought it amusing.

I find the idea itself repulsing, but…on the other hand, I look forward to it. It is difficult to explain, it’s like every single cell, every molecule that composes me is leaning toward the same path, singing hymns of praise as I work to act in Its will.

And the curiosity I feel, about how will I be able to pull this off, is burning in my mind, along with several plans and strategies that are beginning to form themselves in my mind, almost like they have an existence on their own, and are not just strings of thought woven together by my mind.

It’s both terrifying and ecstatic.

To the point that I am both grinning and crying, feeling a cackling laughter rising from my stomach, and finally letting it out, a laughing man surrounded by blackness, headed to a mad task for a mad god.

As we reappear inside the settlement, passersby looks at us perplexed, some screaming in surprise.

The same, mixed expression of wonder and fear, is painted on Emilia’s own face, but it swiftly warps as the effect of being inside Inventory catch up to her.

She pukes, her face going beyond pale.

<<What…what did you do to me?>>

She asks, her left hand holding her cramping stomach.

I use a cleansing spell to clean her up, and relief a bit of her pain. It was sudden, and a bit rude to just hurl the both of them into Inventory after all.

<<Relax, it’s just some after effect of my transport skill. You’ll be fine in no time>>

I answer to her, taking a glance at Levia, who seems to fare better than Emilia. Perhaps the level difference between the two of them is mitigating the effects for Levia. Not that she is immune, she too has paled and looks like she’s resisting nausea.

Still, there are more pressing things to deal with at the moment.

I immediately contact the others, letting them know about the situation here. At the same time, I sent Meviel to monitor the monster horde and the Hero, ordering my minion to be as careful as possible in order for it to not be discovered.

It would be a shame to lose it so soon, and if it is discovered, it might alert Damian of our presence here, making him wary and thus losing our only advantage, surprise.

I check the visual feedback from it, asserting the situation of the monster horde.

At the moment, it still seem like Damian is not near the main body of the Horde. Instead, his signal comes from a point further towards the center of the Marsh, surrounded by those of lesser, low leveled monsters. Perhaps, the Hero is hunting them, looking for new additions to his little zoo, or for something to use to feed his other creatures.

I order Meviel to keep observing the Horde while remaining hidden, at least for the time being. Later, I will recall Meviel back, using offshoots instead to spy on the Horde and the Hero.

Having checked the situation of out enemies, I discuss with Levia about the next steps to take. She voices her opinion, that it would be best to evacuate the settlement and ask for reinforcements from the Guild. She is right, of course she is, but she does not seem to grasp correctly the situation I am in right now.

I take a deep breath, and ponder on how to let her know.

After taking my time, I decide to share with her the memory of the recent “chat” I had with a superior being.

Levia’s face pales, and she drops on her knees.

<<This…this is not a choice for us, right? It’s not even a suggestion, it’s…>>

<<It’s an order>>

I cut her words, smiling at her. She nods, now that she knows there is no other choice. Her eyes begin to set on the surroundings, as if she’s studying the people around us. Normal people, not warriors, not battle hardened adventurers. And yet, these very people will have to fight for their lives.

The “suggestion” I received was very clear about that. My role here, is to train and lead these people, making a force out of them, preparing them for battle.

<<Hm, it should be about time now>>

I mumble to myself, my words followed by a blue flash right in the settlement’s center.

Earlier, when I told the others about the situation here, we did accord on the schedule for them to come here. And it is about time for all to rejoin with us.

The first Transfer Stone goes off, and Heod appears from the blue ripple in space. He’s followed by two persons I do not know, a tall man with spectacles and blond hair, dressed in a white lab coat, and a short, curvy lady with ruffled hair and circular googles covering her eyes.

Both of them are carrying large backpacks.

<<So, this is the place then>>

Old Heod looks around, pausing his eyes on Emilia for a fleeting moment. She’s better now, but she seems to be in shock somehow.

<<Is the girl ok?>>

He asks, strolling to her side to help her get up.

<<She’ll be fine. It’s just Roshal’s weird skill taking its toll>>

Levia answers in my place, smiling to the old man.

<<Oh. Well, lady, drink this potion, it will help with the nausea. Now, lads, where can this old man set up his temporary laboratory?>>

We go with Heod and his assistants to the settlement’s chief. Apparently, there is no formal chain of command here, but the settlers have all agreed to follow the lead of a man, even without him being “officially” appointed as chief.

He simply showed himself capable enough, and the others followed.

He resides in the former barrack of the Aldoran commander, re-purposed as both home and office.

Sitting behind a crude wooden table, serving as his desk, the man welcomes us with a wide smile.

He looks over fifty years old, his bulky body still showing some of the strength he had in his youth, betrayed only by a bulging belly. Still, his arms are toned, his skin black as coal contrasting with the grayish white of his hair and mustache.

<<Welcome in my humble office. What can this old man do for you?>>

He introduces himself as Vadra, without any title or honorific to himself.

As I inform him about the imminent situation, his expression turns sour, his cordial smile slowly turning into a concerned frown.

<<Boy, I really hope this is just an elaborate joke>>

His voice is deep, carrying weight and pressure.

Of course, he has some doubts about my words.

<<Well, mister Vadra. It will be quicker if I show you>>

I use Navi to share the feedback from Meviel. Cold sweat begins to run on Vadra’s forehead, and he collapses on his chair, his head held between his hands.

<<That…that cannot be. We just escaped from the horror of slavery, and those Aldoran bastards are already coming for us>>

He recovers quickly from his moment of discomfort, however.

<<No, we will fight them this time. I have not tasted liberty once again just to let a Hero take it away from me again. Not this time>>

His spirit is right, but, as things are right now, they do not have a single chance to survive this.

We consult some more with Vadra, as I ask him the state the settlement is in. The amount of supplies, along with the number of individuals who are able to either build structures or wield a weapon.

Time is of the essence here. From what I gathered using Meviel’s recognition, the number and level of monsters is the same as before, without any changes. And according to the timer, we have plenty of time to think about a counter attack.

The real problem is how to deal with this whole situation. The best course would be to strengthen the settlement altogether, building defensive structures and strengthening the settlers themselves.

Out of seventy four former slaves that inhabit the settlement, forty-five of them are battle capable. The problem is that more than half of those are also the only ones with practical knowledge on building structures and crafting tools. Sparing some people to dedicate them to production of weapons and defensive structures will decrease the total fighting force. And vice versa.

Still, it’s the best thing to do at the moment.

I’m a bit surprised to see how Vadra is abiding to what I say, perhaps, it’s the effect of my Leadership skill working, more than my own words.

After some hour of consultations and discussion, we finally came up with a plan.

In the meantime, the others have also reached the settlement.

I left Levia the duty to inform them about the situation, while I concentrate on another task. If we want to succeed here, the enemy needs to be surprised by the settlement’s resistance.

In short, we need to conceal what we are doing here.

For that reason, I decided to cast an illusion on the settlement, reproducing its current form. It’s a complex illusion, that needs to show different images at the same time, some of them moving into the static scenario of the settlement. To do so, I will need a massive amount of mana. Casting the illusion is not enough, however.

It also needs to last enough, and most importantly, it must not be seen through.

As I am preparing myself to weave the illusion, using both spells and the illusory skills I picked up some time ago, Vadra is busy gathering his fellow settlers and explaining the situation to them.

The man works fast, his words undoubted by the villagers that swiftly put themselves to work, some heading to the nearest meadows to harvest the necessary woods, others heading to the single forge and beginning to smelt what little metal the place has in store.

Their limited resources will not be enough, of course. Luckily, I have still some useful items stored into my Inventory.

Weapons, armors and rare materials. If push comes to shove, we could use some of our funds to purchase goods from Sendria, and transfer them here using Transfer stones or my skill directly.

The remaining settlers are being divided into squads, starting from the men and young boys up to the age of thirteen. Those that will be able to hold a weapon in their hands. Much to Vadra’s displeasure, some of the women too are willing to join the battle force. His views on the matter here might be too much antiquated, as he is reluctant to let women fight. Still, this will be a battle for them all, and having some more hands in our fighting force will be useful without a single doubt.

After casting the illusion, my breath heavy and in disarray from the effort, I stroll to Vadra’s side and persuade him to let the women fight also.

The only people left are now children and old people, who will be reunited in the central building and kept safe there. The others will begin their tasks shortly.

To accelerate things, I set out to help gathering resources and build the defensive structures. Using Shoggoth makes it easier to gather large quantity of materials, and process it however I want.

With the help of my skill, and under the guidance of those among the settlers that know how to build, I construct a first defensive perimeter around the settlement, a square surrounding the entire fort.

That will be the base for further constructions.

In the meantime, the others are taking care of the settlers, instructing them on the basis of combat and dividing the people by using their aptitude as a criteria.

After some light sparring, during which each person has been tasked to try and use the weapon they feel more comfortable with, they are divided and assigned to one of my companions.

Those that show some aptitude towards the use of shield and spears are roughly half of the total force, destined to Retel’s care and instructions.

Fifteen people showed prowess with blades, their performance based more on speed and accuracy rather than stopping power. A fighting style similar to Dahl’s, and thus, he will be the one instructing them.

Some of the settlers showed little to no ability with standard weapons, but demonstrated a good and steady aim when offered the opportunity to use bows or crossbows.

Levia is taking care of those.

The only ones left are roughly twelve people, who were excluded from the weapon test. The reason for that is the thin, feeble quantity of mana that these people possess. Some of them are unaware of it, others, like Julia, are beginning to discover and nurture their powers.

To those people, Marica’s guidance will be precious.

I focus on the construction and organization of the battleground, leaving my companions to instruct the settlers as best as they can.

While processing materials and moving objects with Shoggoth, placing them and arranging the core of the new structures, I check the timer that has begun to display in my view.

This whole Trial, feels like a timed event now.

According to the decreasing numbers in my view, we have two weeks before the Hero will begin to march towards the settlement, and Sendria afterwards.

I thought that I had less time at my disposal, but that does not seem to be the case.

If the timer is correct, that is. I cannot rule out that possibility after all. But if it says the truth, then it will be possible for me, for us, to accurately prepare the settlers, and, perhaps, increase our levels in the process.

Using Shoggoth, I work until late at night, while the settlers give instructions and draft out blueprints for me to follow.

The first line of defense is now ready, a stone wall surrounding the settlement, now looking like a proper fort.

As I set the last stone, a notification pops up, announced by Navi’s voice.

[Navi: Congratulations! You’ve completed the first Building- Defensive Stone Wall- Completing the Building, gives you Ownership of the Land. To Claim it, stand in the place indicated in the map and

give your consent]

A blue signals pulses in the map that Navi displays, right at the center of the settlement.

Still, I wonder what this is all about. As I ask for more information about, she gives scamps of it, mumbling about some benefits to the settlers and power influence. As usual, the teasing personality of this disembodied voice irritates me.

Well, it does seem that “claiming” this place will lead to some benefits, and if I want to pass this next trial, I need all the small advantages I can get.

Following Navi’s instructions, I head to the center of the settlement. There, a notification window pops up, asking me if I want to claim ownership over the land.

<<Yes>>

I feel dizzy for an instant, then a pulse of blackness surges from me, expanding as if a sphere exploded from my body.

The passing surge of energy travels around, expanding, until it becomes a sphere surrounding the settlement and roughly three hundred meters of land around it. Most of my mana has been consumed by it, leaving me drained and fatigued.

[Navi: Congratulations! You’ve claimed your first Territory! The people living in this land are now under your command, be it gentle hand or iron fist! A passive experience boost (1.5%) has been granted to people under your command, and they are now registered as Pawns in the system. Pawns have a small chance of inheriting a version of your skills during Level Up, as well as receiving bonus STAT points Moreover, you can decide to set the “growth path” for each individual Pawn, thus altering the skills and Stats that they will receive. As the designed Lord of this Land, you are linked to it, and will receive a passive amount of mana and experience each hour. As the New Lord, would you like to Give a Name to this Land? Y/N]

I take some time to think of a proper name, then give my consent for the renaming process, allowing for a random name to be chosen. Of all the names I thought, all of them seemed too ridiculously pompous or frivolous, and so, I decided to let randomness decide it.

[Navi: Congratulations! Your Land has now been renamed as “Ream Village”]

Apart from the name of the village displayed in the map, nothing else changed. At least, I did not notice the change, until I spent some more time walking around.

Well, for starters, I immediately discovered, much to my surprise, that I can teleport instantly inside the village, without spending any mana.

It only works within the boundaries of that black sphere, which, apparently, only I can see.

As I claimed the land, some people, along with my companions, rushed to me to see what happened.

While Retel basically assaulted me with questions, the settlers that came up to me held a formal tone in their voice, their backs straightened like they were soldiers in the presence of their commander.

At first, it made me a bit uncomfortable, the absolute trust I can read in their eyes, how they listen to my words with the utmost attention.

It is definitely something due to this strange “ownership”, but something deep inside of me relishes this kind of obedience they display.

I tried to give some orders, just to see the boundaries of this new thing. Villagers seem compelled to follow a direct order from me. Even if it is something that would harm them, or the ones around them.

Not that I made them really do something dangerous or harmful, of course. But still, the words were enough to spring them to action.

Suggestions, however, had no effect whatsoever, remaining mere words that left the final decision to the subject, rather than binding them to do my will like an order would have done.

It is disturbing, but it could be useful in dire need. For example, if someone tries to flee from the battle, terrorized.

Or to prevent crime, and some other things. The magnitude of this effect seems to be enhanced by my Leadership skill, thus making the villagers basically powerless against a direct order from me. On the other hand, it seems like my words have also a big positve effect on them.

Still, for now, I will limit myself to suggestion, resorting to orders only as a last measure.

Another change that happened is more subtle, and it took me a while to realize it. The mana in this place changed, becoming denser, more attuned to my own.

In here, my spells seem to have a larger effect, and consume less mana.

The area itself is limited, so the actual advantage this might provide is small for now. But, it could be of some use, after all. I wonder what would happen if I manage to increase my sphere of influence.

That’s the term Navi used to describe the black bubble that surrounds the settlement…Ream. A Sphere of Influence, delimiting the territory under my control. As it would in a game, it is possible for it to increase, if people from my territory occupy adjacent territories, or the population increases enough. It is possible for it to decrease as well, if the number of villagers falls under a specific threshold.

And of course, it could disappear completely, if the village is conquered or destroyed.

While pondering about these things, I give some glances to Meviel’s visual feedback, to check the situation of the Monster Horde.

It seems the number of them has slightly decreased, the weakest monsters being used as food to let the others grow stronger.

Damian himself is not there, it seems. His signal is far away, deep in Aldora Forest, surrounded by monsters. Perhaps, he is gathering some new recruits to his little army.

The important thing here is that he did not catch wind of what is happening in Ream. If he sensed that something was amiss there, I am sure he would have investigated in person.

Fighting him without the monsters to back him up would be easier, but if he came here, there would

definitely casualties among the population.

It will be better to let things play out as intended, without forcing my hand for now.

After all, I really doubt that things would play out differently, thinking back on how all this started.

Divine will and all that. This feels more like some sort of game between two children, arranging their pieces on a board and moving them according to a set of rules defined only for their amusement, rather than this whole situation being a crisis between bordering territories.

And perhaps, this is the reality of this world. People that do not know their true purpose, fancying themselves kings, popes or heroes, while being nothing more than pieces on a cardboard, moved by invisible hands and whose fate is decided by a whim or the roll of a dice.

And even if this is the reality behind the world itself, what choice do I have? Rebel? Ignore the will of a God?

I’m sure it will be impossible for the current me. Considering the strain that receiving Azatoth’s thoughts put on my body, what would his wrath do to me?

I shake my head, returning my thoughts to more pressing matters. The villagers are reunited in the center of Ream, waiting. All of them tired, many showing bruises on their bodies, signs of the sparring they had with my companions.

Their expressions suggest how they learned the difference in power between them and a single individual with several levels above their own.

In this scenario, numbers don’t matter.

Still, right now it is time to let them rest, and have a filled stomach.

From Inventory, I take out some provisions to distribute. It’s not much, but it will suffice for dinner. Tomorrow, I will have to think about how to feed the whole village, and some ways to make it self sufficient too. The current crops and cultivated land is not enough, and it shows a low yield given how scarce the provisions are.

We need more, to support the settlers during the incoming battle, and after that as well.

However, those thoughts are for a later time. For now, it is better to let them enjoy the meal, after their hard work.

Tomorrow, the real training for them will start.

Heod has naturally taken charge of the cooking, several ladies and some men following his directions as they stir pots and cut vegetables and meat.

While preparations are being made, making it look more like a festival night rather than a tense preparation for an upcoming war, I wander alone, walking between the wooden huts that compose the settlement, now renamed Ream.

<<Too much noise in there?>>

Vadra’s voice calls me from behind. He’s smoking a pipe, similar to the one Heod uses.

<<Yeah, I needed a bit of silence. Just to sort out some things>>

<<Hm. You are not really what you seem, boy. Roshal, was it? How is it that every time you show up, some ridiculous things happen?>>

His remark makes me chuckle. Of course, he must have recognized me from the time I spent in the fort, before the Laughing Man…liberated them.

<<That, mister Vadra, is a question that I would pay to know the answer. It seems that trouble follows me, everywhere I go>>

This time, is the old man that chuckles to my remark.

We spend some time talking, and he shares his experience. From his words, I learn how the life of a man enslaved by Aldora was.

The complete deprivation of rights, dehumanization, the loss of your own name. Completely different from what I had surmised back then, when I saw the soldiers’ behavior around the slaves. They fed them, well enough, and there was not a hint of heavy repression of the slaves, the soldiers limiting to give them orders, without abusing their power on them.

I thought that, even in the horror and wrongness that is depriving someone of their freedom, the people from Aldora did not revel in the humiliation imposed onto the slaves.

But Vadra’s words carry a different story. As it is, the soldiers are forbidden to speak with the slaves.

<<”Like a man would not speak to cattle, or animals on the side of the road. Because they are nothing but animals, beneath the Holiness of our blood. And thus, you shall not speak to them, if not for giving firm and righteous orders. You shan’t touch them, if not for imparting discipline”and other shit like this. In short, we are not human for them. They fed us, oh yes, but the amount of it, and quality, was feeble and scarce. Drugged food, lined with herbs to increase stamina, and others to numb fatigue and judgment. To cloud your mind, so that the thought of rebellion would be too nebulous to be grasped>>

We stood there some more, as Vadra spoke about how regaining their freedom was at first overwhelming, then it became intoxicating. For me, he told, a day was just a day, spent doing whatever I wanted. For him, days before the Laughing Man came where the negation of his being, as he was nothing more than a tool to use, to build, to plow the fields, to clean, and wash the equipment.

<<But after the Man came, and his laughter resounded in the fort- said Vadra- every day is a blessing. It has uncertainty in it, true. I do not know if the food will be enough for us all, or if we will have enough wood for winter. But, one thing I know. Whatever we want to do, we are now free to do it. It’s difficult to explain this to someone like you, someone who has not been bound by another’s will. Now, we are free, and we will do everything to remain free>>

His words carry sorrow, but his eyes show a glint of determination, the one that is born under pressure and suffering. This man will not yield, to anything. Having tasted hell itself, having lost his freedom, his soul has been tempered, his will becoming stronger. If danger arises, he will fight for his people.

His determination is comforting to behold. It means that, no matter what, this man will fight, and inspire others to do it as well.

Perhaps, the situation here is not as dire as it seems.

If there is the will to fight, there is hope. The rest, is just a matter of teaching them how to fight, how to raise their own prowess and exploit their power.

Still, I wonder what is the point of it all. Why have I been guided here, in some sort of capricious twist of fate.

I already gave some considerations on the matter, but now, alone since Vadra went back to his fellow settlers, I have some proper time to think about this whole situation.

Ever since my life in this world started, I have felt like every decision I took did not matter in the end. All the crucial points, from that first encounter with the slimes, back there in the forest bordering the Marsh, to me being here, it feels like I have been swept by the current of fate, following it, unable to resist the flow.

Now more than ever, since the mind that willed me here has made itself manifest, binding me to an order. Earlier, Vadra told me that I could not understand what it means to be a slave, to be bound by another’s will, unable to resist it.

If only he knew how wrong he is…

I stand in there some more, thinking about this strange fate that befell me, that tied me to this place. First, as a bystander of cruelty, both subtle, like the one perpetrated by the Aldoran towards their slaves, with no apparent violence but filled with a more profound malice, the negation of their status as human being. Then, I witnessed the retribution they suffered for that cruelty, by a twisted violence, righteous in some aspects but brutal in its execution. The Laughing Man came and consumed, rending the slaves’ chains as he devoured the oppressors’ flesh.

And now, I find myself once more in here, this time forced to assume the role of a guide. It baffles me how the former slaves accepted my words, swindled by the effect of my Leadership skill. Under no normal circumstances a group of grown adults would listen to the words of someone like me, with the appearance of a teenager. And yet, they accepted me, my words, the promise I gave them of us standing together against the upcoming menace, and of us overcoming it.

For now, those words moved their hearts, igniting in them the will to fight. During the speech I raised to them, I appealed to their sense of freedom, to the underlying terror they have, seeing themselves once again under Aldora’s chains.

Now, I need to think how to deliver my promises.

<<This is truly a pain in the ass>>

I mutter to myself, strolling away from the spot where I stood, walking slowly towards the barracks that our group has occupied.

Tomorrow, the real preparations will start.

Morning came, and I went out with the first lights of the day. For now, I am assigning tasks to my companions, preparing our defenses before we start the actual training of the settlers.

I sent Retel and Levia back to Sendria, in order for them to gather some supplies. Food and ammunition are our primary concerns at the moment. Both of them are equipped with a new item, something I made using Shoggoth. Small, black rings, being themselves parts of Shoggoth, and capable of its own abilities, even in a limited way. In short, they act as an inferior version of Shoggoth’s Absorb and Gather abilities, with a minor version of Inventory added to the effect. They should be enough to gather the necessary materials and ammunition, arrows and bolts, to add to those I already possess. Using Transfer Orbs, my companions will be able to come back in no time after all.

Dahl and Marica will be the ones helping me today. Under our supervision, we will have the villagers taste their first battle against monsters.

Meviel will also have its first battle, as I intend to level it up as much as I can during these two weeks.

To check on the Hero and his pet army, I used some offshoots from Shoggoth, just to maintain visual contact and basic recognition.

The mana flow from these offshoots is minimal, coded in pulses to make it less detectable. The information I gather from them is not constant, having an interval of ten minutes between each transmission, but it is enough to give me a general grasp of the situation.

Meanwhile, I set Shoggoth free around the area. I restrained it, imparting two simple orders. Capture every monster it encounters, without devouring it, and collect each single alchemical ingredient it finds.

With this, I will be able to obtain the necessary creatures to train the villagers, and at the same time produce a stock of materials for Heod to craft and brew his potions and remedies.

After distributing some of the equipment from my Inventory to the villagers, it is time for the training to start. At the moment, the collective level of the villagers is low, below level eight. I need to balance their training well enough, raising their level enough to have a steady increase in their proficiency, but without having them incur into Level Up sickness.

Simply raising their level forcibly will not be enough, as they need to have a taste for battle, something they lacked.

As Shoggoth comes back, the first test starts.

I let it release the first batch of monsters, ten Marsh Worms. Their level is low, the highest being a level four worm.

Seeing their form brings me back to the time where I fought them, still inexperienced, basically a baby stumbling in this dangerous world.

The first batch of villagers comes forth to challenge the monsters. They move with confusion, some of them rushing ahead while others cower, their steps unsteady, their grip weak and trembling on their weapons.

Shouts resonate in the air, as the monsters claim the first blood. Perhaps, the villagers where expecting some kind of protection from me, from us. But, it will not come. I will not let them die, for sure, and I will take care of their wounds.

But, the first thing they need to learn right now, is pain.

The feeling of it, the sensation of dread in front of a superior opponent. In this life, it is rare to experience such a thing and survive it. By realizing how much the enemy in front of them is dangerous, they will know the extent of their own fear.

Those that show a cocky attitude, will have the reality of their own weakness exposed in front of them.

Those that are too scared to even make a move, will have their cowardice be their undoing.

As the first test is concluded, I imprison the monsters into Inventory, before they can deliver any lethal blow to the villagers.

Using recovery magic we deal with the wounded, imparting them a cruel lesson. Using cruel words to make them come to terms with their own weakness, I go so far as to use illusions to show them what will happen if the Hero wins this battle.

The look of terror on their faces is something that touches my soul, and I almost feel like I am overstepping a bit.

Still, these people right now have been ensnared in this nonsensical conflict between the two Gods, the one revered in Aldora and the one pulling my strings. I chuckle at myself, as the thought I had about being a puppet for some playful and mad puppeteer seems the more apt definition for my current condition.

Using Leadership, I let my words sink in, motivating the villagers to stand up once again.

Their wounds healed, their stamina regenerated, they are now ready to show their worth. Before I release the monsters once more, me and my companions give our final piece of advice.

This time, the villagers will follow our directives during battle.

The first test was something that I left to their judgment, letting the people chose their role in battle and act as they pleased.

Now, with the help from Dahl and Marica, the previously unorganized bunch of people is being divided into small groups.

Formations are being taught to them. Those that show a melee predisposition occupy the front line, guarding the middle where ranged fighters are stationed.

These people still lack individuals with decent magical prowess, and healers. Of all the individuals that showed some magical disposition, healers were the scarcer, counting two people among the total population.

A bad situation, but it turns out, being the Lord of this village will let me tamper a bit with each individual’s growth.

In short, they can inherit some skills of my choosing, or I can decide which “direction” their growth will follow.

After this test, I will know who among the villagers has the proper disposition for each role. With the limited amount of people at my disposal, it will be imperative to have specialized individuals capable of covering determinate roles.

For now, however, the only thing I can do is sit back and wait.

The second test unfolds, this time being a more entertaining fight.

The villagers, now divided into proper formations, face the Worms with better movements and coordination among themselves.

Melee fighters shed their sweat as they guard their companions with shields, while other, more specialized in close quarter attacks, take advantage of their comrades distracting the monsters to land some slashes and blows.

Ranged fighters wait for the proper moment to release their arrows, and some, the ones with magical disposition, begin to release their spells, nothing more than mana sparks for the moment.

I smile when the first worm falls, and the premature cry of victory is choked by those of pain, as the severed parts of the worm spring into action, showing the regenerative ability of this nasty creature.

Using Leadership, I give precise orders to the people. The skill affects them in an astounding way, probably due to the major gap between our levels.

Still, their panic is gone, and they abide to my orders.

Melee fighters close their ranks, relying on blunt and piercing attacks rather than slashes to weaken the monsters, as the ranged fighters deal the decisive blows by piercing the worms with their arrows.

Following Marica’s directions, the few magicians stopped using direct attacks, using their mana instead to empower the archers, making their arrows crackle as the arrowheads are charged with temperature. A single one is not enough to set the monsters on fire, but the continued assault gives its fruit, as the first worm falls, its body twisting as flames lick its body, charring it black until it stops wriggling and thrashing, lying dead on the ground.

This time, the cry of victory resounding is true. I reclaim their attention, commanding them to focus on the remaining monsters.

Their struggle continues, until the last worm lies on the ground.


Author’s Note: Hi all, chapter 30 is finally out! Took a long time to write, edit and post, mostly because of IRL stuff. Still, it’s here, finally 😉

As usual, I will ask you for feedback on Re:Interference. What are your opinion on the story so far? What did you like about it, and what did you dislike? What could be improved, and which parts you think that were poorly written? Personally, I find several flaws in this first web novel of mine, and I need other people’s honest opinion to have a different perspective on my work.

Next chapter will release…well, I don’t know when. In the meantime, if you want, hop on and give a look to my other novels here:

A Strange Sky- Prologue

Glimmer of a Fallen Star-Prologue

Thank you for your time!

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A Strange Sky- Prologue

The man groaned, pain aching through all of his body.

He tried to open his eyes, but the world he saw was confused, out of focus, red and blue lights flashing in his view.

He had the strange impression of a distant, distorted voice whispering something in his head, but that was being overwhelmed by the loud, ringing noise that pierced his ears, numbing his thoughts to the point that he did not even remember his own name.

Waves of pain were constantly assaulting him, originating from the deepest part of his brain and surging, expanding, as if his own head was about to burst open.

He coughed, a sliver of saliva dribbling down his chin as his chest convulsed in that abrupt motion, sending new waves of pain as he gasped for air.

Again, a blue light flickered in his view, along with the semblance of words whispered through that ringing noise.

To him, it was the worst kind of pain he ever experienced. Much more than when he broke both his legs falling down a tree, or when, barely adolescent, he was hit by a car.

<<A car…my…car>>

He mumbled, shuddering as his own voice sounded weak, broken, nothing more than a whisper.

His mouth tasted like blood, he smelled it even.

He tried to lift himself up, realizing that he was lying supine on the ground, his face scraping dirt.

Another jolt of pain made him subside from his attempt, and he just laid there, aching.

His breathing was heavy, and he felt his heart beating, the slow thump pulsing in his temples, weak, irregular.

His senses were about to give up, sliding into that murky oblivion that he just woke up from.

Instead, he resisted it, forcing his consciousness away from that “place”.

He struggled to maintain himself awake, stopping his own consciousness from drifting into a murky sleep.

He needed to stay awake, he wanted to stay awake.

Another one of those strange blue flashes, and he felt better.

Slightly,but better.

Every breath still pained his body, and his head still hurt like hell.

Steeling himself, he moved his arms, trying to lift them, fearing them broken.

They hurt, but he managed to move them well enough. Grasping the earth with his fingers, he collected his will.

He tried to get up once again, failing once more since his legs were not moving.

A wave of panic hit him hard, making his heart race like it never had in a long, long time.

He forced himself once more, this time without attempting to immediately get up.

Instead, he struggled to turn himself around, from supine to prone.

And he did, collapsing on his back, exhausted with that simple motion.

His sight was slowly returning to him, his surroundings regaining focus, becoming proper objects rather than confused blurs of colors like some moments before.

Another of those blue lights flashed in his view, staying there from some moments.

He felt the impression that something was written in his view, but it quickly disappeared, becoming nothing more than a flickering blue light in the farthest corner of his view.

Hurting, confused to the point that he did not even manage to put one thought after the other, he laid there, his bare skin touching the cold, soft ground below, while a gentle breeze swept the air.

It carried the sound of rustling leaves, it carried the smell of wet terrain after rain. The smell of vegetation, both growing and decaying.

The smell of a forest.

His thoughts were beginning to clear up, and the man was beginning to remember.

Some things were still murky in his mind, and he struggled to get them, feeling like when a word slipped by his thoughts, its meaning clear but the name related to it hidden, but close, as if he was about to grasp it, and he was forced to struggle in order to remind himself of it.

Then, memories clicked, working as they should have been.

The man started to piece together what happened to him.

He was driving his car on the highway, half an hour after work and still fifteen minutes to drive before reaching home.

The road unusually empty, he remembered pushing his foot on the pedal a bit too hard, wanting to test the new “toy” that his expensive car was.

<<Did I crash my car?>>

He muttered, thinking himself to be in some kind of hospital, despite his senses suggested otherwise.

He remembered hearing on the TV, that sometimes acute cranial trauma would lead to sensory hallucinations, like weird smells or strange noises, or even the blue flickering light.

In his thoughts, he began to consider his situation like the aftermath of a car accident.

And what else, he thought, could have happened?

He was driving, his consciousness blacked out, and he woke up hurting like hell all over his body and head.

And yet, his hands touched cold, soft soil, and the gentle breeze that swept over his skin gave him real respite from the almost oppressive heat of that place.

Could those be hallucinations too, asked the man to himself.

It had to be something like this, he thought.

The blue light flickered once more, and he was forced to blink a few times before it went away. Now, the number of blinking blue dots on the lower corner of his vision was beginning to worry him a bit.

Still, he ignored them, thinking them some weird hallucination.

After all, he thought, he must have hit his head pretty fucking hard.

Once again, the man struggled to force himself up. Again, his legs did not move. Now, the man was beginning to fear the worst.

Which, to him, was not to be dead. He did not fear that, thinking that whenever it would happen, it would happen, without the need for him to fear it or worry too much.

What he feared, was becoming crippled, his mind working and fine trapped into a broken body. That thought made him shudder, bringing forth with it the last memory that the man had of his father.

A large, ever happy man that spent his life doing things all day long, restless.

Be it farming, crafting ,woodworking or even hunting and fishing, the old man, Albert, had a number of hobbies throughout his whole life.

But the last portion of it, ten years, Albert spent paralyzed in his bed, unable to move anything below his neck after a fall during one of his many activities.

And his son watched him in those conditions, the images of his father from before and after the accident overlapping in his mind.

He thought of his father, weeping in his bed as his legs did not want to move.

He steeled himself, using all the willpower he had to make his legs move.

His lips started to tremble, when nothing happened for the third time.

The man was beginning to give in to resignation, but, he forced himself once more.

He raised his upper body, his elbows lifting the weight, trembling, aching. He looked at his legs.

The expensive pair of jeans he wore were torn and tattered, dried blood mixed with dirt staining the tissue.

He lost one of his shoes, a pair of black boots, imitations of those that the Army’s soldiers wore.

<<Fuck>>

He muttered, trying once more to move his legs, this time focusing on a single finger, the big toe of his left, bare foot.

The man almost laughed hysterically, when the toe moved.

He tried to do the same with the other foot, feeling his toe scraping to the tip of the shoe.

With a sigh of relief, he abandoned himself down, ignoring the jolt of pain that happened when he did so.

He closed his eyes, breathing slowly to let both excitement and fear pass.

He would wait some more time, then try to move his legs with more decision. Still, he knew that the fact his toes moved was a good sign.

He did not exactly know how good that fact was, if it was the sign of the complete absence of a spinal lesion, or if it just meant that the damage, if there was any, was of minor entity than an injury leading to full leg paralysis.

He opened his eyes once more. Concerned as he was, he had let it slide, but now, he was starting to realize it.

Trees. He was surrounded by trees. Looming over him, their canopy masking the sky above them, letting only some rays of light to filter down.

He already realized that he was not inside an hospital, since he was lying face down on soft soil when he woke up.

But, in his head, he had surmised that the crash made him fly and land into some sort of garden, or one of the small patches of cultivated terrain.

One of those that surrounded the part of the highway he was driving on.

The strangest thing of all, was that there was not a single place with so many trees in the vicinity of that highway, for hundreds of meters all around.

Sure, some gardens and terrains had some trees, he knew that, but, what he was seeing at the moment, and even smelling, was not a pair of trees in someone’s garden.

Not even a park, for that matter.

The trees he saw were too many for it to be the case, and the smell, so different from that of a city park, more like that of a proper meadow, or even a forest, thought the man.

And, there was not a single spot near that highway that had trees in that quantity.

<<This must be some kind of hallucination. I had an accident in my car, and now I am seeing things. Perhaps I’m in a fucking coma, or my head has been messed up by the accident. Or, I may be dead>>

He muttered to himself, realizing that his voice now had more strength than before.

The man turned his head around, trying to see more of his surroundings. On his right, there was a rock, covered in moss, big enough for him to use it to help himself get up on his feet.

The place, everything, held a surreal aura to it, thought the man, feeling like inside a dream rather than properly awake. Although the smells, and the sensations he felt were too real for it to be a dream.

The two considerations clashed in his mind, but he shrugged them off, focusing on the more pressing stuff.

<<Ok, let’s try this now>>

He stretched his hands, turning his body as much as he could towards the boulder.

Grasping it with his hands, he pulled himself up, slowly, enduring the pain and the rising sensation of nausea and disorientation that assaulted him.

But, he managed to lift himself up using the boulder.

As he did, a sensation of vertigo almost made him fall back on the ground.

He closed his eyes, letting it pass before opening them again.

His stomach was clenching, his guts twisting, but he endured.

He recognized those symptoms. The ringing noise, nausea, it was all too similar to when he had another accident, and he hit his head pretty badly.

He was forced to stay awake at the hospital that very night.

<<Falling asleep with a brain concussion might be dangerous>>

He remembered a pretty nurse telling him those words. She was short, blonde. Thin legs and a big pair of…

He even sprouted a cocky line to her back then, giving his usual wry smile to the young woman.

Now, there were no pretty nurses around, only trees as far as the eye could see.

The man took a long, painful breath, and he forced himself to sit on the rock. He examined his own body.

His arms were fine, although dried blood and patches of black soil still stuck to his skin. He still had his clothes on him, only, they looked more like tatters than proper clothes.

Especially his sweater and the shirt below, they were nothing more than dirty, bloodstained rags. He tried to check his back, reaching backwards with his hands.

Another jolt of pain, but, lesser than what he felt when he got up.

His hands, both of them, touched bare skin and patches of clothing.

If the front of his sweater was torn, but still had somewhat the semblance of a sweater, the backside of it was completely torn open, leaving the man’s back exposed.

Luckily, he thought, his pants were somehow still a bit intact. They were an expensive pair of jeans, now riddled with tears and stains in the tissue, but somehow still passable.

And, he was missing a shoe.

He glanced around, trying to locate the missing item.

If he needed to trek for some time among the trees, doing it barefoot would be a bad idea.

His eyes darting around, he managed to find the shoe, some meters away from his position.

The soil between that lone, out of place shoe and the man’s position was covered in dried leaves, but some patches of terrain were clear, like something had been dragged over it, clearing a line on the ground.

<<Something, or someone>> thought the man, a chill running through his spine. He considered himself that something dragged down the forest, almost picturing the scene.

But, if that was the case, thought the man, there should have been some blood splattered around. Instead, the terrain below him, and that around, were void of any trace of blood, not even a single blood.

While his body, thought the man, was splattered by it, most likely his own.

That fact led the man to a single conclusion. The accident happened somewhere else, and he was transported there, maybe dragged down by someone.

Despite his thoughts were turning slightly darker, as he considered how he could be the “thing” that was dragged there, the man noted how he was feeling definitely better than before.

His chest no longer hurt when he breathed, and he could now freely move his legs, although his muscles still tensed with pain at the start of each movement.

With a deep breath, the man decided to try and get up on his feet.

He managed, for two seconds or so, before a sense of vertigo assaulted him with enough violence to almost make him tumble down on his butt.

He recovered, letting himself sit on the rock again.

Perhaps, he thought, it was a bit too early for him to stand up.

The man rummaged in his pockets, looking to find his phone. Now that he was feeling better, he thought, he could try and call for help.

Inside his right pocket, the phone was still there, pressing on his skin until he took it out of the pocket.

It was off, oddly, since the man never turned it off, never.

<<It must have been the impact>>

He tried to start the phone, but, as he pressed down the button, the phone exploded into sparks.

The sudden light made the man close his eyes, white and red impressed in his vision, with the latter more vivid and staying there, even with his eyes closed.

But it subsided, his vision returning to normal.

<<What the fuck was that?>>

The man shouted, looking his hand to search some signs of burns or cuts.

To his relief, he still had all his fingers, albeit a bit reddened and slightly burned by the sudden sparks.

He sighed, muttering an imprecation before rummaging further into his pockets.

The right one held the phone along with his wallet and the keys from his apartment.

The left one held a pack of rolling tobacco, along with filters and rolling paper, all of them new and sealed. Other than that, he had his lighter, a small pack of gummy candy and a little knife.

He smiled when looking at the small knife, the silver reflections of the tiny blade, no longer than his

thumb but sharp and well kept.

The handle of it was in polished horn, shining in the dim light that transpired from the trees above.

The first piece of his collection, the rest of it exposed on a shelf in his bedroom. A weird habit, but something he cherished. And that knife was special, it was a gift from his father, his first knife, tied to memories of his old man, of when he was still strong and full of life.

He put the knife in his pocket once again, and he started to examine the keys. Those for his own garage, his apartment, a large key for the Palace’s entrance.

The Palace, a high sounding name for the apartment complex where the man lived.

And the place itself, old and badly maintained, was the farthest thing from a real palace. It was cheap, and that’s all that the man needed when he moved in.

Things had changed during the years, and in recent times, he had begun to hunt for another place to live. Attached to the key ring, a small teddy bear made of plastic.

It was something that Carla, his girlfriend, bought him when she came back from Italy.

She did visit a small town, famous for its pocket knives, and, given that her loved one was a passionate collector of knives and sword replicas, she bought him a cute little thing instead.

They were still at the start of their relationship, two months since it started, that time where people stop wearing the masks that they put on when trying to impress the other person, and let their own self be known, taking all the risks involved.

Although that memory was sweet, his recent fights with Carla had made the two of them drift apart, and they decided to take a pause from each other.

It happened no more than two days ago, thought the man.

A low, grumbling noise distracted the man from his own thoughts. His own stomach, now more relaxed than when he woke up, was beginning to signal its need for food.

He took out the pack of gummy candy, eating some of those. Not enough to sate his hunger, but still, it was something. He let the candy melt a bit before starting to munch on it.

He always had a sweet tooth.

Without further thought, he opened the pack and ate a handful of candy. He saved the now half-empty small pack for later, savoring the sweet taste melting in his mouth.

Next, he rolled himself a cigarette. Not the smartest thing to do after an accident, when no more than twenty minutes ago he could not even breathe properly.

But man, he thought, he really needed one.

He lighted it on fire, keeping the lighter between his index and thumb, looking at it.

A cheap item, purple in color and made with a frail, semi-transparent plastic that allowed to see how much gas was left inside of it.

It was still half full. Still, thought the man, how come it did not even have a crack on it. After all, both his body and the cellphone suffered some kind of damage from whatever the hell happened, and yet, that small lighter was in pristine conditions.

He gave it not too much thought, considering it one of the marvels of random events.

Taking big puffs of white smoke, he enjoyed his self-rolled cigarette.

To kill time a bit, he opened his own wallet. Money, debit cards. His driver’s license. The picture on it always bugged him.

It was a really bad picture, and it made him look younger than he really was when he took it.

Five years had passed from when he was eighteen, and he got his license.

The face on that picture was roughly the same as it was now, slimmer, younger, with a stupid haircut and even more stupid attempt at growing a beard.

His cheekbones became more prominent as he grew older, and, unlike his eighteen years old self, he had no longer a long hair cut. Now, he kept them short, swept back and well trimmed.

More professional, he thought.

The stubble on his chin was also gone, as,each morning, he shaved his face.

He got rid of the piercing rings that he used to wear on his left ear, all three of them.

His first boss did not see those kind of things, tattoos and piercings, in a kind way.

And, so he got rid of the earrings, opting for a “cleaner” look.

Overall, his face did become more handsome with age and since he put on some weight.

Back then, he was too slim for his own height, the man thought.

Now, his seventy six kilograms were almost the ideal weight for his meter and eighty four of height.

The man studied the details of his past self, the image of which impressed in that plastic material.

His light brown eyes, that sometimes, under the right light, seemed almost yellow.

His eyebrows, that gave him an intense expression, black as his hair and naturally perfect, much to his satisfaction.

The eye portion of his face was what granted him most of his success with the ladies, at least, that’s what he always thought about himself.

That, and his voice, deep and warm, sometimes more interesting that the thing he said with it.

His nose, that was the feature he least liked of his own face. Back then, it was decent enough, but, when he was twenty years old, he had a fight and had his nose broken.

Now, the bridge of it was slightly bent to the left, as the broken bone failed to heal properly.

It was not a major defect, however, he was too much conscious of it.

He even thought about spending some bucks to fix it, but he always desisted from that idea.

He had enough vanity to consider it, not enough to actually go with that decision.

After all, it was still surgery, and surgery scared him a lot.

Inadvertently, he ran his left index on his nose, tracing the slight curvature that it had taken, his eyes studying the shape it had before, then going down.

His lips, his cocky smile, that never changed through the years.

And of course, his name, written besides the photo on the small, plasticized document.

Conrad Levine. He always loathed his name. Conrad, it always sounded old to him.

Clara loved it, that silly, beautiful Italian girl.

Again, she crossed Conrad’s thoughts. For a moment, he wanted to grab his phone and call her.

<<Ah, right>>

He said to himself, feeling slightly dumb. His phone after all, decided to explode right in his fingers.

Perhaps, he thought, even if he had a phone, who knew if it worked out here?

For what he knew, there could be no signal there.

<<And where the fuck is “here”?>>

He shouted in frustration. One thing was sure to him, as his last outburst had just confirmed. He definitely felt better than when he woke up.

He tried to stand up on his feet, and he did it without much effort, or pain, this time.

His side still hurt, but it was not enough to keep him from doing movements. Sure, thought Conrad, he could not be able to run a marathon or climb up a rock wall, but he could walk just fine.

Perhaps even run.

And so, he decided to start walking. No point in standing there.

First, he walked up to his missing shoe.

The sock was still inside of it, and Conrad bent, making a pained expression in the process, to pick it up and put it on.

The pair of shoe, black boots made with leather, were sturdy and warm.

Perfect for trekking inside a forest, he thought.

After having both shoes again, he considered what to do at the moment.

Conrad thought, the first thing he needed right now was to get out of the woods.

Judging from the light coming from above, he surmised that it was still morning out there, since the rays of light that managed to find their way between leaves were strong enough to well illuminate the place.

<<Noon? Perhaps?>>

He muttered his guess to himself.

Perhaps, he thought, he might be off by some hours in his consideration.

Still, Conrad thought to have enough time to maybe get out of the woods, or at least, understand where these woods were.

Moreover, he was now sure that he was not dead, or in a coma or some other strange dream state or hallucination.

He had considered those options, before, when pain and confusion numbed him down and clouded his thoughts, so much that he thought it all an hallucination of some kind.

But, as time went on, and he started to feel a bit better, the reality of his situation became more and more apparent.

And, he convinced himself of that, although it still confused him, a lot.

He looked around the place, seeing if he somehow managed to recognize it.

Adding to Conrad’s confusions, the surroundings were unknown to him, as the type of plants he observed around.

The place was nothing more than a patch of soil among trees, with a scarcer undergrowth due to the rocky nature of the terrain underneath the soft soil.

Gray rocks emerged here and there, the biggest of them the one where he was sitting some moments before.

All around, a carpet of dead leaves was scattered on the floor, excepts from some lines of clear soil, those that he believed to be the signs of something dragged on the ground.

Something as big as him, he thought while looking closer at those supposed tracks.

That, incidentally, led exactly to the point where he woke up.

<<What the hell is going on?>>

He muttered, some more strength in his voice.

Conrad’s thoughts were now running rampant, trying to think why and how he was dragged down here, from the highway and his car.

Perhaps, he crashed somewhere, and some kind soul dragged him out of the car and went to search for help.

But Conrad excluded that possibility, since there were no trace of a car around, nor those of another person.

It was like he, and that thought was so silly that it almost made him laugh, came crashing down from higher altitude, and slid on the leaf-covered soil until he stopped near the rock.

Of course, he knew that if something like this happened, his neck would have been snapped by the landing.

Not that he could completely rule out the fact that, having had an accident with his car, he was launched by the impact. In his mind, the possibility that he had a car accident was now a certainty, confirmed by his wounds.

Still, he did not manage to find a possible explanation for how he did end up in that place.

The thought that someone might have dragged him there was the most likely option, but he failed to understand why someone would take their time and struggle to drag almost eighty kilograms of man inside a forest, and leave him there.

Without even leaving a footprint around.

He decided to leave those thoughts alone for the moment, and focus on getting out of the trees. First, he would need to find a way to orient himself among them.

As he came closer to one, he was pleasantly surprised to see some moss growing on one side of the trunk.

Although he did not recognize the type of moss, and neither the tree, he knew from his days spent camping that he could use it to find the north.

To his knowledge, however, there weren’t any parks or meadows near the place where he was driving.

All city on the west side, and on the east side, land used for industrial purpose and further away, patches of land purposed for cultivation.

Only some small gardens around that part of the city.

But then, he came to the conclusion that, without knowing where he was, and without having some sort of landmark to use, there was no point in knowing about north or other cardinal points, for that matter.

What he needed to do, was to choose a direction, and move that way.

Perhaps, he thought, he could climb up a tree, but he dismissed that idea quickly, since it was too risky for him in those conditions.

The best thing to do, would be for him to find a high place, perhaps a hill of some sort, and hope that it was easy to climb up top, but high enough to grant him a better point of view, past the treetops and past the woods.

The terrain around him was slightly sloped, and he thought that if he followed that slope, perhaps he could find himself in a high position and see where this place was.

He followed the slope’s direction, heading east.

After roughly one hour of difficult march, Conrad was pleased by what he saw.

Exactly what he wanted. A hill, whose top rose higher than the trees. More than that, it looked easy to climb it, reaching the top.

And Conrad did so.

Step after step, stopping from time to time to catch his breath once more.

His vision was still riddled with those blue and red flickering points, flashing from the corner of his view.

Other than that, it was perfect, as was his hearing, now free of that annoying constant sound.

His head still pound with pain from time to time, especially when he accelerated his walk a bit too much.

It took him some time to get on top of it, a hill that had a height of roughly one hundred meters.

He checked the wristwatch he had on his left wrist, reading the time on the digital display.

Another item that, mysteriously, did not end up destroyed like his clothes and cellphone.

Looking at it, he felt a bit dumb.

The watch, beside displaying the hour, it had a small compass.

He laughed, shaking his head.

Then, he looked up to the hill, starting to trek up the sloped terrain.

It was a gentle slope, something that he would have been able to climb pretty quickly if he was in optimal conditions.

But, he wasn’t, and it took him some good time, and frequent stops, to get on top of it.

However,things went smoother than he initially surmised. Conrad thought his conditions worse than they were, or, he thought, he was getting better as time passed.

Once on top, he considered his conditions and felt like his suppositions were true. He felt fine, no pain coursing through his muscles.

And he knew, that the state he was in when he woke up was critical, something that would need weeks to heal, not mere hours.

Instead, the damage he had was gone.

Breathing no longer was painful, his vision worked perfectly and the ringing sounds in his ears was gone, as was the headache.

The flickering lights were still there, but that did not bother Conrad too much.

Other things had started to bother him, like the feeling of blood, sweat and dirt clinging to his skin, and the constant buzz of insects that had begun to swarm him.

They were tiny little critters, their bodies held a green, metallic shine. As he swatted one, he took the tiny corpse between two fingers, taking it closer to his eyes for a better inspection.

It was nothing like he had ever seen. Kind of an hybrid between a dragonfly and a mosquito, with a peculiar coloration, a deep metallic purple.

It had the bodily build and bulging eyes of a dragonfly, but it was much, much smaller, and had a stinger for a mouth, exactly like a mosquito.

And the little buggers stung him, too many times. His skin began to itch, and the bite-marks swelled and reddened, itching furiously.

He hoped that those little bugs were not something nasty, only mildly annoying. Otherwise, he would be in some deep trouble.

Still, after reaching the top, he forgot about the insects, and the dirt on his skin.

The sight from the hilltop was beautiful, stunning even, and it left Conrad speechless.

All around him, as far as his eyes could see, there was a green sea. Nothing but trees for miles and miles, in all directions.

A wide river slithered its way among the green of the forest, the treetops near it enveloped in a thin veil of mist.

Seen from above, the higher trees near the hill looked like they would reach half the height of it, but some other, seen in the distance, might have been taller than the hill itself.

As Conrad basked himself in the view, he thought it splendid, setting aside the implications that such a sight had, he simply let himself enjoy it, for a moment. The calm of it, the absence of any trace of humanity all around.

It should have been something to worry about, but, against all logic, the sight calmed him down.

He breathed in the slight breeze, the air so clean, like it was back when he was a child, and his family lived away from the city, their home in the countryside lost among nature.

No, it was even better than back then, and Conrad had the slight sensation, the feeling that the air of this place, it never had an ounce of the polluting smokes of human activity.

It was pure, free, alive. Untainted.

Even atop of the hill, with the slight breeze sweeping it, the air was warm enough for him to feel refreshed.

Conrad removed his tattered sweater and shirt, tying the two ragged clothes around his waist.

The two pieces of clothing were ruined enough that more than comfort, having them on was becoming a hassle, as the pieces of torn cloth swayed with the wind, sticking to the skin that they left largely exposed.

After doing so, Conrad gazed upwards, to the sky.

As he did, he shuddered, dread taking hold of its thoughts. The sky, it was different, so much that it left the man speechless, trembling.

It was blue, but…

Not a single cloud, and a strange, aurora-like luminosity was dancing on the sky above. Pulsing, it shone, the colors of it shifting, changing between shades of blue, green and purple.

The most stunning thing were the three lights glowing where the Sun should have been. Significantly smaller than the Sun, their light combined burned as brightly, blinding Conrad until he finally set his gaze elsewhere.

Maybe their combined size could reach that of the real Sun, he thought for a moment, perhaps in an attempt to escape the reality of what he saw.

Well, reality, he thought, might be the least correct term to use here.

His body, his sense of smell and touch, suggested that all of this was real.

The breeze on his skin, the smells lingering in the air.

Even the complex song that the huge sea of trees sang, with notes of birds and rustling leaves.

And yet, his sight suggested that this was not real. At least, not his usual “real”.

Conrad was standing on the top of a hill, surrounded by a sea of green, unknown trees.

Over his head, a strange sky where three small Suns shone and aurora lights danced in thousands of colors.

No trace of civilization all around, not a single sign of a road, or a settlement of some sorts.

Only nature, green as far as the eye could see. And the river, swimming its way in that sea of green that extended below the hill.

In the distance, a mountain ridge emerged lazily from the forest, growing in height as it grew more distant from the forest.

Some more hills emerged from the forest, between Conrad’s position and the mountain range, where the trees grew taller than the area where Conrad was.

This time, Conrad watched the compass on his wristwatch. To the north, he had the distant mountain ridge.

The rived followed the same direction for a trait, before taking a huge turn east and continuing its sinuous stream northwest of Conrad’s position. West, and south, more trees, unending, reaching as far as Conrad’s eyes could see.

<<This must be a fucking dream>>

He muttered to himself.

Glimmer of a Fallen Star-Prologue

Inside his room, in the innermost part of the sanctum, the old man was standing. His hands, trembling from both old age and emotion, were caressing curves sculpted in black obsidian. His eyes went teary, his old lips trembling with excitement. He did not know how many years went by before this moment, his mind being clouded by the cruelty of time. But now, it was different. Focused, as sharp as it was when he wrenched the scepter from the dying hands of his old master. Now the Idol had spoken, awakened from His slumber and awakening the old man’s mind with him.

Once again, he tried to commune with divinity. He had to be sure, that all he felt war real and not a cruel trick played by his mind. Once again, he closed his eyes and let his left hand sway, flesh on cold stone. For a moment, he felt nothing from it, and his heart swayed from conviction. He was old, after all, and his mind bore the scars of time. But the voice came again, soothing like a gentle breeze. The old man dropped to his knees, shuddering in ecstasy. The Idol had spoken again.

After collecting himself, the man strode off his room, his mantle swaying behind him as he walked towards the temple’s exit. In his eyes, a renewed fire burned, and for the first time since ages ago, he had a new purpose in life. He passed by the paintings that adorned crude rock, without paying his usual respects to the sacred figures. He had no time for that, for the Idol gave him a new task.

Sunlight bathed the area outside the temple, making his eyes hurt as the old man left the cave. He looked back, for a moment, taking a quick glance at what had been his home for over two decades. He remembered now, his memory clear as flowing water. Twenty five years he spent in that place. He found it, a small cave overlooking the plain where his tribe had been exiled. He dragged the precious idol there, secluding it in the innermost chamber of the cave. He thought the silence there fitting, as the Idol too went silent when they left the sacred land. In time, he molded the cave with the strength of his hands, sculpting, painting, until it was no more a mere cave but a suitable temple for the Idol and his lone priest.

He had stolen it from the old temple, the night they left the sacred lands. He did so in secret, for it was a thing precious to the tribe. He did so in spite, to rob them of their precious Idol. But the God spoke to him through the stone, and he felt to his knees when he heard His whispers a long time ago.

Marduk remembered, his hands trembling in the air when he first heard the whisper coming from the black stone. It was not something of this world, both the stone and the voice were something coming from the dark veil of night. He remembered the stories that his master told him, about the Star that fell, about the Idol that was forged from it, carrying the voice of a God older than time itself.

And he heard that voice, for a time.

But time was cruel, and the Idol went silent for long ages, leaving Marduk to wonder first, to madness later.

But now, it was time to leave all behind, for the Idol had spoken again.

Standing at his temple’s entrance, the old man cleared his throat before making a speech that would change his tribe forever.

His voice bellowed, echoing through the small canyon that hosted the exiles. Commanding and deep, like it was in his prime years. For all the people looking at him, it was a shock. They had seen the old priest wither in his cave, the light of reason fading away in his clouded eyes.

But now, the old man was different. A new strength in his voice called all the tribesmen, rallying them under his shadow. And they saw his figure, standing tall against the sky.

They knew that the withered old man was no more, and Marduk, their High Priest, their leader, was back.

Marduk spoke, and they listened. First with doubt, then a rising feeling spreading among them. Marduk’s words strung the deepest desire inside each tribesman’s very soul. Something that they knew not possible was now promised to them, and their hearts were swayed by the promise made to them.

For the Idol had spoken, and his words were true. From the High Priest’s lips, the Idol spoke in thundering voice, promising their return to the sacred lands of old.

And the tribesmen bent their knees, abiding to Marduk’s words.

The old man gazed upon his brethren, and he was pleased. He had conquered their hearts, swept away their doubts. Since the Idol went silent, he had lost respect from the tribe, as they saw him as no more than a senile, withered man.

But the Idol spoke again, and in His words he found strength, and a promise.

Now, all he needed to do was set up the ritual, as promised.

Night came, and the small canyon where the tribe resided was bursting with life as it never had. Drums resounded in the night, chants and dances around fires that burnt so bright against the darkest night. The Eyes did not shine in the night sky, only innumerable and fickle fires shone in the blackness above.

And Marduk was staring at them, tracing their form on the ground below. Connecting them with lines, his hand firm and steady as he traced the forms with the blood of a newborn lamb.

Some of his tribesmen cringed when he demanded one of the tribe’s precious lambs to be made a sacrifice, but it was all for the greater good. For the sacred land was promised in return, and a lamb, although precious in these times of famine, was nothing but a small price to pay.

When the lines were completed, Marduk poured the remaining blood over the Idol. In order to prepare the ritual, he had ordered the Idol to be moved in the center of his village. Around it, all the tribe was chanting, praying with all their might, raising their voices and shaking their limbs in a frenetic dance.

All but Marduk and another man were praying.

The old man was standing in front of the Idol, pouring blood from a brass cup that he held with both hands.

All around him, blood was painted on the ground, tracing the lines representing the constellations seen in the sky above. And in the center of it, a young man knelt down. His chest bare, painted with the same celestial symbols laid on the ground. The tribe’s mightiest warrior, a young man with seventeen years on his back, but capable to bring down a Fjalte on his own, despite his young age.

He wore a necklace adorned with the beast’s teeth, each as long as a finger, curved and jagged. On normal days, the boy would wear the Fjalte’s skin as a trophy, showing off the black mane that belonged to his prey.

But this was not a normal day, for the tribe’s destiny was about to change.

The old man looked at the youth, his hand trembling a bit when he took out the ceremonial knife. A slight doubt touches his mind, for a moment. He steeled his hand, resolving himself to complete the task given by the Idol. After all, how could he let his heart doubt the words of a God?

The young warrior was looking straight at Marduk, no hint of fear in his eyes, his stern and dignified expression greatly pleased the old man.

He will make a good sacrifice, thought Marduk. After all, he was the best warrior among his tribesmen.

Marduk lifted the ceremonial knife high in the air, chanting his prayer as he walked towards the kneeling youth. In his right hand, the blade shined, reflecting the swaying red light coming from the fires lit all around. It was a small curved blade, made in ancient times with the same sacred stone that the Idol was built with.

Marduk was now behind the knelt young warrior, holding his head with his left hand as he muttered the final words of his prayer.

<>

He asked, his voice gritty and coarse.

<>

A wide smile blossomed on Marduk’s face. He was moved by the young man’s courage, his unwavering faith. He knew that he would make a good sacrifice.

<>

Marduk’s voice echoed in the night, followed by the tribesmen’s roaring cheers.

<>

Again, the old man yelled, and the crowd roared.

<<Hail, to the Old God>>

This time, Marduk whispered. He slit the boy’s throat, letting his young blood bathe the rocks below.

The tribe went silent, hundreds of men holding their breath in anticipation.

But nothing happened. The skies above were silent, the falling stars tracing their white lines in the blackest void above.

Marduk was shocked. He followed all the steps as the Idol whispered him to do. He grated its surface with the knife, made with the same, celestial matter of the Idol. He mixed the black powder that came from it with blood and herbs, as he was instructed to do. He traced the stars, breaking the taboo that separated heavens with this dirty soil.

And yet, nothing happened. The ghastly sounds coming from the dying boy were the only noise inside the canyon, and the priest’s faith wavered.

Did the Idol lie? Or was it all a trick played to him from his old, withered head? Could he just have reaped a youthful life, robbing the tribe of its best hunter, following the delusion of a senile mind?

Yet, the Idol did whisper him about stars falling from the sky, and they were falling, tracing lines of silver light as if weaving a web in the dark canvas of the night. Then why nothing was happening?

He did everything right, following every order that the Idol gave him, every action done with the utmost care and precision. He uttered the prayer, word after word, even if the language was unknown to him, for it was the Word of God himself who taught him the prayer.

Absorbed in his doubts, he failed to see the faint glow coming from the ground below, as the red lines started to shine with a dark light. He failed to see the twitches of the youth’s corpse, and the cracks forming on the Idol itself.

But his eyes gaped wide as the Idol broke, shattered in thousands of glistening splinters. The fragments moved, like a swarm of insects, flying, buzzing, moving towards the corpse.

Under Marduk’s incredulous eyes, the splinters pierced the corpse. No, they merged with it, entering the body without leaving scars behind.

Again, there was silence.

And in silence, the lifeless body rose to its feet. It stumbled, gurgling unintelligible sounds while attempting to speak with its throat sliced open.

Marduk saw the open wound closing, thorn flesh mending itself.

The warrior stood, but he was a warrior no more. Something danced under his skin, squirming as the warrior rose.

It was nothing short of a miracle, Marduk thought. And yet, he could not quench the fear that was taking hold of his mind. He could not stop himself from trembling, shuddering at the sight of the warrior.

And when the boy opened his eyes, he knew the reason. Those were not the eyes of a man, or a benevolent God, if such thing even existed.

For Marduk saw, and he knew.

That those pitch-black eyes were not something of this world. They had the Stars in them, glistening as the Sky above, blackest than tha darkest of nights.

He knew that that accursed night, it was not his God that he brought there.

He knew that his actions called something, giving It a body.

And that something was not there for them.

He knew, for when the boy…the thing opened his eyes, the cheering tribe went silent again. Not from surprise or reverence. Not for devotion.

When the thing stood, and opened its eyes, the tribe went silent. The silence of death fell on the canyon, leaving an old man in the presence of a God.

Stars were falling from the night sky, glimmering, as Marduk fell into despair.

Re: Interference-Prologue

Emptiness surrounds me, as I float in this vast darkness. I cannot discern up or down, hot or cold. Absence of feelings, only memory remains. Of my life, and death.

<<So, this the afterlife, huh?>> I mutter to myself.

A bright sphere shines in the distance. Pulsing, waves of light come towards me, pulling me toward their source.

Throbbing, rotating on itself, the sphere grows bigger, and bigger as I slowly go towards it.

Images and words float in my mind, some unknown, others I can understand. All of them have the same meaning:

<<WELCOME>>.

<<Who…what are you?>> I inquire, uneasy.

Again, the stream of concept floods my thoughts. Images of temples, prayers and disasters. Names of pantheons lost in strange times, of saints and demons. All of them allude to a concept, both strange and familiar…that can be translated by a simple word:

<<GOD>>.

A true GOD, or so the being claims.

And IT asks me a question. Time flows, as I ponder on a simple answer to that question.

<<Yes>> is my answer.

<<SO IT WILL BE>>.

Light swirls and envelops me, as I feel myself torn apart, destroyed to the core and rebuilt by ITS power.

As my consciousness fades, I can hear a faint sound of laughter.

A cheerful, female voice rings in my head.

[Welcome! I am your standard Dream Navigator, a Mana Simple Program Info Relay Interface Terminal…or Mana Spirit, in short! Would you like to give me a nickname??]

Y/N

<<Yes…Dream Navigator…I’ll call you Navi. Is it ok?>> I say to the voice.

[Navi…I like it! Call me Navi from now on! I will assist you in your transition to the New World, and help you progress in this new, exciting adventure! But first, would you like to tell me your name?]

My name…well, I could use my real name fro my former life…but what would be the point in that? New life, new name so…although, I think, I don’t want to give myself a random name, as I don’t know this world’s naming sense. I could be forever stuck with a lame name, and I don’t want that!

<<Can you suggest me a name?>> I ask to Navi.

[Navi: Hmm…I can generate a name from the database, is that ok with you?]

I nod with my head.

[Navi: Generating random name…success. Name: Roshal. Is that ok?]

<<Roshal huh…it sounds…powerful! I like it>>.

[Navi: Good! Name: Roshal will be awarded after rebirth process is complete. Now, would you like to hear the tutorial, Roshal?]

<<Oh! A tutorial…well, it cannot hurt to hear it, right?>>

[Navi: Wonderful! Let’s start, shall we? First, this world is ruled by two main concepts: Level and Stats! You will start from level 1, and your level will grow by absorbing power from your enemies! This power is called “EXP”, and when you reach a certain amount of it, your level will rise!]

I am dumbfounded by her words…it’s almost like an RPG game tutorial. This can’t be possible, right?

She goes on with her explanation. Apparently, your level and stats are given on birth, and when you level up your level increases, and so do your stats. Higher level means higher stats. So game-like.

[Navi: Next, we have the good stuff! To survive, you will need to perform certain actions. These are divided into 2 categories: Skills and Magic!]

[Navi: Skills are advanced actions, like sending shock waves with a blade slash, reading minds and so on! You can obtain skills by performing certain actions, but there are hidden methods too! Strive to the top! Level up your skill to obtain ultimate power!]

[And…last but not least…we have everybody’s favorite! Magic! It is the most powerful force in this world, and even me, your cute Navi, is born from it! You can only learn magic by study, so…work hard!]

[Well…that’s all for the tutorial! I will accompany you in your journey, and notify you of your progress! Are you ready to reincarnate and start this wonderful advent=(=%/!!!]

Navi’s voice is interrupted by strange sounds, and a loud alarm noise bursts in my thoughts.

[Alert! Alert! System malfunction due to UNKNOWN interference!]

Says a monotonous, computer-like voice. A sharp pain assaults my mind, and I feel a strong force pulling me.

I am falling! Falling! I precipitate in a pitch black emptiness. A blinding flash and a loud crashing noise end my fall.

As I open my eyes I am laying down on a stone floor, surrounded by rabble and debris. Pain aches through my body. Slowly, I get up on my feet. It looks like I am alright. I look at my hands…normal, human hands. Although they feel…smaller than before, in my previous life. Still…I am really alive again again. I jump on the place, screaming in delight. Somehow, my voice sounds younger than I’m used too. Oh well, it must be my imagination…

[Navi: Unexpected Failure on Reincarnation routine]

[Navi: Checking Roshal’s conditions- Complete. Status Interface Launch: Complete]

My head aches and my vision blurs. Hallucinations are now floating in my view, they resemble menu windows from old-school RPG games. So,this really is a game-like world,huh?

[Navi: This is your Status Window. You can check various information like level and stats here, and a list of skills and magic spells. To activate/deactivate, think the command “Status ON/OFF. To navigate, just think about what would you like to see!]

I try to turn off the menu, and my vision returns to normal. By thinking “Status ON” I activate it again. Now information about me is displayed on the Menu.

My level and stats are all…lame. Only ten HP, while my other stats and level show a single, pitiful digit: one.

[Navi: Level one! Like a newborn baby!] says her cheerful voice. Although…I feel like she’s slightly mocking me. Still…It should not be like this! A reincarnated person should be overpowered and become the Hero, or something like this!

[Navi: Hm…it seems the interference before stopped your rebirth and transported you here instead, tampering with the process]

<<Great…just great.>> I mutter to myself, sighing in disappointment. My life was plain enough in my original world, why must it be like this even here!

I shake my head and resolve myself. I check my skills, maybe I have earned some overpowered and absurd super-skill!

No spells…well, I expected something like this. I rejoice when I look at the Skill list. Two skills are listed in the menu.

I check them.

[Navi: Skill info- Inquisitive Eye lvl 1- Shows Status Info on target, Ignores resistance and Skill/magic effect, Undetectable]

So an overpowered, almighty enemy reveal ability! Nobody hides from my sight! This is good!

Or so I think. I immediately activate the skill on a small lizard that is resting on the collapsed wall besides me, and the result is disappointing.

The range is really short, and the info relayed only displays name, race and level of the target. Well…it’s not the most powerful thing, but it can still be useful. Still… I expected something better, like huge detection range or something like that.

<<Maybe I need to level it up>> I say to myself.

<<Ok, let’s try the next one!>>

[Navi: Skill Info- Black Mist lvl 1- Effect Unknown-Effect Unknown]

Ok, this sounds interesting. I tremble in anticipation as I activate the skill on the small lizard.

<<Sorry buddy>> I say to the small animal.

I extend my arm towards it, and activate the skill by thinking its name.

Power swells in my body and my hand trembles, shaking from the excessive energy. Taken by the flow, I shout the skill’s name, unleashing the mighty wave of destruction. I hope to not be blown away by my own power…

Lame. What is this lame thing? I expected a huge flame, or a Kamehameha-like death-ray, instead a puff of dense, black smoke is released from my hand, and I ham hurled from my feet several meters away. I land on the floor, hitting my back.

[Navi: Black Mist – Attack failed! Enemy Ruin Lizard escapes]

A small vein pops in my forehead. What the hell is this kind of scenario! Not only my level, even my skills are lame! That damned GOD, he tricked me!

“Would you like to be reborn in a new world ruled by magic, as a overpowered hero of justice?” he said, offering a dreamlike scenario to an old deceased nerd like me. A lifetime’s dream! To be reborn in a RPG world, conquer my way to the top…instead I’m the lowest level possible, with lame skills and stats!

I exhale a deep breath.

<<Well…just complaining about that will not lead me anywhere.>>.

I calm myself and look around to assert my situation. I am sitting in a ruined room, almost covered by plant vines. The stone walls are encroached by vegetation, while strange markings are visible on the stone surface not covered by plants.

The ceiling is collapsed, showing high, lush trees above me and a small view of the sky. Daylight shines from the treetops . The rabble on the floor seems recent, and dust still floats in the air. Perhaps my “fall” here caused this destruction…as I wonder about this, I am glad to be alive.

This kind of fall might have easily killed me.

<<At least the view is pretty>>.

Feeling less fatigued, I stand up and pat my clothes to clean them from the dust. I walk towards the exit, a small doorway built in the wall, without a proper door. It leads inside a collapsed corridor that branches left and right.

Left path is blocked by rubble, so I go down the path on the right. Light filters from the broken walls and ceiling, and, although the light here is dim, I can see where I am going.

After few meters, another collapsed structure blocks my path. Huh, this place surely took a lot of damage.

A large gap opens on the right-side wall. It seems I could safely exit the structure from here.

So, I take a deep breath and I drop down, jumping from the wall to the soft ground below. Of course, it’s just a small height jump.

I land on the soft, leaf-covered soil below.

[Navi: System Message- Leaving Aldora Ruins, Transition to Aldora Forest]

<<Aldora Forest, huh?>>. Lush, huge trees are all around me, and small, knee-high bushes cover almost every patch of terrain. Some rocks emerge from the forest’s undergrowth, and I can hear distant noises, probably from some kind of bird.

I take a slow, deep breath. My lungs fill with the forest’s scent. It’s so pleasant! Ah, I would be taking a lot of pictures if I still had my camera!

And then it hit me. I did not have my camera with me, nor my phone. No food, water, money or a weapon. No place to go, no place to stay the night.

The harsh reality of my situation. Alone in a forest. It’s a dangerous situation even in my past world…and here, it could be even worse.

I need to get out of here.

But first…I need to think about my options. Combat is a no-go, since I will definitely lose. So I must avoid anything that seems troublesome.

My Inquisitive Eye skill is the only thing that I can effectively use. I pick up a fallen tree branch and I activate my skill on it.

[Navi: Inquisitive Eye-Success. Details: Small Wooden Branch x1. Wood material (brittle)].

<<Good…it can display also status about objects…so the next step is…>>

By looking at a small bush besides me, I use the skill on it.

[Navi: Inquisitive Eye-Success. Details: Gray-leaf. Properties: Not edible, Poisonous if Ingested]

<<Alright…with this I can find something to eat…or at least avoid getting poisoned by a mushroom or strange fruit>>.

As I say so, I proceed inside the forest. From time to time, I activate my Inquisitive Eye to check the surrounding for enemies or food.

My priorities are straight: I need food, water, and a way out of this forest. And so, I thread carefully inside the forest’s undergrowth.

The trees here are enormous, even bigger than the mighty Sequoia trees that I admired during my trip to America.

The only edible things that I come across are small insects (that I do not want to eat…ever) and small, bluish berries that grow on bushes. I eat some of them, and, although their taste is pretty awful, I take some berries with me. It’s better than eating nothing at all.

The forest is like a maze, and I lost all sense of direction. Perhaps, I am going in circles, as I come across a small rock formation that I seem to remember.

Yep, I’ve been here before. The rocks are smeared with the blue juice from the berries, a blue “X” mark that I drew there.

Well, what a way to start, lost in a forest right from the beginning!

For a moment, I think about stopping here. Still, the light above me is strong, so I must have at least a few hours of daylight to explore. I’ll stop when the Sun sets.

From the rocks, I go towards the opposite direction. This time I’ll just walk straight ahead.

Every 20 steps I start marking trees with berry juice, drawing an arrow that points towards the direction where I am headed.

Rustling sounds are coming from the bushes, slightly away from me. I activate my Inquisitive Eye.

[Navi: Detected-Male Wild Rabbit, lv 3]

The rabbit moves inside the bushes, making noise as it finds its way. I lay low and pick up some stones to attack it. Perhaps, if I can catch it by surprise…still, level 3. Even a damn rabbit is higher level than me.

I brush away this thought, as I crawl closer to the rabbit. Slow and careful, trying to do as less noise as possible.

The rabbit pops out from the small plants…he’s huge! As big as a boar from my previous world!

He’ s standing on its hind legs, sniffing the air frantically. Perhaps he noticed me, I think.

And then, in an instant…something attacks the rabbit. With lightning-like speed, a giant snake bites the rabbit. The snake’s mouth is almost as big as the poor rodent, whose leg is twitching while the snake sinks his fangs inside the rabbit’s tender body.

[Navi: Detected- Male Green Snake lvl 30. Suggested retreat]

I had my skill still active…still, this snake is trouble. He is focused on eating his prey, so I can use this opportunity to run way.

And so, I run. As fast as I can. It’s difficult to move in the forest’s undergrowth, my clothes keep getting struck on small branches or thorny bushes.

Still, I push on. After two minutes of full speed running time, I am completely out of breath. Luckily, a small rock formation is nearby, so I hide behind them.

While catching my breath, I sit down and lay my back against the moist, moss covered rock. Just out of curiosity, I analyze the green moss.

[Navi: Details-Lush Green moss. Edible, Minor Stamina/Health recovery]

Oh, a recovery ingredient! I grab a small stone and scratch some moss from the rock. It looks so unappetizing, but my stomach is starting to protest. And so…thank you for the meal!

The moss does not taste so bad…it’s almost pleasant if compared to the blue berries. It reminds me of lettuce, and I can already feel a bit less fatigued.

[Navi:Successfully Harvested Lush Green Moss. New Skill Acquired: Harvesting!]

Oh! What is this? I immediately execute the skill on the green moss.

[Navi: Harvesting…Success! Obtained 10x Lush Green Moss]

[Navi: New Skill Obtained- Inventory! Skill effect: creates a sub-dimensional storage space! Gathered materials will be immediately moved to Inventory space. Objects can be freely moved in and out of Inventory! Hoard everything! The forbidden desire of a true collector!]

Oh, this sounds convenient! I think about taking the Moss from inventory and…

Light gathers on the palm of my hand, and a clump of moss appears.

I shake my head and get up on my feet, checking my surroundings with my trusted detection skill. No signs of the giant snake. Still…I need to be careful, as the short detection range of my Inquisitive eye does not allow any leisure. Danger could be just outside of it’s range.

And so, I thread carefully.

I come across a group of giant rabbits. These ones are even bigger than the first one, the large almost as big as a cow. And the lowest level is 10!

Quietly I circle around them, hoping to not be seen.

Sunlight is now dim, and sinister noises are echoing inside the forest. It may not be a good idea to spend the night here. No, it definitely is a very bad idea!

I eat some moss to regain my strength, and again, I start walking.

A familiar noise resounds in the air, among other sounds It’s faint, but I can clearly hear it! Running water. A river is nearby! I move towards the noise, as it grows stronger. Now there are less trees, and I can see past them…a large, slow flowing river!

Crystal clear waters flow, and the riverbank is full of white, smooth stones. Big rocks emerge from the water, sculpted in strange shapes by the constant erosion. On the other side of the river the forest continues as long as my eyes can see. Still, I found water.

I check with my skill to ascertain if there are dangers in the immediate vicinity. I would not want to encounter a crocodile right now.

Reassured, I walk towards the river. I kneel and dip my hands in the calm, cold waters. And there it is, my own reflection on the river’s surface. Shocked, I stare at my own face…definitely, I am still me.

Black, unkempt short hair, thin eyebrows and brown eyes. A plain face, like most of my friends from my previous life would say. Although I look…younger.

It’s almost like I am a teenager again! Taken by surprise, I stay several minutes in this position, just staring at my young face. A second youth! This simple notion almost compensates all my dissatisfaction from before.

Thank you, oh kind GOD, for this wonderful, youthful life! I forgive you for giving me low level and crappy stats!After calming down a bit and taking a big, deep breath I wash my face and drink a few sips of the pure water (after checking it with my skill, of course).

Refreshed, I now need to think about what to do from now on. My safest choice would be to follow the river downstream. I want to avoid wandering inside the forest again… don’t want my youth to end prematurely. But first, I need to tend to my growling stomach. Perhaps…I could catch some fish here.

Walking around near the forest’s edge, I pick some fallen tree branches that are long enough. I keep the longest ones while discarding the others, and I try to sharpen them on the riverbed’s rocks.

The results are not the best, but finally, after some trial and error, I manage to build two improvised spears from the branches. Of course, they are just pointed sticks, and I don’t know how effective they will be.

[Navi: Crafting Success! Obtained Makeshift Spear (Pointed Stick) x2! New Skill Acquired: Crafting! Crafting recipe: Simple Wooden Spear added!]

Neat! With this, I might be able to build a more effective weapon. Immediately, I activate the skill on the first spear. A small menu floats in front of the object, explaining the “recipe” to strengthen my spear and the needed components.

<<Flint-stone and fiber…now, where could I find some?>>.

While talking to myself, I activate my Inquisitive Eye on my surroundings. It seems that some of the bigger riverbed stones actually contain “flint” as a material, so I pick them up and use the “Harvest skill” on them.

Next, by using the skill on some bushes from the forest’s outskirts I obtain the “vegetable fiber” needed to craft the powered-up spear.

<<Good…now, I just need to combine them>>. Again, I activate the crafting skill. Now the menu shows a new option: craft.

I select it, and start building the spear. It’s like the information on how to assemble the materials is flowing in my head…my hands almost move by themselves. After a bit, a new message pops up, notifying me about the spear’s completion.

[Navi: Crafting Success! Obtained Simple Wooden Spear!]

I repeat the process with the remaining materials, obtaining a spare spear…just in case the other breaks. Next, I try to use my skill to find some fish in the river.

I roll my pants up to my knees and enter the shallow waters. The temperature is hot enough, and although the water is a bit cold it feels pleasant.

After a few failures and one spear lost, I manage to capture one fish, by executing the “Harvest skill” right as I strike the spear, it seems that the “harvest skill” works with all kind of food.

Although I expected to obtain another skill, like “hunting” or “fishing”. I wonder what are the conditions to obtain those…if they even exist.

<<Now…I just need to cook this>> I say while looking at the small fish still flapping on my spear’s end.

Firewood seems abundant, and I can make sparks by striking two flint-stones together. To start the fire, I gather some fallen leaves and small, dried wood sticks and arrange them under bigger branches.

By lining up some stones around them, a campfire is built! I made this just using my memory from my camping days…but now I wonder…what will be the difference if I use a skill to build it?

This time, I use the “harvest” skill to obtain materials and build the campfire with “crafting skill”.

The skill-made campfire is definitely better than the one build with just my hands. Not only that, by using “harvest” on big tree branches I could obtain “wooden logs”. Apparently, two basic skills are more useful than my original ones.

Still, I manage to light the fire and start cooking my dinner. The Sun is setting, and the sky is now painted in intense orange color. I can see it clearly, now that there are no treetops to block my view.

This world may be harsh, but it sure has some really pretty views. I decide to spend the night here, as there is no immediate danger in the vicinity, and moving at night me be really, really dangerous. Of course, I will spend my night awake.

And so, I wait the night to pass. I finish my dinner, and casually get the “cooking” skill. Bored, I decide to do several experiments with the “crafting” and “harvesting” skills.

Occasionally, I pause from my work to marvel at the night sky. Stars are so bright here, and so many of them are visible in the dark night.

Twin moons light the sky, beautiful pale blue lights. Refreshed by this view, I almost ignore the creepy sounds coming from the forest. It will be fine as long as I stand near the fire, I think.

I have enough wood to keep the campfire alive, so I focus on crafting. My first goal is to build a small knife. By using the flint-rocks from before, I smash one against the other to obtain a sharp edge.

The makeshift-knife is nothing more than a sharp stone, however I successfully made one and obtained a “flint dagger”recipe. This time, I use the crafting skill to combine wood, fiber and the sharp flint.

[Navi: Crafting success! Obtained “flint dagger”x1! Crafting skill level up 1→2! New recipes added! New command: enhance! Possible to craft leather objects]

Progress! I check the new recipes, and most of them require materials like hide or leather to be completed. Still, I probably will acquire those materials in the near future.

The most interesting recipe is a “Primitive Bow”. Next thing tomorrow, I will try to craft one, as to obtain the necessary material I will probably need to move further away from here.

The night goes on, and drowsiness is affecting me. Several times I find myself dozing off.

Usually I have been able to stay awake even for two days straight, studying for finals or even doing dumb gaming marathons. Still, the fatigue from today’s activity took a heavy toll on my stamina.

Sluggish, I struggle to stay awake. With poor results.

<<I need to stay awake>>.

Munching some moss seems to relieve my sleepiness for a bit.

Although, in the end, I end up asleep.

A rustling noise wakes me up. It’s near, too near. The fire is going dim, and sounds of splashing water are coming from the near river shore.

This is bad. I shake my head to brush away the drowsiness and I use Inquisitive Eye on the riverside. Barely lit from the firelight, small shapes are crawling from the shallow waters. Squirming, crawling towards me.

 

Prologue: A White Pulse

<<Who…what are you?>> said the man, gazing on the pulsing white sphere suspended in a pitch black darkness.

In response, a torrent of images and words flooded the man’s mind.

Strange views of unknown worlds, bizarre screams and noises.

Other, more familiar scenes and words.

Images of prayer and despair, life and death.

Thousands of names, uttered in voices both thundering and whispered.

Many he did not understand.

Others were known to him.

Names of gods and demons from all over the world, uttered as if they were the same concept.

The very idea of divinity, in both positive and negative connotation.

In short, a real GOD.

The man was in awe.

During his life, he refused the concept of divinity. And yet, GOD’s light shined in front of him.

The man was trembling. He wanted to ask several questions, to receive answers to lifelong doubts.

He wanted to know the meaning of existence, his role…his purpose in the world.

Trembling, he uttered those questions.

And the GOD did not answer.

Time went on. Hours, or years perhaps.

The man did not know, nor the GOD intended to give him an answer.

The man resolved himself to ask another question to GOD.

With a hushed voice, he muttered.

<<Why am I here?>>

Countless images formed in the dark space.

Like television screens, each reproducing the same scene.

They showed the man’s death.

A tear ran on the man’s cheek.

<<So…this is the afterlife>> he muttered to himself.

Another stream of words thundered inside the man’s mind.

<<REBIRTH…OLD WORDL…NEW WORLD…GIFT curse…CHOICE…NOW>>.

The last word transmitted by the GOD reverberated inside the man’s thoughts.

He took a deep breath, and he chose.

<<SO IT WILL BE>> declared the GOD in his thousands voices.

A blinding light enveloped the dark space, and the man was thrown in a swirling stream of light.

The pain was unbearable, as his form, his very soul, was being thorn apart and remade anew.

And, in the distance, the man could hear a faint sound of laughter.

The boy ran, his heavy footsteps echoed loudly in the empty corridor.

He ran towards the priest’s room, barging inside.

Loud sounds from the alarm bell resounded in the air.

<<What? What kind of manners are these, boy?>> said the Priest.

<<Sorry, Master!>> said the boy, his face red and his breath still in disarray.

<<This is an emergency!>>

The Master’s face lost all color while hearing the boy’s explanation.

They left the room, together, running towards the Circle’s room.

The Priest and the boy plunged inside the open door. An eerie light was overflowing from the room.

<<Im…Impossible>> muttered the Priest.

The symbols carved on the marble floor were shining, and an ominous wind was blowing from the windowless room.

Meanwhile, ten soldiers entered the room.

<<Quick, surround the circle!>> shouted the priest, still dumbfounded by the view in front of him.

The Circle was activating itself.

<<Boy! Go, call him! Now!>> said the Priest towards his young attendant.

<<Yes, Master>> answered the boy while trembling.

<<What in the world…>> the priest muttered to himself.

<<Do not fear, my men! Steel your heart and prepare to battle!>>

A blonde man with a gallant figure and unyielding eyes entered the room, encouraging the soldiers with his thundering voice.

Behind him two women followed in his steps.

The boy who brought them there went to the priest’s side.

<<Master, the Hero’s here!>> he said with a smile on his lips.

<<You did well, my pupil. Now, let’s pray for the best>> said the old priest.

Meanwhile, the overflowing light was dancing and swirling on the carved circle.

Strange symbols lit up, while lightning sparks flew in the air.

The priest started chanting, his large robes swaying in the wind.

The Hero stood with his hand near the pommel of his sword, ready to act.

A faint sound hummed in the air.

<<It’s coming…I cannot restrain the Circle!>> shouted the Priest, sweating profusely from his forehead.

Blinding light erupted from the Circle, followed by a loud cracking noise.

The soldier were blown off their feet, only the Hero and Priest were left standing in the room.

The light subsided, the wind stopped.

A dark haired boy was lying inside the broken Circle.