Reaching civilization had been much harder than I thought it would be.
The stairs from the plateau didn’t go all the way down to the valley. The years had taken their toll on them and after a certain point the steps were in such bad state that they were indistinguishable from the rest of the ground.
Which left me to proceed on harsh rocky terrain with very inadequate sandals, but at the very least my white shirt and shorts were light enough that I didn’t suffer too much from the heat. And in the afternoon I didn’t have to worry too much about protecting myself from the sun.
I finally reached the main dirt road and things got easier from there. It went straight to a settlement I had spotted from the top of the plateau. I just had to follow the path and would reach it in one or two hours.
Which only made my stomach growl harder, but there was nothing I could do about my hunger for the time being, so I opened my status screen to pass time.
Vitality 19 (+3)
Strength 16 (+3)
Constitution 20 (+3)
Dexterity 10 (+3)
Agility 12 (+3)
Perception 18 (+3)
Intelligence 14 (+8)
Wisdom 8 (+8)
Tenacity 0 (+3)
Keeper of the First flame 0/100
Left eye of the nameless Djin
Dreadnova Enforcer (3rd gen) - level 4
Machine symbiosis 0/20
Sharp shooter 0/40
Blade Priest of the Deep - level 1
Shuari Bladedancer 0/30
Sunken dance [ minor proficiency : 0%]
Priest of the Deep 0/30
Unspent Ether: 10
Where do those numbers in brackets come from? I wondered.
I went to the inventory, saw the black bladed sword occupying one of the slots and brought up its description.
Living weapon Ikun Omi
Sins of Oriath series - Last Sin - Magnum Opus
Unable to avert the calamity, the master was forced to give his very own daughter a form that would allow her nightmare to be easily contained.
Through the years, that responsibility fell on the shoulders of the devoted Blade priests.
It is said that her embrace will one day flood the world.
Bound to Edward Lee.
I had stopped walking without realizing and had to consciously force myself to put one foot in front of the other again.
It was asleep for now, but this... sword was alive. Alive, and in all likelihood a being I had met in a dream I didn’t want to remember.
No, not in a dream. In a nightmare.
I would eventually have to find out what “vorpal blade” meant, though it didn’t seem to be something particularly urgent.
What kind of parent turns their daughter into a weapon? And what does enough time in that shape do to someone? Was it sentient or just a bundle of basic urges?
I shuddered at the thought.
In any case none of this explained my current stats, so I went to my skill page and read the definitions in search of clues.
Technopath 0/20 - Human racial skill. Allows creation and natural interaction with machines.
Summon - Drone - Allows the creation of a personal aerial drone named Kirby. Drone rank: common.
Keeper of the First flame 0/100 - Djin racial skill. Allows manipulation of the First flame.
Sunken dance: Sword style of a forgotten kingdom’s elite.
The Sunken dance was a sword style. I finally understood what the knight had meant when he said he would give me a “nudge in the right direction”. I had never held a sword, much less used one in actual combat.
Until I could put my hands on a gun, knowing I had somewhere to begin was reassuring.
The strange thing was the knowledge I had without learning any of it. Stances and rhythms that were in my head but I couldn’t comprehend.
But that still didn’t explain why my stats were so high, and there was only one thing I had not checked.
Transmigrant - Granted to beings with souls from other worlds.
Grants +5 Wis., +5 Int.
Protege of the nameless djin - Granted to beings with the nameless djin as patron.
Grants +0 to all attributes.
Dungeon delver - Granted to beings who have cleared a dungeon.
Lone wolf - Granted to beings who have cleared a dungeon by themselves.
+1 to all attributes. Unlock the Tenacity attribute.
Tenacity (Resistance to crowd control)
Worthy Delver - Granted to beings who have cleared their first dungeon by themselves.
+2 to all attributes.
Titles uh... I wondered.
They seemed to be an easy and efficient way to boost someone’s abilities. People from this world probably did their best to get as many as possible.
The ones I had sounded pretty strange and I was ready to bet that “worthy delver” was pretty unusual, but I was more intrigued by the other kind of titles that might exist.
Titles for students? For farmers? For accountants?
What if someone was the first one to reach the moon, would they get one saying something like “A little step...”? What about people who managed to go from morbidly obese to their ideal body weight, did they get titles too?
I couldn’t help but smile at the thought that this was a much better incentive than diplomas or medals.
I wonder just how far he planned this.
There was no doubt that my patron had made sure to shape a good start for me. Before accomplishing anything, I had a weapon and bonuses that added three to eight points to all my attributes.
It made me all the more aware of the danger that loomed over my head.
Since no date had been specified, I had to assume that the tribulations could happen at any time. It meant that until I had personally assess the nature of the threat, becoming stronger and finding allies should be my priority.
Hopefully, I would do that well enough to not have to worry anymore and focus on other things.
That would mean being able to go on adventures. Backpacking through the world, drinking rare beverages and visiting beautiful sights. I had a new life and a young, healthy body.
Everything was possible.
Of course, I’ll also have to learn how things are done around here. The states of politics, the customs, where not to go... How to make money. Well, just enough money to not starve anyway.
I was curious about just how well things could be going in a world in which one could apparently get stronger through killing. But then again, strength always was a relative thing.
My daydreaming was interrupted by a rumbling noise that filled the valley and made me look up do a double take.
In retrospect, I do not know why I was so surprised by what I saw. I had a talking and thinking drone after all, something that, as far as I knew, was beyond Earth’s technology. Maybe it had to do with the fact that I chalked its origin up to “magic”.
In any case, seeing something very similar to a reinforced heavy transport truck speeding down the dirt road, in a world of “old gods”, dungeons and living weapons, shocked me.
As it rushed past me, I saw a group of people in various types of armors sitting in the back compartment and spotted horns and animal ears on those who didn’t wear a helmet. They all had serious expressions on their faces, the kind one would see before dangerous missions.
Or so I assumed, because some of them literally had animal heads.
Well, after seeing the Djin’s appearance, I had not expected everybody to be human. But it still came as a shock.
I wonder if there even are other humans... What if my appearance becomes a bother? I thought.
I kept walking as other vehicles, albeit smaller, would sometime go past me at full speed, raising dust that had barely settled since the previous ones and not paying any attention to me whatsoever.
Which wasn’t really for the best since many of them had obvious issues with driving straight and not tumbling out of the road. I had to actively avoid some of them to avoid an accident.
It seemed that this world didn’t have the notion of traffic laws.
Then I finally reached the settlement.
The intensity of the activity around me was off the charts. In a state of frenzy, people were frantically talking, screaming, running in and out of buildings, some still scrambling to get dressed, some not even caring about how little they already had on speeding the way I came from.
And “people”, didn’t mean “humans”. Dog tails, cat ears, tusks and horns; it seemed someone was going out of their way to make it clear to me that I was in a different reality. The skin - or fur - colors weren’t any kind of conservative either, with different shades of blue and red added to those I was familiar with.
I entered the place as most of the inhabitants were leaving in hurry, visibly excited and none would stop to give me directions but at the very least I could confirm we spoke the same language.
Written words weren’t in an alphabet I had ever seen, but thankfully their meanings would come to me as soon as my eyes landed on them.
I entered the most proper-looking building in sight, a two-story establishment with the sign “Bar” hanging over its revolving door - Which I thought was pretty ironic.
Most tables had chairs turned over them, but on those who didn’t had abandoned half emptied plate and bottles. I stopped myself from going running straight to them with great difficulty.
There was a black haired woman with cat ears behind the counter, head laying lazily on both her hands. She looked half asleep, but I had felt her eyes on me as soon as I took a step inside.
Before I could open my mouth she sighed heavily, lifting the bangs covering her face.
“Another bunker kid, uh? Listen boy, I don’t have time for another rat trying to steal our stuff. So scram, get it?” she said, shooing with one hand.
I frowned. Isn’t this brat pretty young herself? However I managed to keep those thoughts to myself.
“I’m not here to steal,” I said with my most neutral voice I could muster. “I’m looking for food and possibly work. If there’s none available I’d appreciate it if you could give me directions to where I could find one.”
“Oh, a customer! Why didn’t you say so sooner?” she sarcastically said. “I take it you have something to pay with then, right sir?”
“Well... I don’t have any cash right now, but I’ll pay you back as soon as possible.”
“Cash? What’s that, the new drug in the bunker? Listen kid, I can’t make you anything for free, this isn’t a charity.”
“Alright,” I said before turning around.
Goddammit. Well, let’s knock on the next door then.
I was almost outside when I heard her speak agin.
“Hey,” I heard her say. “You can finish the food on the tables if you want. Would save me the hassle of throwing it.”
I wasn’t exactly excited to eat other people’s (monsters?) leftovers, but as a starving homeless kid I only slightly hesitated. I figured I’d think about pride and quality when my stomach would be less of a void.
I picked a loaf of bread and an empty bowl, then went from table to table. After putting everything that I judged safe to eat in the bowl, I sat down and started eating.
It didn’t taste good. It didn’t taste bad either. In any case it was food and I needed it.
I ate in silence, doing my best to ignore both the studying looks from the woman and the fact that I had no idea what I was putting in my stomach. I found out that using enough hard bread helped masking the strange texture of the rest of the meal.
A few moments passed like this before she spoke again.
“So I’ve been watching you for a while and I haven’t been able to figure out what you’re mixed with, which isn’t something that happens often.”
“What I am mixed with?” I said, “is that even an appropriate thing to ask?”
She gave me a strange look. “Why would it not be? Wait, you aren’t one of those guys who are ashamed of being part human, right? Because if that’s the case...”
“You should stop assuming random things,” I said with understanding. “I am not mixed with anything.”
I was hungry and all I wanted was to keep eating. Did the social etiquette include talking to guests as they ate?
It wasn’t really an issue, since I had lived among some truly rough people, but if I always got bothered during meals, it could get annoying really fast.
She laughed as if I had just said a endearing dad joke.
“Yeah, sure. So you’re a full human, uh?”
The fact that humans can have children with the other races kind of explains how diverse people are, but what does it entail to be one? Her reaction is pretty strange.
“I am,” I simply said as I gulped down the food. There was a possibility that I would get thrown out, but if humans were hated, it was better to figure it out as soon as possible.
On the other side of the bar, the woman straightened up on her chair.
“What do you mean?” she said.
Alright, she’s being weird. I’m going to eat as much as I can and be on my way.
But before I could say anything to buy time she jumped over the bar and quickly walked up to me. She didn’t do anything other than looking at me from every single angle, so even though it was quite unnerving, I kept eating. I was almost done when she put her hands on my cheeks and made me face her.
“Don’t move, just look in my eyes,” she said.
It was slightly annoyed, but did as she asked. At first I had thought her eyes were a dark blue, then I realized they were purple with horizontal irises. Her face had a feline element to it, but otherwise looked genuinely human... if not for the fact that her ears were much higher than normal, and shaped like a cat’s.
Now that I can fully see her, she has a tail. And then below... Her leg, what the-
“My eyes are up there!” she said, making mine dart right up.
But after a brief but intense moment of gazing into my eyes, she finally let go of me with a sigh.
“I can’t believe you really are human” she said as she shook her head. “And you are not from the Bunker.”
That word again, “Bunker”. Probably the name of a city.
“What’s weird about it? And who knows, I could be from there,” I nonchalantly said as I finished my plate.
“First, it’s common knowledge that there are no humans in this region. The ether levels are way to high for them... or should I say most of them. Second, the way you speak is too refined for a Bunker rat, smartass. And you have an accent I’m not familiar with. Then there is the fact that you are as smooth as a newborn baby. No tattoos, no scars, no visible augments, and not even a piercing. I wonder what happened to your eye?”
“What happened to your leg?” I shot back.
If there was one glaringly notable thing about her, beside the fact that she was a human with animal features, it was the fact that she had fully functional mechanical prosthetic leg.
It had the general shape of a regular one, but was made of several metal parts that were somehow able to move and allow complete natural movement.
It was beyond anything I had ever seen, and if there were similar prosthetics back on Earth, they were far from public use when I died.
“Very well,” she said as she crossed her arms. “I guess we all have our secrets. But do you really intend to find work anywhere without saying anything about yourself?”
I gave her a look; she raised an eyebrow.
“Alright, what do you need to know?” I said.
“What’s your name?”
“Edward? Well, that’s a weird name. Where are you from and who are you with?”
Was it that strange for a teenager to be by himself? Lying now could come back to bite me later, but admitting to a stranger that I had no backing in a foreign land could lead to dangerous a situation.
“I... got separated from friends I travel with,” I said. “All, I can say is that we were supposed to regroup around here if something happened. They will be looking for me, so I’ll be able to work until then.”
I cringed a bit hearing myself speak, but considering I had a second to make it up, it wasn’t such a bad lie.
She looked at me with narrowed eyes.
“... Right. Well as I’m sure you noticed on your way here, there will be a lot of activity coming our way. It’s calm for now, but during the nights there will probably be too many people for our only waitress. I can offer you 5 coins for every night of work, with dinner. Deal?”
Five... coins? Is that enough? It sounds too little, but what if it’s a totally normal amount?
Without any points of reference, but figuring I had to start somewhere anyway, I nodded.
“Great!” she said, as she turned around. “Now Edward, it’s not that I don’t like talking to you, but I have things to tend to. Be here at sunset to start your shift. Oh, I’m Kolyn by the way, but it’s boss to you.”
It was my turn to narrow my eye.
Her satisfaction is way too obvious!
“I do not have anywhere to sleep at,” I quickly said, making her stop in her tracks. “I’ll really need you to add that to the deal.”
She turned around and gave me an annoyed look.
“Boss,” I added with a smile.
“Kids these days,” she sighed, as she waved at me to follow her.