I woke up the next day to the sound of bells ringing and children voices.
I was emerging from an odd dream of my childhood, and for a moment was lost and confused by how sharp my senses were and by the lack of pain in my bones. Then I realized I was hugging a wooden scabbard and it all came back to me.
My death, my resurrection, everything in between and after.
Still groggy, I studied my sword wondering where its scabbard came from and with no idea how it left my inventory in the first place.
Could I have taken it out during the night without realizing? Probably... Not. But it didn’t really bother me. The description said it was a sentient sword after all, and if all it wanted was to keep me company, then I couldn’t find it in me to be worried. In a world of magic, it would be insane to be fearful of everything strange, right?
That’s when I realized that the room was illuminated in a strange flickering red and, for a moment, I was confused about the lights origin until my depleting stamina gauge reminded me to close my left eye.
Uh, so it has night vision as a hidden perk, I thought to myself. Not that it made me feel better about the deal in which I obtained it.
What really amazed me, was how good and refreshed I felt despite going to bed so late because the damn tiger head wouldn’t leave.
Older people rarely get lots of satisfying sleep for multiple reasons - natural or related to health issues - that no longer applied to me. And at a certain age, if you spent the night on two stacked very soft bedrolls like I did, you’d have to go to the hospital in the morning to get your back unstuck.
In a state of half asleep bliss, I opened my room’s door to kids running in the hallway, dripping water all around them. Most of the neighboring doors were open, and the hallway was lit up with the rooms’ warm candle shimmers.
They stopped when they saw me and one of them pointed a finger at me, “Hey, it’s Ed... Um... Eddar?”
“Edward,” I rectified. “Can you tell me where the bathroom is?”
Apparently, the manor’s bathrooms weren’t equipped with the magic tools able to conjure water out of thin air, so everybody had to draw theirs from the kitchen, often after waiting in line for some time. Thankfully I had woken up early enough that I wouldn’t have to deal with that last part.
After thirty minutes I was done with my ablutions and was heading back to the kitchen to pick up my breakfast; my thoughts wandering to the options the temple gave me.
The “orphanage” gave the children a lot of freedom, in the way that they were allowed to do whatever they wanted as long as they didn’t get into trouble and came back before the curfew. Depending on someone’s attributes and what they wanted to learn, there were courses and apprenticeships that were offered, but none were customary. In a post apocalyptic world where the rest of your life was decided by the class you unlocked, that type of approach to education kind of made sense.
As Ardos had explained, classes were the only way to improve one’s attributes and were separated into two general categories: war classes and production classes.
Most activities had corresponding production classes that were unlocked through practice, provided one had compatible attributes. Baker, engineer, innkeeper, you name it. With a class, someone could theoretically reach a degree of expertise that was on part with magical abilities, like a fisherman who always knew how to catch a particular fish, or a farmer whose fields never produced bad crops.
With such incredible possibilities, it floored me that what was more sought after were “war classes”; classes that basically made you a better killer or made killer lives better.
Of course, it made lots of sense that destiny would reincarnate me to a war-centric world, even though I had spent the end of my previous life regretting having been on the battlefield. Because destiny was a piece of shit that loved irony.
But it seemed that I was supposed to be happy with my situation, based on Ardos’ reaction to me having two classes.
He almost got a heart attack in my room, becoming all serious and making me assure him that I really wasn’t some noble heir that had run away from their family.
And that leads us to the real tragedy of this world: while its society seems to revolve around classes and the individuals who have them, not everyone is born with attributes in the first place. Even worse, most of the supposedly “blessed ones” are commonly born with only two or three random ones, vitality always being one of them.
Since unlocking a class requires at least two related attributes, having two classes was apparently fairly rare and only expected from members of martial clans that went to great length to preserve and improve their lineage.
After a quick trip to the kitchen, I entered the main hall with a big bowl of porridge and sat at the same table as the day before. There were only a few kids beside me, eating quietly at the back.
The rest was probably still asleep but would be sure to be on their way, considering the orphanage didn’t offer lunch for the older kids. I wasn’t particularly worried about that though, I figured that later in the day I could go to Laure’s bar and see if the offer from the cat lady still stood. But right now, I had to think about the “training” I was supposed to do. Training that didn’t sound like a very attractive activity at that particular moment.
On one hand, I absolutely understood how important it was for me and my situation that I focused on quickly getting stronger.
But on the other, I was in a whole different world goddammit. And it was waiting outside these walls for me to explore it, wonder at the strange people, maybe even see mythical creatures. But apparently the city in the mountain had gotten a huge surge in activity from sketchy outsiders, and to say that Ardos was wary of me wandering alone at my current level was an understatement. The man had a menacing appearance but was a real mother hen inside.
Then again, he did say I was his first shot at better life in ten years. I couldn’t blame him for worrying.
“Hey there, how you doing?”
Interrupting my musings, a trio of kids that was eating at the back had joined my table. They seemed different from yesterday’s brats, if not only by the way they behaved. They didn’t seem to assume they were on top of the world.
“Saw you by yourself and thought we should check on you,” said the boy now sitting on my left. Or at least I assumed he was a boy from his voice since he had the appearance of one of those japanese dogs.
What were they called again? Ah yes, shiba inus.
Needless to say, it required all of my willpower to keep my expression as neutral as possible. I really needed to get used to how varied the natives were in their appearances.
The other two looked more like the conventional human.
One of them had chosen to sit on the other side of the table and wore clothes that were obviously too big. Most of their body was covered, but I could see small horns spiraling out of short curly blond hair. They didn’t seem very comfortable and were visibly fidgeting.
“You saved me from another hour of the mistress’ nagging,” spoke the girl sitting at my right, “so I kind of feel bad that your stay here started the way it did. The fighters are always a pain in the ass, but they usually wait a bit before making it known.”
She was the one who left Royin’s office before I could get in, the green-skinned frog girl. Now that I was closer, I could see that her skin was slightly translucent.
“Thanks for the concern,” I said with a little smile. “No need to worry though, it was nothing. I probably won’t have to interact with them anymore.”
“See, I told you he would be fine!” the girl laughed as she tapped her leg with a surprising amount of energy, considering it was still very early. “I’m Lima, by the way. The boring guy is Bo and the nervous wreck over there is Sarn. I know it’s hard to tell but we’re not part of the cool club and we’re not shady people, I promise.”
“That’s exactly what a shady person would say,” Bo pointed out as he shook his fluffy head. “Also don’t call Sarn a “nervous wreck”, that will only make him more nervous.”
“Ah, sure. My bad, Sarn,” said Lima with her hands raised. “Anyway, didn’t you have something for Edward?”
Sarn nodded and started going through his many pockets. After a few awkward minutes that Lima and Bo filled with bored foot tapping and an unwavering smile, the horned boy pulled a piece of black leather with two strings on opposite sides and offered it to me.
“For- hmm... Your eye? To cover it,” he said with a voice that made me wonder if he truly was a “he”. I took the item and inspected it.
Oh, an eye patch, I realized. It should come handy.
“Thanks,” I said to the blushing kid. “I was going to just tear a sheet or something.”
“Wait, I will tie it for you,” said Lima, and before I could react she snatched the thing from my hand and was standing behind me, trying to get it to stay on my eye while she fumbled with the strings. “You have so much hair for a boy, you could probably pull off a double bun” I heard her say.
I was mildly surprised for a second, then remembered that, physically, she and Bo were two or three years older than me while Sarn was probably my age. For them, I was probably something like a lonely younger kid with no friends that had gotten a stern welcome and was trying to act tough.
“To be honest, this is not a completely selfless gift,” said Bo as Sarn just kept nodding. “Sarn has a Tailor class so trying new clothing designs helps him improve his class. Since yesterday he’s been wondering if you could let him take a look at your clothes sometimes, if you don’t mind?”
“Oh, sure,” I said; then I added to Sarn’s attention, “Whenever I have some time. I don’t have much in my wardrobe right now, so it’s probably going to have to wait until later in the day though.”
The boy enthusiastically performed his now trademark nodding. He seemed honest enough, for someone who didn’t talk, so I figured I would eventually have him make something simple for me once I would have some money.
I didn’t feel like wearing the same clothes every day.
“There, all done,” Lima said in my ear. “Does it feel uncomfortable?”
“Not at all,” I said. “I almost can’t tell it’s there.”
“That’s our lil’ Sarn’s work for you!” she said, beaming with pride. “Hope you two can get along, you’re probably the same age after all.”
Wait, does she think her few years of seniority make her that different from him?
I pushed down the amused indignation swelling in me and simply smiled. It seemed I would have to do that quite often from now on.
“I was wondering, what is there to do around here?” I asked Bo. “I’ve lived a very sheltered life and I don’t know much about... well anything.”
“Besides working you mean?” he asked. “Not much, really. Almost everyone currently left in this shard is focused on making enough coin to leave before the fog takes over... And to be frank you should focus on that too and find some work. Well, unless you’re feeling adventurous. There are always people interested in exploring the Undermine or the ruins spread around the shard. The lucky ones find good stuff sometime.”
He then seemed to remember something and added, “But yeah, that’s for the fighting classes. You’re not missing much though, those places are instant-dungeons, so they are very dangerous.”
“Oh yeah, instant-dungeons,” I perked up at the mention. “What are they exactly? How are they different from regular dungeons?”
They gave each other furtive looks of disbelief at my ignorance, which I found ironic considering they all had animal body parts.
“Well, dungeons created by the gods are eternal and can only be entered by delvers, instant-dungeons, on the other hand, are pretty much natural phenomenon that can spawn anywhere and only stay around until they are cleared.”
I gave a nod and finished my bowl.
“You really weren’t lying when you said you were sheltered,” Lima said from behind me, her hands on my shoulders. “And trust me, there are lots of cool stuff to do in Bunker, Bo was just the wrong person to ask. All he thinks about is work.”
The dog headed teenager did seem strict and the way his adorable appearance contrasted with his serious demeanor was extremely entertaining to me.
The sound of rattling chairs filled the hall as the kids still in the back were preparing to leave.
“Well, it’s time to go,” said Bo as he got up. “I work in the Undermine and I can’t afford to be late. Even Lima doesn’t have much time left before the hunters leave for the day and she wastes yet another day of experience.”
“Alright, alright, I get it,” said a dejected Lima. “Later, Edward. You should hurry before the jerks come down. Sarn, take good care of him ‘aight?”
Sarn waved them goodbye and they left with the group, leaving me alone in the hall with my horned boy and my thoughts.
They really just set me up with him and left? I mused. Ah, youth. The only time when making friends is as easy as saying “hi”.
I shook myself out of my reveries when I realized that my silence was making the boy anxious.
“I assume you don’t go with them because you can work from here?” I said.
He nodded then added, “Wh-when I’m done making clothes I... give them to Bo and he sells them for me at the bunker.”
“Sounds interesting. But I was wondering, do you know a place where I can train with a sword in peace?”
His brows came together in confusion.
“If that’s what you want... Y-you can train later with sir Ard-”
“With the morons? Nah, that’s not what I meant,” I interrupted him with a hand wave. “I’m looking for a spot where I can train by myself with no one bothering me. Any idea?”
I would follow the plan and focus on improving myself until the threat of the tribulations was assessed. Only then would I allow myself to indulge in my more irresponsible impulses.
Sarn thought about it for a second then gave me a smile. Seemed like it was time to test my sword and the Sunken dance.