Dexterity: 11 + 1
Most used abilities: Dark Bond
Most used weapon skills: Dagger Throw, Power Stab, Sneak Attack, Lunge, Spear Throw, Throat Opener
“Fifty gold per animal?!” I exclaimed. The plump clerk behind the desk shook his head.
“That’s not even everything. You and your pet will have to complete a series of exercises to prove that your pet is well-trained. The test varies depending on what kind of magical creature you have.”
I gulped. “Ermm… hypothetically speaking, if I had a toleco… what kind of test would be expected?”
The clerk raised an eyebrow. “Hypothetically speaking, I haven’t the faintest idea. It is not me who conducts these tests, I’m just an administrator in this office. What I do know, however, is that failing your test means that you were owning an untrained magical beast without a pet licence. We will be required to confiscate the animal and you’ll be fined thirty gold coins for breaking the law.”
“Wh-what?! You can’t be serious! Besides, how is anyone supposed to train their pet if it is illegal to own one in the first place?”
“That’s the point, you are not supposed to. If it was too easy to get a licence, everyone would be running around with ice breathing and fire farting creatures and it would be chaos. The whole point of this system is to maintain order on our streets and roads, which is possible only with severe restrictions.”
All I could do was to gape in disbelief.
“Don’t be so aghast, you are luckier than the most,” the clerk said. “You are a Player, and your kind has all sorts of powers. If you happen to gain one that helps you control any hypothetical toleco, the rest is a piece of cake.”
“Wow, that’s… that helps. Thank you.” I looked at the man thoughtfully and tried to reevaluate him. “You are surprisingly understanding.”
“If that’s what you were wondering about, I bear no ill will towards Players. They are just as troublesome as ordinary people. Now, if you don’t have any more questions…?”
I thanked him once again, then left the town hall. Now I had one more reason to begin doing quests: I needed to get an Ability, one that would control Nosy. I was quite sure that he wouldn’t pass that test otherwise. He was intelligent enough, but he still didn’t listen to me all the time, and most likely the test would be as nasty as possible.
I had to ask for help several times as I navigated the streets, and the majority of the people wasn’t too helpful in giving directions. I had to deliberately calm myself down a couple of times, knowing that Soul Eater was influencing me once again. Or rather, it was my collar doing it. There had to be some kind of technology behind this whole thing, but I didn’t have the faintest idea how it worked. The collar didn’t inject anything into me as far as I could tell, and if it manipulated me by emitting pollens or pheromones or something into the air, then it wouldn’t be only me who was affected.
It didn’t make sense. Nothing made sense, and it was getting on my nerves. And I felt frustrated because it got on my nerves.
It wasn’t the best condition to face anyone who was kind enough to help me finding Soul Eater, but beggars cannot be choosers. I arrived to our meeting point a bit late, where Imaya was already waiting for me. The two Sylven decided to sit this one out, so it was me alone who had to suffer her company. Yeah, beggars definitely couldn’t be choosers.
“There you are! Finally! Come on Randel, Father Swied must be already waiting for us.”
Yeah, this Father Swied was just one more person who knew about my dagger, in spite of me warning Imaya to be careful about divulging my secrets. Apparently, she had a very nice chat with the priest the day before, and in the end she told him my whole story regarding the dagger. The only reason I wasn’t mad about it was because as long as it helped me find Soul Eater, I didn’t really care.
“I met with Jaice this morning,” Imaya began speaking as we made our way towards our destination. “He said that he and his friends are going to go check out that clearing in the forest where we found the giants.”
“Good for them.”
“He said it’s their Covenant’s purpose to protect the weak and eliminate any possible threat.”
“They are just hoping to find something valuable in that throne room.”
“Yup, maybe,” she said cheerfully, seemingly not bothered by my dark mood. “But wouldn’t that be appropriate reward for them? They kill the bad guys, they get the treasure.”
I just grunted and kept walking in silence. When Imaya saw that I had nothing else to add, she decided to change topics.
“I also heard from a few farmers that there are more and more wild animals escaping from the forest. Those poor animals are actually causing a lot of trouble on their lands. Someone has already taken the reward for the octopus-bounty, but the farmers think that they lied and didn’t kill the giant at all. They suspect that the stray octopus giant is causing all the unrest in the forest, but we know better, don’t we?”
“Is this the church?” I asked instead, eyeing a building with full of broken windows on the other side of the street. By the descriptions, this was supposed to be the place where that priest was supposed to be, but the building… wasn’t very impressive. It didn’t look very church-like, though maybe I just had high expectations. After all, the structure had a dilapidated steeple that was even sporting a strange metallic statue on the top.
“Yup! This, umm… religion is not too popular amongst the people, as you might have guessed, but they have a presence in most of the major towns nevertheless. This church is not much to look at, but Father Swied is super nice, you’ll see!”
From what Imaya had told me the previous day, the Scions of the Aether was a relatively newfound religion… or sect. We didn’t know much about them, but the main point was that they revered Players. Not with bowing and scraping kind of reverence, though. Players were more like the force of nature to them, sent to this land by higher beings. They also had another name for us: Reapers.
“Welcome, welcome!” Someone greeted us the moment we stepped inside the building. “Imaya! I see you managed to bring your friend. Come on in!”
The person who was likely Father Swied was a completely bald, middle-aged man in simple robes. My first impression was that he tired to aim for a stereotypical monk impression, but failed horribly. The man was thin and haggard, wearing a tattered and dirty robe that didn’t hide the tattoos all over his arms and legs. He looked more like a thug than a priest.
“You’re the one who can help me?” I asked as I walked closer.
“Randel!” Imaya hissed, “Would it hurt to be a bit more polite?” She then turned to the robed man. “Hello, Father Swied! Yes, he is my friend who I talked about. Sorry if he is rude, he has been grumpy all day!”
“Don’t even mention it Imaya, I understand,” Swied said then turned to me. “And no, young man, it’s not me who can help you. From what Imaya told me about your problem, it seems that you have lost an item that was bestowed upon you by the Goddess herself. If you are meant to find that item once again, only the Goddess can help you. I can, however, aid your search.”
So basically he was saying he could help me, he just had to formulate it into several sentences so that he could mention his goddess. I had to admit that I didn’t expect from the looks of this man to talk like that. I also had to admit that I was already growing impatient dealing with him.
“And who’s this Goddess? Can I ask her myself?”
Swied chuckled, and I gritted my teeth as I waited for him to stop.
“No, young man. Goddess Culga, Ruler of the Aether and Arbiter of Souls rarely speaks to us mortals. It is, however, possible to request Her help through certain rituals. If it’s one of Her chosen who tries to reach Her, I’m sure She would be more amenable.”
“And these chosen ones are supposed to be us Players?”
“Player is derogatory term that you gave yourselves in your ignorance,” Swied answered instead. “I would be delighted to tell you more about the Reapers of this world… but maybe we should move to someplace more comfortable first? My room is just behind that corner.”
Imaya smiled politely. “Sure! Let’s—”
“No,” I said. “Thank you but we’re fine right here.”
The hall we were standing in was slightly large, with some kind of strange altar in the other end of it. No one was present aside from us, or at least I couldn’t see anyone. It was unlikely that Swied would be a threat here, but I wasn’t going to follow him deeper inside the building.
“As you wish,” the priest said, then cleared his throat. “To answer your question, yes, I was referring to you Reapers as the chosen ones. If I guess correctly, you don’t know how you have gotten here. Reapers never do, so let me tell you: you have died and Goddess Culga chose you to be reborn as her personal soul collectors.”
I just stared at the priest and waited for him to finish. He obviously expected some kind of reaction, but all I could do was to tell myself to be patient. This whole religion was bullshit, but it wouldn’t increase my chances for getting help if I didn’t even listen to what Swied wanted to say. He was obviously intent on showing us their ways.
Finally, Imaya spoke up. “Wow, that’s, umm… interesting. Please don’t be mad but I don’t think that is the case. As I told you yesterday, on the first day when we arrived, we met two alien beings who were responsible for getting us here, and… well, they didn’t sound too goddess-ly.”
Swied inclined his head. “It is understandable to be skeptical at first, and I know that this is a lot to take in so suddenly. But let me assure you, I am aware of the servants of the Goddess. Alas, I haven’t been able to meet any of them in person, but Reapers tend to encounter them from time to time. Consider yourself very fortunate! To be able to meet Her servants and even receive a powerful relic from the Aether is a great boon indeed!”
Was it be alright to tell him to shut up and just get on with his offer? Or maybe I could just simply leave—
—or strangle him until he couldn’t speak his nonsense—
—and come back after Imaya arranged the deal for me. No, that didn’t sound right either. Better not let Imaya arrange anything. Plus, I had to appear as if I was considering his words. Not only because it would earn me good points at the priest, but also because I wasn’t supposed to know anything that I learned on my second encounter with the Inspector.
“I’m not sure about me being fortunate,” I spoke up, “But yes, we can agree that I’m something like a chosen one among chosen ones.” And I was also really humble. “What I don’t understand is, what’s the point of us being here? Soul collecting, you say?”
“Ah, good question, good question! I was just about to get into that.” His expression remained calm, but the twinkle in his eye told me he was getting really into telling his tale. “You see, Goddess Culga is the Arbiter of Souls, but first, she needs our souls to make it safely to the Aether Realm. In order to do this, first she sent down the Aether’s Seeds to our lands. These are what people call Cores, monuments with highly magical properties. Reapers have especially strong connections with them. Ah, but I’m getting ahead of myself. As I was saying, the Aether’s Seeds collect anyone’s soul upon their death, but only if they are in the Seed’s vicinity. And this is where you Reapers come into play. Your role is to wander the word, reaping and collecting souls as you see fit. You might not even be aware of it, but purely by existing you are helping Goddess Culga’s cause. For it’s not only She who can touch our souls, there are others: powerful beings that are hungering for the souls left uncollected—”
“Okay, that’s enough,” I said. “I appreciate you trying to enlighten us, but I’m afraid I just don’t have the time. Can we—”
“Wait,” Imaya interrupted me, “Fater Swied, are you saying that the reason we don’t receive any souls in Bildy is because the Core draws them in?”
“Imaya—” I began, but she talked over me.
“This is important, Randel! I have always been wondering why we are not leveling up while in town. There has to be several animals dying each day, not to mention people dying of old age or of other reasons!”
“Yes, very interesting. Now, can we—”
“Father Swied, and what happens if there are multiple Reapers around when someone dies? Doesn’t it hurt them to get their soul divided amongst those Reapers?”
“I could not claim to know the feelings of those who have passed away, but I would say that no, it doesn’t hurt. Once the soul returns to the Aether, it becomes whole again.”
“But what happens if only one part of it makes it to this other realm? What if—”
“Enough!” I shouted. “Imaya, please, you can discuss this once I’m not here. Father Swied, can we talk about finding my lost relic? I admit that I’m impatient to get it back, and I’d like to continue searching as soon as possible.”
The worst thing was that some of what Swied said actually made sense. Had I not felt so agitated about finding Soul Eater, I would have inquired more about this religion too. I couldn’t deny that his belief had some basis: if anyone or anything died near us, that strange mist always flew into everyone nearby. Well, almost always. I had already noticed that if I killed an animal with Soul Eater, the mist never appeared.
But this really wasn’t the time for Imaya to ask what a fake Goddess would do with half a soul.
“Yes, of course. One of the things you could try is Soul Magic. Unfortunately, I am not well-versed in that type of magical art, but you could hire experts all across this town. The only thing you need is a piece of the item you are searching for, which is not feasible in this case, I’m afraid. But perhaps something that was close to the relic? A sheath?”
“It didn’t have a sheath,” I said, grinding my teeth. “I always tucked it into my belt.”
“Ah. I was afraid you’d say that. Well, there are other options as well. The Scions of the Aether know several rituals, some of them hundreds of years old. The only hindrance with this is that they usually take time, and they also need several ingredients that are quite… costly.”
I closed my eyes dejectedly. Of course it would come to this. “How much for the simplest ritual?” I asked.
I didn’t know where I was going, because all I saw was red. I was basically fuming with barely contained rage, and I wanted to put as much distance between me and that fucking church as possible.
“That swindler priest won’t get a single fucking copper from me!”
“You didn’t have to make a scene just because of that,” Imaya chided me as she caught up.
“That son of a bitch deserved every word I said!”
“Have you realized that you are swearing much more often today? I know that you have anger management issues, but—”
That’s all she was able to get out before I turned and backhanded her across the face. She stumbled backwards, looking at me with hurtful eyes.
“Y-You slapped me!”
“And you fucking deserved it! Can’t you ever shut up for a second?”
“This just proves my point further,” she said, touching her cheek gingerly.
I clenched my fists in anger, but then took a deep breath and tried to calm down. Other people were looking and I didn’t want this to escalate further, no matter how much I would have slapped Imaya a few more times.
“I’m going to search for Soul Eater alone,” I said. “See you later at the inn.”
I walked away without waiting for her to reply. I had a plan in mind, and I already wasted enough time at the church. It wasn’t a plan that would give immediate results, but it was something that needed to be done.
Ever since the Inspector had tinkered with my collar, I had been able to feel… vague feelings. It was pretty much indescribable, like opening up a sixth sense or something. But no, sixth sense sounded way too good for this crap that I had. It was more like an itch, an annoying little thing in the back of my mind that told me my weapon was near. It told me I was close, but not how close, so now I intended to find it out.
I made my way out of Bildy and in the next couple of hours I walked around the town’s perimeter. There, I could finally be able to determine at least the direction the weapon was supposed to be in. The town wasn’t a perfect circle so it was hard to tell for sure, but I got a pretty good estimate that the dagger was somewhere in the north-eastern area.
As I walked back to the marketplace to have something to eat, I wondered if that shithead Inspector had deliberately given me such a vague weapon-sense. If it was too accurate it would be too suspicious that I hadn’t recognized instantly when I lost it. The Inspector did say something about it becoming more accurate after a couple of days, but that didn’t help me at all. I needed Soul Eater now, not a few days later.
But even with my thoughts mostly occupied with my lost weapon, I managed to dedicate time for other things as well. I already had a bag from the Shrissten, but now that I had my dictionary safely stored away and my cloak destroyed, it was quite empty. I filled it up with a few necessities: a larger flask to carry water in, a small pot and a spoon, plus a thin blanket. I could have bought a sleeping bag, but it would have taken up too much space and screw that, I wasn’t going to carry two bags at once. I also bought some ink with pen and paper, all of which was horribly overpriced but at least they didn’t take up that much space. Having something to write or draw with had various uses, just as several other things that I didn’t buy had various uses because I was already fucking tired of shopping and I didn’t want to spend my time haggling all they long.
I was ready to go back asking random people about strange black daggers, but this time I had a different approach in mind. I bought a large shawl in some kind of shitty green color and draped it around my neck, hiding my collar. Hopefully with this, people won’t recognize instantly that I’m a Player. They would question my fashion choice, but it was still better than being discriminated as a Player.
—or so I thought, but after ten minutes, I was already sweating under the shawl. I tried to endure, but after five more minutes I was fidgeting with the material frustratedly, trying to wrap it around my neck only as much as it was absolutely needed.
“You won’t be able to hide what you are with that,” a voice startled me.
I pivoted to find the owner of the voice, a well-dressed man leaning to the wall. He had long, dark hair and a crooked nose—
—that would be even more crooked if I bashed his face against the wall—
—and had a frustratingly knowing smile.
“Why?” I asked on a flat tone.
“You look out of place, my friend. Wearing shawls are not in the trend around here. They are not worn like you do, exactly because they could hide a collar. People around here like to leave at least part of their necks free, so that they can avoid misunderstandings.”
“Besides, you have a slight accent. If the shawl wouldn’t be suspicious enough, it would already mark you as someone from not around here.”
“Well, thanks for the heads up,” I said, taking down the shawl. “I appreciate your honesty.”
“Now, just wait a moment, my friend. I saw you looking around in this market, and couldn’t help but wonder: are you looking for something specific?”
I took a second look at the man. He wore expensive clothing in a light grey color, which actually made him stand out a bit. Not because of the color or the stylish clothes, but… What was he doing here? He didn’t strike me as a merchant or a worker, so he had no reason to be lounging here, behind the stores.
In the end, however, it didn’t really matter whether he looked suspicious or not. He looked suspicious, yes, but it didn’t mean that he couldn’t help me. Even if he was doing illegal stuff— no, especially if he was doing illegal stuff, he might be useful. I was out of options anyways, since wandering around the marketplace and asking people obviously wasn’t working.
“I’m looking for a unique item that I have lost, and I’m willing to buy it back from whoever owns it. It’s a black dagger about this large, its hilt and blade both made from the same material—
“Well fuck me sideways! Does the dagger have an orange power core in the base of its blade? With glowing lines coming out of it?”
I gasped. “That’s the one!” I took a couple of steps towards him until I was standing right in his face and looked at him with narrowed eyes. “What do you know about it?”
“Calm down, lad, I’ll tell you. No need to get physical, it’s not me who has it. I saw that weapon at one of my… colleagues, who claimed that he had bought it recently.”
I tried to get my thoughts in order, but it was hard to think. Every fiber in me wanted to get to Soul Eater as soon as possible. The possibility that I may get it back was almost too much to bear.
“Could— Can you introduce me to that person?”
“Hmm, I don’t know. I suppose that I could, but then what’s the profit in that for me?”
I winced. “Fine. I promise that you will be appropriately compensated for your troubles. I have a lot of gold, you know.”
I had a slight fear that my money wouldn’t be enough, but I squashed that feeling. Even if I hadn’t given the others 5 gold each, my money would have been insufficient for buying back an obviously very special weapon. But I didn’t want to worry about that now. All my efforts were purely for locating the dagger.
The man eyed me for a brief moment, then extended his hand. “Alright, it’s a deal. Name’s Hiorg.”
“Randel,” I said, accepting the handshake.
“I’ll show you the place where I last met your man. He might still be around there, if we get lucky.”
I followed Hiorg as he turned around the corner without objection. A part of me was screaming at myself that I was too trusting, that this was too good to be true. But what else could I have fucking done? This man was able to describe Soul Eater, so he had obviously seen it before. He was my best lead, so I couldn’t back down now.
I wished that I had Stabby with me, but that dagger was still with Imaya. I gave it to her several days ago, thinking that she needed a close-range weapon as well. With all my thoughts occupied with Soul Eater, I forgot to take Stabby back from her. The sad thing was that I had thought about similar things before; it was a bad idea to go through narrow and abandoned streets without any weapon. But here I was two days later, willingly following a basically unknown man through alleyways, just because he was my only hope finding Soul Eater. I knew the stupidity of my actions, but I didn’t care.
I wasn’t even particularly surprised when Hiorg abruptly rushed forward, slapped his hand on a symbol on the wall, and a semi-translucent dome appeared around me. There were stone walls on my left and right sides, barrier in the front, back, and even above me. I kicked out experimentally, but the barrier easily withstood it.
“Is this the part where you confess how much you hate Players and make me suffer as some kind of twisted revenge?” I asked with cold fury. I was angry, but not because he trapped me. What bothered me more was that he was wasting my time.
“Revenge? No, no, no, my friend,” Hiorg smiled on the other side of the barrier. “I have no grudge against Players. I consider myself a businessman, and you are just one amongst many that I’m going to have business with.”
He touched another symbol right below the one that activated the barrier, and I heard a soft pop. Greenish gas began emanating from cracks in the stone wall soon after. I didn’t have time to properly think about Hiorg’s last words, but I had a feeling that he didn’t want me dead yet. Was this paralytic gas, then?
I took a large breath and began searching for anything that could be considered as a weapon. My lack of fear didn’t escape my notice. I wasn’t exactly calm, but I didn’t panic either. I was unconcerned whether I would die or not. Apparently Soul Eater didn’t have to be in my hands in order to smother any fear I would have.
There were some thrash strewn around, but I didn’t find anything useful. In theory, I could have used Dark Bond on basically anything that could be considered as a weapon. I supposed that a vicious-looking nail or a broken bottle with sharp edges would have sufficed. I hadn’t tested it before for obvious reasons: I didn’t want to get hurt if something happened to the item that I bonded with.
But I didn’t find anything, and eventually I ran out of breath. The green gas made it almost impossible to search for anything useful anyways. As my vision began to fade out, my last thoughts were about how good it would feel to jam Soul Eater into Hiorg’s mouth and wipe that infuriating smirk off his face.
I woke with a fit of cough. When I managed to sit up, I immediately saw that I had been dragged off somewhere. Somewhere indoors. It would have been pretty dark, if not for the reddish light of the translucent dome that surrounded my cage. There were several other, uncharacteristically large cages besides the one I was in, all empty except for the one next to mine. It didn’t have any barrier around it, but someone was huddling on the floor under a thin blanket.
“Hey—” I croaked, then I tried again, this time louder. “Hey, you! Wake up!”
The person under the blanket moved, revealing a gaunt looking man about my age. He had dirty blonde hair and ragged clothes on his thin frame. He would be probably taller than me if we both stood, but he was just lying on the floor, sickly and miserable. I could vaguely make out the black metal of the collar around his neck.
“Care to tell me where I am?”
“Care to tell me where I am, without the fucking dramatics?”
The man groaned and flopped back to the floor. “I don’t know. I didn’t see where they took me either,” he mumbled. “What does it matter to you? These guys are professional. They have magic! If they succeeded to bring you here you’ll never escape.”
“We’ll see about that. How long have you been here, and what the fuck are they planning to do with me? I cannot stay here all day, I have stuff to do.”
The guy let out a hoarse laugh. “That was a good one. I’ll tell you, but can I ask your name first? Mine is Simon.”
“Randel, I do hope that you can keep that determination of yours, even after you lost counting the days you have been down here.” His voice was husky and he had to cough before he could continue. “I don’t know exactly how long they had me. Two months? Three?”
“Didn’t you receive any Special Quests for inactivity?” I asked. “If you have been sitting here long enough, you should have.”
“Special Quests? Oh, by this device around my neck, you mean! Yes, I got one. It told me to escape from here.”
“Pfft, as if it would be so easy! I failed the quest, obviously. There was a time limit and I didn’t even attempt to get away during that period. I lost seven attribute points as punishment.”
“Hmm, that doesn’t sound too bad. How many attribute points did you have beforehand?”
Oh. Oh! So this guy was a beginner too. An even bigger beginner than me, by the sound of it.
“That sucks. So, what is Hiorg up to?”
“Thanks for your condolence,” Simon said sarcastically. “Hiorg and his men are keeping us here to milk our powers. They caught me and two more of my friends not long after we arrived to this town. They are keeping me alive because my Ability is useful for them.”
“So— Wait, you said two others? Where are they?”
“I think you’ve already guessed it: they are dead. Frank was killed on the first day, when they determined that his Ability wasn’t of any use. Suzy was kept here for several days, because she had the power to conjure weapons out of thin air. The weapons only lasted for a day or so, but she could create any kind of weapon that she imagined. So she was producing weapons for them, and— she was raped in her cell almost every night. It… it didn’t take her long to conjure a blade and take her own life.”
I looked at his tearful expression sadly. “And you?”
“I’m not lucky enough to have an easy way out. I tried starving myself, but I didn’t have enough willpower to go through with it.”
“No, I mean, what’s your Ability?”
“Ah, that… How do I say it? I can enchant anyone with a touch. The enchanted person has an aura above their skin that prevents any wound that they would take, but only once, then it disappears. Oh! No, it’s two times now, actually. I have used it a lot and the Ability leveled up a few times. Hiorg always makes me enchant him before he goes into a fight. Apparently he fights quite often.”
“So… they are keeping me under this barrier until they know for sure what Ability I have?”
“Huh? You didn’t tell them?”
“No, I didn’t. Why would I?”
“Ah,” Simon said, his tone is full of sorrow. “Me and my friends told him willingly. He tricked us into trusting him.”
That was actually pretty clever from Hiorg. Evil, yes, but also really cunning. Bildy was the first settlement that anyone encountered if they came from the direction of the Western Woods. Any Player that started in that area would have a high chance to find their way here. Players had unique powers, but new Players didn’t have many of them, so they were easier to subdue. After that, Hiorg just had to find Abilities that he could use for his own gains.
My Abilities would be useless for them without a doubt. The fact that I was still alive had two possible explanations: either they weren’t able to open up my collar’s menu while I was unconscious, or none of them could read.
“I’m sorry for what happened to you,” I told him. “I promise you that once I escape, I will come back and free you. It might not be immediately, but since you’ve already been here for a while, a few more days wouldn’t hurt, right?”
Simon looked at me with an incredulous expression, then burst out laughing.
“Oh man,” he wheezed. “I don’t know when was the last time that someone made me laugh. Thank you.”
“Thank me after you are free,” I said, then sat down to wait for my captors to make their appearance.
It was moving. I paced in my cage nervously as I concentrated on detecting Soul Eater’s presence. It was definitely moving away.
I had to get out of fast. Considering the precision I was sensing Soul Eater, this could only mean that it was leaving Bildy. It was good, in a sense. If it was on the road, it would be easier to locate than in a town amongst thousands of people.
But I needed to get out first, and no one checked on me even hours after waking up. Simon misunderstood the source of my agitation and looked at me with a mix of sorrow and pity. He probably thought that only now did I truly realize my situation. I’d have liked to correct him—
—or squash his head into the gap between the bars of the cage and see if it fit through—
—but I was too busy shouting. I ran out of patience, so now I was trying to make as much noise as I could. After a solid five minutes of yelling, someone finally opened up the trap door and descended to our lovely little chamber. He looked like a typical musclehead, bulging with muscles and wearing a dumb expression on his face.
“Now, now, Randel my friend, be nice,” came Hiorg’s voice as he descended as well. “No need to shout that much, no one else could hear you from down here.”
I tried my best to put away my anger and bitterness, and strike a conversational tone. My act had to be plausible if I wanted to get out of here fast. If I needed to be convincing to get to Soul Eater, convincing I would be.
“Hello Hiorg! Finally! I just wanted to tell you that our deal still isn’t off. You help me find my dagger, and I compensate you. Simon here tells me that you like Abilities that you can use. Well, I can assure you that I can help you out in that regard!”
Hiorg smiled condescendingly as he walked closer to my cage. “Sorry to pop your bubble my friend, but I’m not keeping our part of the deal. In fact, I haven’t the faintest idea where that dagger is at the moment.”
I frowned. “It doesn’t seem smart to admit that when I haven’t even told you anything about my Abilities. You should have used that promise as leverage.”
I didn’t pretend to have no idea why I was captured. Hiorg put me in the same space as Simon, so he must have expected that we would talk with each other.
“Ah, but you see,” Hiorg pointed at Tyon. “I don’t need to. I can make you talk by force, if necessary. I suppose you wouldn’t know, but the transparent wall around your cage is Blood Magic. The barrier doesn’t let through any living organisms, except for one: Tyon. He will be your caretaker, your friend, your guard, and also the one who beats you into a pulp if you don’t cooperate. Without him, you have no contact with the outside world.”
“What if I had the Ability to possess someone and made my escape that way?” I asked. Tyon’s eyes bulged a little, but Hiorg’s smile didn’t falter.
“I highly doubt you received such a potent Ability, if it even exists. Newly arrived Players have no need for an Ability like that.”
It meant that he knew or at least suspected something about the way Players got their Abilities. He could be right that body-possession wasn’t an Ability that new Players received, though I could have said the same thing about opening portals or creating teleporting weapons.
“What if I could teleport?” I asked, just because I felt cocky. “Surely teleportation isn’t such a rare Ability as possession.”
“If you could teleport,” Hiorg said, “Then you would have already done so in the alleyway where I trapped you. By the way, since you are so curious I let you know: I had a contingency plan for teleportation too.”
I smiled. “Alright, you got me there. So, how are we going to go about this? I heard Simon’s story and I have no intention making this difficult for myself.”
Hiorg narrowed his eyes. I knew it looked strange that I was so cooperative, but Soul Eater was getting further and further away. I had no time to play defiant. Because of this, Hiorg probably believed that I had some kind of trick up my sleeve. Maybe he suspected that I had multiple Abilities, and that I intended to show him only one and keep the second as a secret. That way, I could outplay him when he didn’t expect it.
“Sure, Randel,” Hiorg finally said. “I like obedient prisoners. Let’s start with you telling us your Ability.”
I nodded. “I can enchant almost any weapon.”
“Enchant with what?” Hiorg asked.
“It makes blades become stronger. They can cut through iron with ease, though there is a cost. Cutting with them drains my mana.”
“I see,” Hiorg said. “So you want us to give you a weapon to be able to demonstrate, huh? Clever, very clever.”
“No,” I shook my head. “You don’t need to hand me any weapon. You can hold the hilt, I just need to wrap my hand around the blade.”
Upon hearing that, Hiorg pulled out a knife from his sleeve and handed it to Tyon.
“Randel, I hope I don’t have to remind you that Tyon is the only one who can reach you. If you lied to us and have another kind of Ability, killing him won’t save you.”
I nodded, then watched Tyon warily as he stepped through the barrier and opened my cage. He really was a brute, having to stoop as he came inside and closed the cage behind him. If he hadn’t been so ripped, he could have just reached through the bars instead of having to climb in. Actually, I could have just reached through the bars, but I supposed that they wanted to intimidate me.
He pointed the knife at me, and I gripped the blade lightly. My hand began to move on its own as I thought about applying the Dark Bond, leaving black, smoke-like tendrils around the blade. As usual, the Ability protected my hand from being harmed, and the small size of the blade meant that I finished applying my Ability within a second.
“There,” I said, stepping back. “Done.”
“Hmm, so far so good,” Hiorg said. “I have to admit, I expected you to lie about this Ability.”
“You give me too little credit.”
“Yes, I apologize,” Hiorg said, looking thoughtful. “Now the only thing that’s left is demonstration. Tyon, cut off one of his fingers.”
“What?!” I exclaimed, but before I could react, the musclehead had grabbed my right hand with his left one. He yanked me to the ground, pressing my hand down with fingers forced apart, and got ready to strike.
“Wait!” I shouted, though I didn’t really know why. Tyon’s hand came down in a flash, and I managed to teleport the knife to Nosy just in in time.
“AAAUUUUGGGHHH!” I cried out and began rolling on the floor as I clutched my hand. Tyon looked at his empty hand in confusion, then looked around the cage, then finally shot a puzzled look at Hiorg. All the while, I didn’t stop wailing.
“Randel, what happened?” Hiorg raised his voice over mine.
“He fisted my hand, you idiot!” I shouted at him. “Do you know how much it hurts?! I am lucky that none of my fingers are broken!”
I was glad to see Hiorg’s face contort with anger. “Where is the knife?”
“Oh, the knife?” I looked around theatrically. “I think the knife is gone.”
“Tyon,” Hiorg hissed. “Break two of his fingers.”
“Nooo, not the fingers, not again!” I scuttled backwards. How many seconds did I have left till I could teleport again? I had forgotten to count. “Anything but my fingers! Hey Tyon, how about my leg?”
Tyon grabbed my arm but I had my fingers clenched into a fist.
“No! Hiorg, can I say one last thing?”
“Last…?” Hiorg asked confusedly, and Tyon stopped for a moment.
“Yes, one last thing,” I said, then let my voice go cold with all the fury I felt towards him for lying about Soul Eater. “Fuck you for wasting my time. Once I get my dagger back, you’ll fucking pay for this.”
With a shocked look on Hiorg’s face as my farewell gift, I teleported myself to the knife.
I imagined myself arriving on all fours, but teleporting to an unseen location had never been that easy. As it turned out, Nosy had been resting on a tree, and I tumbled down the tree the moment I arrived. I hit myself several times in the process and landed on the ground rather unelegantly, but I was relatively unhurt.
Nosy greeted me with an angry hiss for ruining his sleep. Well, at least I wasn’t alone in being frustrated.
“Alright Nosy, come down,” I shouted up to him and shifted the knife into my hand. Even from here, I could feel the presence of Soul Eater getting farther and farther away.
“We are going to hunt.”