I was about to search the corpse, when my knees buckled, and I, spitting blood, fell right into the slimy stinking swamp. Trying to figure out what the issue was, I noticed my health bar. It was almost empty. I was too focused on the fight and failed to notice that the gnats had almost finished me off. Or had they? According to the logs, it was me who caused the damage. How was that possible?
First of all: healing. I almost died trying to use Cure Light Wounds. My health almost dropped to zero and then increased to ten; regeneration was slowly, but surely, increasing it. I remembered the bar almost flashing first time I used the healing spell, but it must've gone unnoticed since I had a full health bar then. These spells cost me my own health, and casting too many of them at once could lead to my demise. On the other hand, in a world where people couldn’t use magic, I had to spend something in order to use it. It was fine though, given that I could restore it. One could even say that I was a mage with infinite mana. However, I had to keep in mind to heal myself in time. After spending another five minutes to fully restore my health — I really didn’t want to die foolishly — I moved to the pile of bones that once was the Captain of the Skeleton Warriors. If this world had so much in common with games, there should have been a drop; I was sure it would be a good one, considering the Captain’s high level. After that, I’d examine the regular skeletons. I wasn’t the one who had killed them, but there was no one else who’d get the trophies. An idea occurred to me — I could lure out other hardcore monsters. If one was lucky enough, one could power-level pretty quickly.
I had to dive into the swamp in order to examine the skeleton, but it was worth it. I didn’t find armor or any weapons, but something much more valuable.
Stone Skin Spellbook
Makes your skin stone hard, increasing endurance by 20 points.
Requirements: deception (level 1)
How was I to use it? What was deception level 1? I tried to read the book but nothing happened. All of the pages were completely blank, except for the first one, which contained the general description of the book. What if I just used it with a specific goal in my mind, like with cure and weakness? As I did so, my health immediately fell by fifty points, and endurance increased to thirty. I should probably reconsider my plans of becoming a great magician. If the first level spells wasted this much health, what would happen next? I should spend a little more time healing and then hide the book in an invisible pocket, as I did with my weapon before. I attempted to activate Stone Skin again, this time without holding the book. I succeeded. So this was my future; collecting spellbooks and hiding them, hoping that no one would notice. If that was how it was going to be — I had a feeling that other options were much worse — I had to understand everything thoroughly. The next step was figuring out deception level 1. The spell worked which meant that I met the requirements.
"Looking inside", I started a detailed study of all the data available to me. There were the stats, there were the spells, there was my experience, and there, represented by a little bar hidden in the very corner, was deception. I hadn't paid attention to it before. Had it always been there? I opened the details, and learned that one needed one thousand points to get level one deception, which I had earned when I lied about the God and magic, my past and attitude toward people. However, the majority of points, almost eight hundred, I got for luring the skeletons into my trap. I didn't receive any level-ups from them, but at least my deception points increased. This attribute grew with every lie I told, apparently. So when my God said that he was responsible for deception he, oddly enough, told me the truth. I needed two thousand experience points raise it to the next level. If I planned to learn stronger spells, I had to work on this. For that purpose, I already had one lie ready. When they ask me what I had done with my stat points, I would say that I invested all of them into endurance. Stone Skin will cover up that lie. Wasting points developing as a warrior, having in mind that I had chosen to be a magician, would be stupid. On the other hand, the mismatch of my attributes will get noticed very quickly. Lying was not as easy as it seemed.
All right, that's taken care of. The regular skeletons were waiting for me. Getting to the shore was not so difficult this time since I was not being chased, and could safely choose a better road. Stepping onto the solid ground, I realized that I was lost. As a child, I went hiking only a couple of times; then there was this bad experience at the university, when we decided to celebrate the end of the first year by going on a hike. Mosquitoes tortured the girls, Artem almost drowned, and then we got lost in the woods and barely found the road. We emerged ten miles away from the place where we had gotten off the bus. Why was I remembering this now? It completely shut off my interest in wildlife tourism, and I had never gotten involved in such adventures ever again. Looking back at it now, I could really use orienteering.
How would I know which way to go? We were led here by Alexander and Petrovich, so I didn't try to remember the way, or mark the cardinal points, which was what I needed now.
Vasily, calm down. The 'training ground' is somewhere between this swamp and our base. Keep your eyes open and look around.
I read somewhere that talking to yourself in critical situations helped calm down and focus. To tell the truth, it was working.
There they were; the bones of the skeletons we had destroyed and the cemetery. Examining their remains disappointed me a little. I knew that I was being naive, but I had hoped that I'd find something special. All I got was a rusty knife, creaking, metal shoulder-straps, some bandages and a screwdriver. I wondered where I could use these items. Bandages were always good, given that, in this world, they could cure almost any wound. I tried on the shoulder straps immediately, but couldn't put them on. A system message informed me that they could only be used in combination with heavy armor. It was no surprise; one had to fix them to something, after all.
After some thinking, I shoved the items into my pockets, hid the iron attachment into my “inventory” and had a look around. I was pretty sure that we came from the other side, where the crooked pine was. The grass was trampled there. Things were looking up; at least I won't have to wander and die in order to appear at the base. Dying was a strange way to travel, of course, but it would do in case of an emergency.
At first I intended to lure a couple of skeletons to the swamp, while it was still light. However, after giving it a thought, I decided not to do it. All of the newcomers were at the base by now, and the old-timers were probably wondering what happened to one of them. If I arrive too late, it might raise some suspicions. In addition, compared to everyone else, I reached level five quite easily. I shouldn't draw too much attention to myself. Mind made up, I went toward the base, killing some rattling skeletons on my way. Given my new level, and even though I had only my health bar increased and was yet to spend my skill and stat points, these opponents didn’t pose any serious danger.
It was starting to get dark, and the forest around was plunged into twilight, becoming gloomy and frightening. Somewhere in the distance, the wolves howled. Something rustled behind me. Turning around, I readied my sword and peered into the dark green haze. No one was there… It must've been my imagination.
Someone suddenly hit me on the top of the head, making me stumble and drop the sword. I somehow managed to stay on my feet, turn around and try to see my attacker. At that very moment, I felt someone wrap a thick rope around my legs. A warm, leather rope…
A thick snake wrapped itself around me, and I could not breathe. What the hell was a Boa-constrictor doing in a place like this?! I was so shocked that I forgot that I was in a foreign world, and that the standard climates weren't applicable here. The Boa-constrictor's “hug” grew tighter, and I was sorely lacking air.
I wanted to scream in pain, but couldn't. Remaining ribs cracked from the pressure of the snake's body, everything went dark, and then I fell into abyss…
I woke up in a damp cave filled with stones, and didn't immediately realize that I was in the bunker with the tombstones. Just like Semyon, I materialized in the ground, and instinctively broke through the thin layer of dirt which was separating me from the surface. The feeling was nasty and it made me vomit. Rather loud, apparently, because a familiar voice cheerfully said:
"Here is our scytheman!"
"I'm alive!" I shouted. "Let me out of here!"
Hell, I was absolutely naked. I completely forgot that resurrection had a side effect. As if that wasn't bad enough, all my belongings were back at the swamp. The memory of what happened made me shudder. The cop was right, this was nasty.
The door opened with a long creak. The bunker became a little brighter, and then a flashlight shone through the dark.
"Took you long enough," said the Major. "We thought you left us."
Someone giggled. Fox, probably. A silhouette appeared in the doorway — it was Andrei. He handed me some rags, explained that they were my new clothes, and even offered to put them on for me. Camo pants, a shirt and a sweater — shabby, but clean. As I was putting them on, I lamented that I would have to go and get my things, and hope that they didn't end up in the serpent's stomach. Coming out of the bunker, I was greeted by our entire squad. Everyone, in turn, looked at me, and I could read all shades of surprise and distrust on their faces.
"When did you reach level five?" Baldy asked me, squinting in disbelief.
"I led the skeletons to the swamp, and the local gnats ate them. Some of the experience ended up with me somehow," I lied as best as I could.
"The mosquitoes didn't bite you?" Petrovich wondered.
"Like hell they didn't!" I exclaimed with grievous intonation. "I barely escaped. I thought I was gonna stay there forever."
"So you escaped from the skeletons and the mosquitoes, and now have the highest level among the newcomers," Andrei said. "Well done, I'd say. You'll do good, Vasily."
I thanked our leader and, pretending to be embarrassed, looked away. I looked at Baldy who was probably not a believer in happy coincidences. Maybe I was overestimating him, though. He revealed himself as dangerous character, so I was probably being biased.
"Who killed you, anyway?" Alexander asked.
"What snake?" Andrei asked, in what I thought was a stifled voice.
"Boa-constrictor, level twenty-five," I explained. "Attacked and strangled me on my way back."
Someone exhaled and someone else swore furiously — the news of the giant snake left no one indifferent. Everyone started asking me for details; the newcomers were hungry for the juicy details, but the old-timers were listening very carefully and looking tense.
"Such a high level monster near the base… That's new," Suren spoke for the first time since my arrival. "Nothing harmless roams here at night, of course, but we have never met anything like that so close to the base."
"Olga still has to go find her stuff!" Fox cried fearfully. She was too dramatic sometimes. Interestingly enough, Baldy and Olga frowned along with me.
However, Fox was right; our business lady died, too, and so, since everyone was waiting for me, and no one went to get her things, she had quite a journey ahead.
"Me too," I said.
"Vasily is right," Alex agreed. "I hope you invested your points wisely."
"I increased my endurance. The mosquitoes would've killed me otherwise," I lied according to plan.
"Stupid," Suren commented. "You should have invested some into dexterity. Well, never mind… You'll learn over time."
"Are we going to get our stuff?" Olga asked a bit nervously.
The businesswoman had lost her spectacular outfit and was now wearing someone's rags, clearly male and three or even four sizes too big. She wasn't as attractive in someone else's clothes, but she still held herself with dignity.
"We will," Andrei nodded. "But the two of you cannot go alone. Suren and Igor will accompany you."
"Andrei, let me go, too," said Petrovich. "There is a level twenty-five creature out there..."
What was wrong with him? Only recently he ran away from level twelve skeletons, and now he was going to fight a snake twice as strong? I didn't doubt his noble thoughts; he was definitely worth keeping in mind.
"Fine," the leader agreed. "Go with them, Valentin Petrovich."
Andrei was the only one to call the lancer by his patronym.
"The dinner will be ready by the time you come back," said the skinny Dmitri.
"Happy to hear that," Olga remarked wistfully. "Hopefully I come back alive, and not through the bunker."
"Come on, let's not waste time," Baldy waved his hand and moved in the direction of the old cemetery.
Soon enough, we came to the place where I had been attacked by the giant boa. I was afraid that it had also eaten me. Fortunately, my twisted, broken body lay was right in the middle of the forest path.
"Lucky you," said Baldy as if reading my thoughts.
Trying to hide the disgust mixed with fright, I approached my own corpse, my legs stiff, and began undressing it awkwardly. After fifteen minutes or so, I finally took back my clothes and my simple sword.