"How long until they... disappear?" Olga asked.
"In a couple of hours," Baldy replied. "The bodies dissolve without a trace, but the clothes and items remain."
"How did you manage to annoy the snake so much that it killed you but didn't eat you?" Suren tried to crack a joke.
"I don't know," I shrugged. "Maybe it's got a nest or something…"
"Oh God!" Olga exclaimed.
"What happened?!" Suren asked sharply, turning to her.
"Ew! Damn!" cursed the business lady. "A snake's nest is disgusting!"
"Don't yell, okay?" Baldy scolded her. "I thought that someone was attacking us. You know, when I lived in Central Asia, they used to crawl into our house. So I took them, you know, with my bare hands and threw them out onto the street."
"Okay," Olga nodded. "I never liked them, though, been afraid of them since I was a little girl."
"Let's find your clothes," Baldy suddenly relented and patted Olga's back.
We got to the cemetery without issues, except for a couple of skeletons, which our escort made quick work of. Taking Olga's stuff, we turned around and headed back to the base.
There was, as Dmitri promised, a dinner waiting for us. While we were training, Andrei and Suren got some greasy meat and made a rich soup. It smelled like ass, but we had no other option. We hadn't eaten the entire day.
“So, the first watch to go out tonight: Valentin Petrovich, as an old-timer, and as for the newcomers,” Andrei paused and looked at everyone present, “Vasily and Mikhail.”
Too bad, I thought sadly. To be honest, I planned to get some sleep, preferably without any philosophical conversations with my roommates. But today was not the day for rest.
"Is guarding really necessary?" wailed the Major. "What can attack us? Snakes?"
"Anything and anyone," answered Suren instead of Andrei, "if not snakes, then wolves — we've had that happen already."
"May I join the watch, too?" Fox suddenly asked. Why couldn't she keep still?
"Don't worry, Lera, my dear," Igor chuckled, "your turn will come."
"It won't be necessary today," said Andrei, ignoring Baldy's remark. "You will join the watch gradually, especially since there are new monsters. I want experienced fighters covering the most dangerous shifts. If things calm down, I'll take you with me tomorrow and show you around."
"I'm in," Fox nodded. The ex-cop shuddered, probably imagining what he would do while alone with a girl at night in a world where no laws existed. Okay, maybe I was too judgmental about him, but there was something repulsive about this man. Or was I just imagining it?
"You should get some rest," Suren said and then shouted loudly, "eat up and lights out!"
Even though I didn't want to be on watch so soon, I had to be patient. Hopefully, nothing will attack the base during my duty. On the other hand, I could level-up if that happened. If I don't die, that is.
"Change every two hours," Petrovich instructed. "One sleeps while the other two guard. Usually we are on duty in pairs, but I have to keep an eye on you rookies at first. That's why we have a bolstered watch today.
"Who sleeps first?" the Major asked, hoping that it'd be him.
"Vasily," Petrovich answered. "He'll be taking over in two hours. I'm going to stay up with both of you."
The Major sighed, but made peace with his fate. I lay down on a rag at the entrance to the cave and covered myself with a wool blanket. l failed to fall sleep, however.
I had almost dozed off when a quiet voice broke the silence.
"Hope you're not upset that I made you stay up first," Petrovich whispered. "Apparently, you're the sanest among the newbies, so I wanted to talk."
The beginning was promising…
"I used to have my own sausage factory before I got here. The rest of the group is the usual trash. But you know life, I can see that," I could barely see in the dark, but I was ready to bet that the Major puffed his chest up, delighted. "After all, what are they? A cop, a mover, and two gals thinking whom to accost. The rest only think about survival. Are we just gonna sit here for a week, a month, a year? I can't clean this up alone. I need an assistant, a right hand."
How subtle the epithets, how subtle the hints. Petrovich took the Major a little to the aside — I heard their steps — so the following was barely audible.
"Andrei's a wuss... The gals will follow the strongest... Igor should be watched, he is up to something..." Interesting, but what place was given to me in this futuristic society, and what was Petrovich's plan to seize power? Revolution or fair democratic elections?
"So, you went with Vasily and Olga to protect them from Igor?" They were heading my way again, and I could finally hear the whole conversation.
"Of course! Something could just snap his head and he'd waste you," his voice sounded ominous. Or at least he thought it did. You were a bad actor, Valentin Petrovich.
"We can always just resurrect," even the Major was not inspired.
"There is a way around it, you know? You could, say, cut off their legs. They'd be unable to walk, but they wouldn't die immediately. While they are bleeding, all you have to do is to return to the bunker and break their tombstones. It will be too late by the time someone notices."
Even I felt a shiver run down my spine. I imagined everything so vividly that the chill of death, that had almost disappeared after my resurrection, returned and paralyzed my body. If something like this happened to me, I'd finish myself off and give this psychopath quite the welcome. Something told me that no one in the detachment would be happy to learn about this. Having decided what to do if such a thing were to happen to me, I felt a bit more at ease.
"Suren was with them as well," Mikhail, unlike me, was not as shaken. I didn't know was it because he hadn't gone with us then, or because he just had poor imagination.
"You think he could stop him?"
"His level is twice as high, right?" Mikhail said. I thought about it as well. "That wouldn't help against Igor. Can you guess why he is only level five? He does not level-up on purpose. He says it's easier to raise his attributes with exercises. Everyone tried, and no one but him had the results. Andrei asked us to stay away from him, but I think Igor has some kind of an artifact that enables him to do that." Petrovich went on, saying what great things he could do if he had such a treasure. I felt confused. On one hand, he was conspiring, on the other, he seemed to be trying to protect us from the killer with an artifact. Who was he? An egotistic and idealistic loser?
"Hey, Vasily, get up!" Lost in my thoughts, I didn't notice them coming up to me. "It's your turn."
"Mike," the old man's voice was low. The Major stood up and carefully listened Petrovich carefully as if they had made an agreement, "Go straight to your room and get some sleep. No point in you sitting here, we'll keep watch, and wait for the second shift."
Mikhail immediately slipped away, happy and cheerful. Lucky bastard, this distribution of labor allowed him to rest more. I still had two hours to play a vigilant guard — fortunately, Petrovich was silent. He, apparently, considered me unworthy of recruiting.
With nothing better to do, I practiced opening and closing my ''inventory''. As I did so, it dawned on me that I forgot to pick up the spellbook and the shoulder stripes from my corpse. But they were still available; as it turned out, when you died the things from your ''inventory'' stayed with you. It would be wise to keep everything valuable in it. I put the grass from the shadow world in it, but couldn't put the stone in. Fine. What if I took out a shoulder strap? As soon as a slot opened up, the stone disappeared from my hands. So I had three slots now. No, wait, I also had a sword. Four slots, then. Was I missing something? I pulled out the rusty piece of iron and squeezed it in my hand.
"Stop making noise! Did you see something? What's that?" My actions made Petrovich look around anxiously.
"A shoulder stripe, I picked it up from one of the skeletons," I tried to take a closer look at it.
"Where did you hide it?" Why was he asking? I had strange feeling as if something strange was happening. I decided that it'd be better to give him one piece of information at a time. If I'm lucky, the old man will come to a conclusion on his own, filling the gaps to suit his worldview.
"In my pocket," I said, my voice calm.
Look out, Vasily.
"Oh. Right." What had he gotten right, I wondered. Come on, don't keep silent. Petrovich continued, ''Suren told me you left your sword with the snake. Remember, if you see no way out, put the weapon in your ''inventory''. It's the most precious thing we have. As for the armor — we have a warehouse full of those."
I nodded and tried to gather my thoughts, and digest the newfound information. Everyone seemed to have only one slot, while I had four. There was only one explanation for that: my intelligence. Also, there was some kind of storage in the base. It would be nice to take a better look at it.
"Petrovich," I started talking. It felt like an hour had passed since the beginning of the shift, "could you tell me what was going on here before we came?
"We'll tell you when the time comes. And it will come soon," said a new voice. Suren? How did he sneak up like that? Has it really been two hours? I haven't noticed.
"He's right," Petrovich yawned. "Go sleep."
I can't say that I understood why we were sitting there. The place had no special view. But it was too early to go against traditions. Not to mention that I very much wanted to take a nap.
As soon as I crawled into my bed, my eyes closed.
Before I knew it, it was morning.
"Vasily!" An echo bounced against the walls of our covert. "Come here, we have a surprise for you!"
I never liked morning surprises, especially when they were reported in a voice like Suren's.
"I'll wash up and come!" May be that would buy me some time and a chance to find out what was going on.
"Later!" I could not realize who the voice belonged to. Dmitri?
I went out, squinting at the morning sun shining straight into my eyes, hardly moving my legs, and strolled toward the source of the noise. There was another cave and a small forge on the side of the cliff.
"Here you go!" Why was Dmitri giving me a stick with a sharp strip of steel attached to its end? ''It took me a while, but I finally made it. A real war scythe! I checked its properties and all. It's the real deal! You can level-up now. Alexander told me how you struggled at the cemetery, so I decided to help.''
It's true what they say, the road to hell really is paved with good intentions. How was I supposed to show my skills? Now I couldn't say that this was the wrong scythe. It had all the characteristics. I didn't want to lie. No one would believe me if I did.
"Swish!" I twisted my mouth and made a swishing sound, faking a hit. Maybe I should turn around and run?
"Stop fooling around!" Suren got angry. "The man spent the entire morning trying to forge the goddamn scythe, and you're making faces. Try it on a mannequin."
I had to demonstrate the skill supposedly received from my God on the giant wooden doll. I knew that there wouldn't be any light effects but I had no choice. I hit, mentally activating the curse, directing at the spot where the blade touched the dummy. It kinda looked like a skill. But what did the audience think?
"How's that?" Dmitri turned to Suren. He, it seemed, was an expert in martial arts.
"Activation and impact are slow… There's no additional damage, but there's a weakness effect," he smacked his lips, looking pleased. "This is rare, but perfect for teamwork. Get him some stronger armor to put on. He'll make a perfect knight with his raised endurance and this attack! Get him to level ten and we could even go hunting deep in the forest."
Sadly, it seemed that they would keep an eye on me in the near future. I will have to postpone my plans. However, I was happy that I haven't been exposed. Also, three hundred points were added to my deception experience bar.
Thank you for reading!
This book will be coming on Kindle on September 2.