“I’m afraid,” Perovich said in a dry voice. I was certain that there was nothing but truth in his words. After a little while, he continued, his voice shaking. “Just look at all the weird stuff that’s going on around here. Merchants going missing, tests devised by Gods, Reapers roaming about... There are so many things that we just can’t understand. And there... Beyond the Distant Forest, there are ordinary people, strong without a doubt, but humans still… They’ll never have the power over us like the people that we can meet here.”
I remained silent, having decided to let him get his shit together and speak what was on his mind.
“I know that one can become stronger here, but is it worth it?” he asked. There was a faint gleam in his eyes. Or was it the reflection of the setting sun?
“In big cities out there, people become Zombies for a living, but they are guaranteed to live. We are not… In all honesty, I wanted to get real strength. I even dreamed of building my own city, but fate has been unkind to me. Maybe I should just stop trying…”
He looked at me as if I had to give him an answer. Where did such faith in me come from?
Maybe I should’ve suggested him to join the Light, too? That could’ve been fun. But to be perfectly honest, I needed a broken lancer even less than a scheming one.
“Accept the Geas,” I said, activating the ability. “Is what you’ve just told me true?”
“Yes,” Petrovich answered, and I sensed that he really wasn’t lying. “What’s your name?”
“Vasily Kotov.” My voice was calm. Circumstances being as they were, he didn’t risk asking something unnecessary, just as I had expected.
“You know,” I said, stretching my arms, “I watched this TV show once. And when one of the characters started feeling antsy before an important battle, another one came up to him... You know what he said?”
“No…” Petrovich was clearly taken aback by the abrupt change of the topic.
“He told him: PULL IT TOGETHER, VAL!” Without waiting for a response, I hit him right in the jaw. He reeled back and fell. Neither the Law nor his high endurance helped him — the fact that I was doing this for his own good had probably blocked them.
Petrovich sat on the ground, shaking his head. I crouched in front of him.
“No offense, but you needed that. Now, get your shit together! I’ll support your ban on splitting the detachment, but before you ask about the campaign to the Distant Forest, wait another three days. And remember, you still owe me!”
I left the mute Petrovich on the ground, and headed toward the swamp. I should’ve gone there a long time ago, but these political games took forever... I needed more time — what happened with Pierre should never happen again.
I had screwed up trying to find strategies and testing new abilities for the first time during battles. I needed ready-to-use tactics against any type and number of opponent. This was the only right way to achieve this. I had to be prepared.
To achieve this, I was ready to work and train hard. More importantly, I had gotten three extra days — time being the resource that I lacked the most — to increase Deception to advanced level two. Until recently, I was only getting seventy-four points of Deception a day, but smuggling Pierre into the squad helped me a lot and even earned me an achievement.
Almost the Best
All but one member of the squad recognize you as the strongest fighter.
You will receive 50 Deception points per day
I could understand that Maya with her mind-breaking talents believed herself better than everyone else — perhaps that was for the best — but still, it hurt. Something was telling me that if she also thought so, the number of points would’ve been much higher.
On the other hand, it was nice to know that the Chaosites, the Darks, and even Petrovich believed that they couldn’t defeat me. Given that the achievement appeared only after the second fight with the shooters, they must’ve believed they had a chance against me before that. Sure, none of them would ever admit this, but it still made it easier to build a relationship between us... For me, at least.
Aside of that one, I had gotten another achievement. It was a nice surprise seeing that cutting Pierre’s head off had such a positive outcome. I simply didn’t want Petrovich and him to fight and spoil my victory. But in the end, things turned out well for me.
Avatar of Light
Some people think that you can break the Law.
You will receive 150 Deception points per day.
No one seemed to have noticed that even though the members of the Council had given their consent to let Pierre into the squad, I had cut off his head before he said yes and received the protection of the Law. This might not seem like anything special, but everyone was really impressed and I certainly wasn’t about to make anyone change their mind. Not to mention that listening to gossip about myself was fun. The newcomers, of course, still tried to keep to themselves, but even they would follow me with their gaze and whisper whenever I’d pass by.
Pierre had kept his word and brought me Skillbooks with melee skills. To be honest, I thought that he’d change his mind, but he didn’t. When I returned to the settlement, his name and the names of all of his men had already been written on the Scroll together with names of all other members. It seemed that he had no doubt about our intentions, despite his head having been cut off.
I had also not forgotten that one of his men was a follower of a dead God. I doubted that Maya had lied to me then. Unfortunately, I found nothing interesting or suspicious in their statuses. Everyone except Pierre had a level one Mark of the Abyss, and nothing more. My current guess was that that guy might’ve decided to leave their squad when Pierre suggested that they join us. Perhaps it was even Pierre himself... This would also explain his willingness to leave the competition arranged by their Goddess, but the former seemed more likely to me.
Anyway, I didn’t see the point in paying too much attention to this issue at the moment: there wasn’t enough time, so I had to prioritize. Right now, it was time to deal with my gifts.
Although Pierre had brought Skillbooks, they weren’t exactly what I had expected.
Deals 10 blows, each of which saturates the opponent’s blood with energy that can then be exploded, causing huge damage.
Creates a charge when attacking.
Charge duration: 30 seconds
Damage upon activation of 10 charges: 500% of the last attack
If I had concentrated on raising dexterity and chosen to focus on combo-development, this ability would’ve been an amazing addition to my arsenal. It was unlikely that anyone could survive ten consecutive blows, each thirty percent stronger than the last due to Double Rage and Bloody Prick’s effects. But I had not done so, and I now had to look for ways to counter that. I had only one idea so far, but, unfortunately, I couldn’t use Arcobaleno that often. And as for me mastering this skill myself, I doubted that I’d be able to land the right number of blows in the thirty seconds that I had at my disposal. Of course, I was going to try it, but I had much more faith in Pierre’s second gift.
This blow can be activated only by a backstab.
Increases attack power by 250%.
Cooldown: 10 seconds
At first glance, it was another skill for those who had invested all of their points into dexterity. It wouldn’t be that easy for me to backstab an enemy of the same level as me. But it wasn’t impossible, just difficult. Also the name of the skill was misleading. I thought that it could be activated by any attack as long as the target was stunned. By using endurance, for example.
Walking through the forest, I had a feeling like all of the creatures had disappeared, or had hid somewhere — I had hoped that I’d meet at least a Skeleton to test my theory on.
Having figured out that I was unlikely to meet anyone on my way, I summoned Bruce and took the opportunity to study him in detail. He looked like the most ordinary bat, but I knew better. The last time I examined Cyril’s Fox it was level three. The funny thing was that even Cyril himself couldn’t see the stats of his Fox and had to rely on his intuition. His Totem increased its owner’s dexterity by six points — two points per level — and if the Fox climbed the person’s shoulder, the effect was twice as strong.
The Fox could prove useful in the future, especially since it still had several undiscovered abilities, but Bruce seemed much more complicated. His telepathy, with which he could send me pictures every ten seconds, had been very helpful so far. His ability to detect invisible barriers and hidden enemies was also really handy. However, I knew perfectly well that just knowing where your enemy is wouldn’t always be enough to win. I had hoped that my Totem would get something new at level five, which I could then use to strengthen its abilities, but Bruce was already level seven, and nothing had changed so far. So now I was waiting for him to reach level ten, hoping that his development was similar to my Deception, and that he’d get something knew once he reaches higher levels.
Deep in my thoughts, I didn’t notice when I made a slight detour and ended up on the very path Innokenty and I had taken when we had been planning to negotiate with Igor’s squad.
With a sudden rush of sadness, I remembered that none of those guys were in our squad anymore… And then I saw it — my good old chap. The beast had grown a bit, but forgetting it was damn near impossible.
I already knew that ordinary attacks were useless against it, and that its fangs cast Freeze. All in all, it wasn’t anything too bad. Summoning Stone Vine, I threw my body up, letting the monster run between my legs. The Boar looked taken aback, and I launched a series of fireballs at it, immediately restoring HP spent on spellcasting with healing. I didn’t have enough skill points, and for now, I had to settle for the weakest version of Cure. I was going to level-up and invest into it, otherwise I’d always be low on HP due to my new fighting strategy and the high cost of the spell. Right now, I had to spend as much time on healing as I did on dealing damage if I wanted to stay at full HP. And under the effect of Arcobaleno, when every second was precious, this was simply unacceptable.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, the Boar seemed to have not only grown in levels. As soon as my fireballs lowered its HP by ten percent, its skin immediately became covered with frost, and the damage I was dealing suddenly decreased. And then, having realized that my tentacle legs were too fast, the beast stopped and breathed a frosty cloud at me. My frozen Stone Vines broke, and the entire right part of my body became frostbitten. I was lucky that freezing had no immediate effects, and that I managed to melt the ice that started to cover me with fire.
The Boar wasn’t a legendary class monster for nothing, that was for sure. It was unlikely that it would an easy fight, but I definitely didn’t intend to retreat. It’d be embarrassing to do so for the second time. The beast could get to me and its attacks did hurt, but I had Cure and the desire to win, and that was enough.
All those thoughts caused a smile to appear on my face. Oh, my furry friend, you don’t stand a chance.
Ten minutes later, a burned carcass lay in front of me.
You have defeated the Wild Boar.
You have reached level 35.
As I approached the carcass to loot it, the creature’s body trembled and dissolved into thin air, leaving only a part of its skull behind. It was strange seeing everything except a little piece of bone become transparent and disappear — I had never seen anything like it before. Is this a feature of legendary beasts?
Do you want to use a part of the Wild Boar as the first fragment of your Mask?
I declined the offer without a moment’s hesitation. One shouldn’t hurry with such things, and a level fifteen Boar didn’t seem the most appropriate choice for my very first fragment. I was sure that such things like levels mattered. But even though I had declined the offer, the thought that I was one step closer to understanding one of the biggest mysteries of this world chilled me to my very core.