“It's done, correct?"
“Yes, it worked flawlessly.”
“That’s assuring. Perhaps there’s light at the end of the tunnel, after all. You should get some rest. I’m sure that was draining, sir.”
“Nonsense. The marks are second nature to me. I’ll overlook the clocks. I suggest you watch over the perimeter until morning.”
- - - - -
I should be paralyzed with terror right now. I’m positive that every person walking the Earth would be. Yet... I couldn’t feel calmer. Was it the whispers of rain dancing on leaves, or something else?
“Hello,” I spoke softly to the sight above me. A giant towered over me, rusted chains dangling from his neck. His skin was pale green. From what I could see, his entire body was covered head to toe in a type of silver metallic armor. The only deviation from that trend was his amber eyes, and a light blue heart painted onto his helm. The name Berith rested inside its confines.
This guy could crush me at any moment. All he’d have to do is squeeze shut his hands, and I would be crushed like a piece of wet tissue paper.
But despite that... I feel protected in his hands. Almost as if he wouldn’t dare let any harm befall me.
Reaching up, I placed my hand on his helmet, murmuring, “Berith, is it?”
Nothing. He remained soundless and unmoving. I ran my hand along his and only became perplexed. He... feels wooden? Is he a statue? His body looks nothing of the sort.
“Berith, can you hear me?” I repeated, doubtful I would extract a response.
Still motionless. I guess he is a statue.
I crept to the edge of his massive hands and swung my legs over the edge. Before dropping, I turned to fulfill a fresh desire that was gnawing away at me.
“Thank you.” I gave him a radiant smile. I just had an urge to thank him for some reason. I’m not entirely sure why, but what’s done is done.
I leaped from my makeshift perch and nailed the ground... with my face. My legs weren’t prepared for the impact, so they gave out at the first sign of pressure, causing me to faceplant into the dirt.
“A-amazing start...” I winced as I pressed a hand to my nose. I can see it now, ‘hey, Ashe, how did your adventure start?’ Well, that’s simple, with a faceplant!
I spawned in a forest too? Maybe I should be counting my blessings instead. The ground could’ve been muddy. Okay, forget about your throbbing nose and focus on civilization right now.
I glanced around. Multi-colored fireflies controlled the air above. They encircled each other as if they were locked in a dance. One so entrancing the rain couldn’t begin to hope to dissuade them.
“Excuse me.” A soft masculine voice spoke up from behind me. “Are you alright?” And there are people here too? I was praying for solitude, so I could get a handle on this body.
“Just fine.” I whimpered as a bolt of pain decided to say hi to my nerves.
His eyes were curiously similar to mine in color. His gaze possessed a particular air, one that quieted my screaming nerves. His hair, that same black that reflected a bit of light. He was wearing a thick fur coat with a sword strapped to his back. A lantern full of fireflies hung from his belt, emitting a warm glow that cycled in tandem with the others. His pants, black, a color perfect for lurking in the nigh-wait. Is the color palette of his coat themed after a rabbit?
I despise him already.
Just calm down, Ashe. You can debate screaming at him to “burn that godforsaken coat!” later. You can use him for directions or some tips. Then you can pretend he doesn’t exist if he tries to party up with you. I’m deadset about soloing this. Hell, he could even be an NPC. An NPC with a fashion sense that needs to be excoriated by every living facet of humanity, but a fashion sense nonetheless.
“Are you sure?” He quired as he scratched his head, adjusting his sword strap. “Why are you in your undergarments if that’s the case?”
I glanced down and felt my face go hot at the sight of my black sports bra. Why am I in just my underwear?! I thought that was a placeholder! I barely fucking know this guy, and he finds me wandering around like this?!
Promptly covering my chest, I spat back, “I-I didn’t spawn with clothes! It’s not my fault!”
His eyes fell on my shoulder as he mouthed an, “oh.”
“What are you looking...” I trailed as my eyes took in the glowing crimson spectacle embedded into my upper arm. What is that thing? It looks like an ouroboros, but not an exact replica. It has some symbols inside it too. A crescent moon, a partially faded grey face, and a creature that looks strikingly similar to that giant.
Out of habit, I tapped the mark to see if an old feature was still present. Sure enough, a transparent box themed after my menu materialized.
Wayfarer’s Mark - Death and Rebirth. Stagnation and Progression. Infamy and Glory. All of this and more has been ascribed to the mark of the traveler. It grants its bearer the power to transcend death itself, to tread our mortal coil with impunity, to be reborn. Every sighting of it has been moments prior to an era of hardship. Just remember, it’s always darkest before the dawn.
“Ah,” he laughed as he offered me a hand. “You’re a wayfarer as well.”
With reluctance, I accepted his aid, asking, “wayfarer? What?”
He seemed surprised by the question but replied nevertheless. “A wayfarer is an individual who holds the ability to negate death.” They added a canon reason for why we respawn? I’m okay with that. It’s an excellent detail that most games overlook because it isn’t essential. I wonder if that means they’re shooting for a more lore-heavy approach this time.
“Right.” I nodded, following up with a more pertinent matter. “Do you know where a town is? And a way to make money?” I gestured to my body as an ice-cold gust blew by. “I need clothes. Badly.”
Smiling, he nodded as he gestured me after him, “I know of a place. Not much of a town, it seems, but I’m sure we can find something. May I inquire as to what your name is?” Who phrases that question like that? The mark has to extend to NPCs too because I refuse to accept that he’s a player.
“It’s Ashe,” I replied as I staggered after him. My body really needs to stop giving me issues with my legs. Look at the positives, Ashe. You walking, in general, is an improvement from five minutes ago. “And you?”
A spinning green diamond appeared over his head as the words left his lips. “Name, you say?” He placed a finger on his chin. “Call me... Jinn.” He cast me a smiling bow. “It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance. May our bond foster into something fruitful.” Please be an NPC. I refuse to live in a world with someone this into character. Yes, I know he has a player diamond, but I’m drowning in denial right now.
“Oh, before we proceed.” He eagerly added as he adjusted the light on his lantern. “May I ask who you align with? Not ideologically, rather your god.”
“Great question,” I shrugged. “The game said it was unavailable. I figured it was just locked.”
His eyes lit up as he reached into his pocket and withdrew a pastel purple flower coated in ice. “I have an offer. I would like for you to align with my god, Iolas. What say you?”
“Aligning? Shouldn’t I talk to the god about that, not you?” I shivered as a drop of frigid rain struck my back. “And can we hurry this up?” This better not get any worse.
“You get benefits akin to the elements the god specializes in.” He gave me a warm smile. “In this case, healing, illusory magic, and tinkering. As for why I’m offering? Iolas is unique in that he sends people to recruit followers for him. If you’ve no other questions, I await your decision.” He inched the flower closer, curiosity dancing behind his eyes.
A healing god, huh? That’s perfect, actually. Even if I don’t get any benefits in the illusion or tinkering department, the healing boost by itself is justification enough. It’d be foolish of me to pick anyone else.
He seemed to have anticipated my answer because he extended the flower as the word, “Deal,” left me. I reached toward it, him providing a nod of encouragement. I placed my hand against the flower’s frozen prison and was met with a sense of warmth. A feeling of warmth as calming and serene as when I awoke.
A voice, eerily comparable to my own, calmly whispered.
You’ve been granted opportunity. One to serve the tinkerer, to advise him in rebuilding like the times of old. Do you pledge your unwavering loyalty?
Before I said yes, I was overwhelmed by an urge. A fresh set of words formed in me and leaped from my mouth. As if I knew what to say.
“I do. May the repairs to the sixth stone stand unopposed.” I replied deadpan. I broke from my stupor as my warmth fled into the night. What was that? Why did I know what to say?
“Happy to have you.” Grinned Jinn as he stowed the flower, gesturing for me to follow. “I wouldn’t worry too much about those words. It’s merely a pledge, one said to lurk in the innermost depths of your psyche. Though, may I ask what deeds were requested of you?”
“I was told to advise him; however, you do that.” I’m not sure why a god would need advice from a high-school student, but I’ll roll with it.
“Time reveals many answers. Your alignment should take effect when you awake next.” He simpered, breaking into a blithe hum as he passed between a set of bushes. “Let’s find you some clothes, hm?”
- - - - -
“You hear that?” I stopped us with a hand held to my ear. I could’ve sworn I just heard someone shout.
“We should get going.” He continued on, signaling for me to follow. “The night grows, and no warmth is within reach.” Can he please stop that? At least the rain is staying at drizzle status. That's helping me cope with him... somewhat.
“Oh, wonderful! You’re on fire now! There go my plans for a makeshift Molotov cocktail!” A girl’s voice, saturated with annoyance, reverberated through the forest as an explosion went off.
“Someone needs help!” I called after Jinn as he sped up. “Where are you going?”
With reluctance in his step, he turned to face me, averting his gaze. “Our destination. What else?” What the fuck? He’s just gonna leave someone out here to fend for themselves?
“Aren’t you gonna help her? You have a weapon. It shouldn’t be a problem.” I asked as a few trees in the distance collapsed, throwing up a cloud of dust.
“I can only help so many people.” He suspired in frustration. “Preferably one at a time. I’m sure she’s more than competent in combat. Now let’s move on.”
“Hell no.” I stood my ground. “You can do your own thing. I’m going to help her!” I may be soloing this, but you can bet your ass that I’m not leaving people to die. I’m a healer for a reason. I help people when they need it. She’s a random anyway, so declining any potential party invites will be trivial.
“If you insist.” He sighed with an irritated smirk as he raised his hand in the air. “Before I depart, here’s a gift.” Slowly waving his hand around, a black cloud appeared, flowing off each of his fingertips. With almost inhumane speed, his arm lurched forward, seizing something in the air.
“Here. Use it well.” He bowed as he hurled a dagger into the dirt just beneath my feet, sticking it like a lawn dart. “I wish the best in your endeavors. That should ease your pains when it comes to moving. And thank you, by the way.” He shook his head in amusement as he lobbed a clump of teal grass at the blade.
Bending down, I plucked the obsidian dirk and grass from the ground as an infobox appeared over them.
Unknown Dagger: With a blade blacker than endless night and a miasma greener than molten envy, potency is undoubtedly contained within its strike. Usage: Temporary. Traits: Phantom Fear. Numbing Mist.
Crescent Moon Grass: Very mild anesthetic to keep one sated as they travel in search of a doctor. Alternatively, used to wean one off more potent substances.
“Thanks...” I trailed as I glanced up. He’s already gone? How can he do this already? He had a name, so NPC is out, but a player shouldn’t have access to this equipment. This looks top-tier. He could be one of the developers. I’ve never heard of them directly helping people, but that seems feasible.
And why was he thanking me? I didn’t do anything.
“I get that my weapon’s a stick and, by extension, is very flammable!” Another explosion followed by the girl’s whines. “But if you don’t think I’m afraid to hit you, you got another thing coming you dumbass fly!” I should get a move on.
Ideally, this grass should ease my pains. I downed it in a single gu-aw! Disgusting! Why does it taste like how paint thinner smells?! Ugh... is that mint too?
“Let’s hope this thing is good.” I threw a nod to my weapon as I charged toward the blaze, narrowly suppressing the urge to vomit. Note to developers: Change everything about that... thing’s taste.
I broke into a clearing laden in flame and felled trees, compounded with excessive scorch marks coating the area. The stench of smoldering plants and rainfall hung in the air. My target was easier to find than I anticipated. A blonde-haired girl stood in the clearing’s center, swinging a stick at an enlarged green dragonfly? That’s new.
“Would you stay,” she swung at the fly, it dodging with a surprising amount of agility. “Still!” I’ll give her credit. She actually found clothes, so she’s doing much better than me.
She noticed me during her recovery, an excited grin overtaking her face. “Yay! Backup! Can you help hit this until it di-” The fly unleashed a puff of fire, narrowly missing her. “Oh, would you just kill me or let me kill you!? We’ve been doing this shit for fifteen minutes.” She scowled. Although at this rate, her blue robes may not live to see the sun.
With speed dwarfing the girl’s, the fly did a few laps around her, beating its wings with such intensity that it whipped out gusts of wind. Can it understand her?
“Ugh!” She groaned in frustration. “Magnus is almost worse than fucking Latria! How is it possible to be worse than a goddamn swamp?!” The creature seemed to be paying me no mind. Is it actually fucking with her? Is it wrong that I find that a bit funny?
“On my way...” I trailed as disbelief shot the remainder of my words down.
Keeping my guard up, I slowly made my way to her as the dragonfly confirmed my suspicions. It looked me up and down with boredom as it turned back to her, charging past her with a trail of fire following it. It’s enjoying this.
“You get the back. Wait for an opening.” She growled, tightening her grip on her partially scorched stick. “I’ll take the front. I want that thing on my wall.”
Before I could check to see if I could heal her burns, she charged at the thing with no concern for the fire. She winced when her bare feet made contact with it, but that was all.
She bolted straight for the creature, delivering strike after strike, each one being evaded with ease.
It let out a noise, one I could only assume was laughter.
Returning it in kind, she went straight for the fly’s fiery abdomen, only for it to elude her as she ducked under its wings with a grin.
“Oh, that wasn’t the strike, pal!” She called out with blazing indignation as she pivoted off her heel. “This is!” She laughed as she bolted straight for a tree with a speed she lacked moments ago.
She leaped onto its bark and darted straight up, capturing our foe’s full attention.
Seizing the moment, I rushed him with an intent to kill. Out of the corner of my eye, she reached the tree’s peak and started jumping branches.
With a spin of my blade, I slid under him and jumped up, aiming straight for the center.
“I got this.” I grinned as his realization set in. The despair and indignation in his eyes weren’t enough to discourage my blade’s sharpened tongue.
“I missed?” I cursed internally as he threw himself out of the way. Does he have some evasion skills?
I kept my eyes on him, prepared to take my next opening when he fell? He was trying to swing back around, but his wing seized up, causing him to eat dirt. Did I hit him after all?
The girl dropped from the trees, dusting herself off as she maliciously smiled at a now thoroughly pissed off enemy. He was thrashing around on the ground, kicking up a dust cloud as he tried to get his other wing to cooperate.
“I don’t know what’s in that knife, but it’s badass.” She nodded, brandishing a sizeable stone.
Wait, the trait. It said something about numbing mist. That must be what the smoke trail does. I wonder wh-
My thoughts were torn to shreds as my blade answered my question for me. With an explosion of black, four trails shot out in every direction, wrapping around the various trees and flame in their path. Every single one eventually ended up pointed at the fly, stopping just short of our target’s eyes. They encircled him as they quivered as if daring him to make their day.
The blonde snatched her moment as she rushed him, nailing him with the rock before following through with a dropkick to the face causing him to evaporate into green mist.
“Take that you piece of shit!” She boasted as she flipped him off. “Woo!” She jumped for joy as she redirected her attention to me via a smile so bright it was almost contagious. “That knife is amazing.”
“Yeah...” I nodded in incredulity as the blade dissipated to nothing, its mist being swept off in the wind. Jesus tap-dancing Christ that thing was something else. Assuming Jinn’s not a developer, I need to find out how he got that.
Yet another box popped up.
After Action Report:
Role Fulfillment: A
Damage Incurred: 0
Experience: 73 (73/100)
Information Attained -
Enemies: Dragonfly - Incredible agility and damage over time abilities. Very poor perception. Meager hit points. Often becomes transfixed with a single target.
Numbing Mist - A thick vapor used as an anesthetic for medical procedures. Not to imply it has no merit in the jaws of combat. Note: Effectiveness is based both on the target's resistances and their size.
Phantom Fear - Used strictly to deceive or unnerve a foe. Four false blades erupt from the source, centering in on the weakest enemy target.
“Thanks for the help.” The girl called out as she licked her thumb and started battling with a scorch mark staining her cheek.
“No prob...” I stopped myself when I noticed it. Sea green eyes, blonde hair?
“We worked well together.” She beamed as she offered me a handshake. “The name’s Jordan, by the way, you?”