The redhead woman's name is Ruby, or at least that's what she claims. The way she tells me makes me think it might be fake. There is a weird look on her face as she tells it to me. She doesn't tell me her master's name, nor does she tell me what will happen to me.
My suspicion is that it's because it's more fun this way.
Look, I understand it. I do. I would find it funny too if I were in her position. I would totally enjoy it.
But damn, it's annoying when it's happening to me.
"First floor, second floor, system," I say as I walk by her side, but she doesn't react at all. It's as if I didn't say anything or she didn't hear me.
Well, it seems like the system is good at censoring. It's not just based on censoring words, but also my intentions? It's probably as I thought back then. The system can read my mind.
Ruby doesn't even ask me where I came from, nor has anyone done that since we entered the second floor. Isn't that something people would be at least a little bit curious about? It's a whole different world.
Are they even human, or just something like NPCs?
If they are NPCs, they are done amazingly well. I've been here for a few days, and up until now, everyone has acted like a real human being.
Yet, I did gain experience for killing Emeric.
[You have defeated Windblade Duelist - lvl 101]
[Lvl 24 > Lvl 27]
[Mana Manipulation - Lvl 10 > Mana Manipulation - Lvl 11]
"Hey, I'm asking you something."
"Oh, I'm sorry." I refocus on Ruby.
"So, what happened to your hair? Your face is quite handsome, and you have pretty eyes; you just need to do something about your expression. But your choice of haircuts is terrible."
"It's Emeric's doing."
Hmm, maybe I should try playing on her sympathies? Slowly become the underdog in her eyes?
"Oh, is that another reason why you killed him?" she smiles.
"Not really..." I try to continue and explain, but she changes the subject.
"What happened to your arm?" She moves closer and pokes the empty sleeve of my shirt. Her eyes are big and yellowish. Only now do I notice a pattern in her irises.
What is it?
"Answer my question." She moves even closer, and I can smell her perfume as she stares into my eyes.
She doesn't look more than twenty years old, and I just now notice that she is quite pretty.
I force a smile on my face, just a small one—enough to make my face look slightly friendlier.
"No," I say curtly in what I see as a bickering tone.
Let's try to become friendly with her.
Her eyes fill with surprise, and her smile changes from playful to dangerous.
Immediately I rush mana through my body and activate [Kinetic Redistribution] with both parts of my [Focus].
Then I feel pain in my chest, immediately followed by a sting in my jaw, and fall to my knees with my head spinning and barely maintaining consciousness.
Ruby looks down at me, still smiling.
Her hand turns into a blurry line, and I feel a hit on the side of my head. The world goes black.
Yes, it's my fault.
I miscalculated. I did something so foolish that even I am amazed by my own stupidity.
She seemed so playful, so easygoing. I thought I could start bickering with her as well, to become friendlier. To put her at ease and gain more information. Maybe even become friendly enough for her to take pity on me or hesitate when putting me in danger.
How was it? The risk was calculated, but damn, I'm bad at math. Exactly that.
Also, what the hell is with me getting knocked unconscious by all these jerks? I start to have a suspicion that it might be all my fault.
There's a massive blue bruise covering what seems like half of my chest, and I still have trouble chewing.
At least she was kind enough not to kill me, I guess.
The room I'm in is slightly bigger than the one I had in Emeric's mansion and is quite similar overall. Not bad, but nothing to talk about.
I was already informed that Lady Ruby would be calling for me in about an hour, so I spend it changing into my new clothes and practicing.
The material of the clothes is better than the ones I had before, and they even feel more comfortable on me.
It's a light brown shirt with long sleeves. One of the sleeves, obviously, just hangs along my body. The pants are black and nicely fitting. The shoes are simple—terribly uncomfortable compared to the ones from Earth and somehow even compared to walking around barefoot.
But what can I do?
I continue to move the mana inside my body. One part of my mind focuses on moving mana through my Mana Circuit and testing out Mana Flow. Another part continues to watch my heart.
I still have no idea what that person did to my heart, and it's frustrating.
However long I watch, I don't see anything suspicious, nor can I feel anything left behind.
The only foreign thing in my body is Sophie's construct, the one I can now destroy any time I want. Either by starving it out by letting one part of my focus cut it off and continue doing so for days or by using [Disruption].
For now, I continue to observe, trying to learn how to create something similar. I keep sending mana at it and watch it suck it off and power itself.
Oh boy, I hope I'm not strengthening it too much and digging a hole for myself.
Is this what you would call playing with fire?
Okay, let's be more careful.
I let one part of my [Focus] create a bubble around it and not let any of my mana pass through to it. That should slowly starve it out, but when I see it's about to "die," I can feed it a bit of mana so I can observe it longer.
In the worst case, I will go all in with [Disruption] boosted by [Mana Surge]. That should do it!
It's annoying to lose one part of my [Focus] for this, as I just acquired it, but I'd rather be careful.
And so what? I survived with one [Focus] up until now. I can do it a bit longer!
If someone doesn't kill me because of the look in my eyes, because I lied to them, or because I tried to make a joke.
The young redhead is sitting in a comfortable-looking armchair, watching me as I enter with her yellowish eyes.
The patterns she has in them make me curious, but I don't dare to examine them too deeply.
"On your knees," she says shortly, and I do as she says.
Unlike when Emeric ordered me to do so, she doesn't come off as ill-intentioned. Her demeanor feels more playful, yet serious. The best comparison I can draw is to a mom hitting her child's bottom when the child does something dangerous or foolish.
A smile slowly appears on her face.
"Now, I will tell you one thing," she pauses and pokes me with her heel a few times before pulling her leg back.
"Do not pretend anything while talking to me. You are free to act as grumpy as you want; you also don't have to talk until I tell you to do so. You can roll your eyes, sigh, complain, and ask as much as you want."
She stands up and squats in front of me, our eyes on a similar level.
"But do not dare to try to fake anything with me," she pokes my cheek with her finger, "Do you understand?"
"Good," she says playfully and stands up, sitting back in her armchair.
"Now, do you want to say anything?"
"What's with your eyes?"
"You said I can act in a way that is honest to myself and ask if I want to, so what's with your eyes? The color is unusual, and there's a weird pattern in them. They don't seem too natural."
"You talk quite a lot when you want to."
"I don´t like small talk and I dislike talking to more than one person at once or having multiple people around me. It's more comfortable this way."
"Ah, so you're like that," her eyes look at me as if examining me again, "Master is similar in this way." She crosses her legs and looks at me, as I'm still kneeling. "And back to my eyes, it's a secret," she winks.
That's a bummer.
Before I get a chance to ask anything else, she asks first.
"Your name is Nathaniel, right? Level 24 or a bit higher now, 7 or 8 gifts, and with a lot of points in mana," she pauses, "I think it's kind of dumb, but you do you, though. Can I call you Nat?"
"I would prefer if you didn't."
"Okay, so Nat it is."
I am not even surprised at this point.
"Why are you treating me like this and telling me to stay true to myself? You're stronger than me. I'm way below you."
"Hmm? It's more fun that way. And I hate fake people. Someone acting like an asshole is better than an asshole pretending to be nice."
Oh, I can understand that, but did I just get indirectly dissed?
"Can I get 92 gold from you, the ones you stole from your master?"
"Can I tell your master that you're scamming her?
"Yes," her smile is bright and cheeky, and I feel shivers down my back.
Okay, totally let's not do that.
"What is your level?"
"Hey! That's quite rude!"
"I was told I'm an asshole."
She nods seriously but her eyes are smiling, "Not telling," she pauses, "now it's my turn. Why did you put so many points in mana?"
"Mana fascinates me."
She nods again, as though she understands.
"What did you do to make Emeric hate you?"
"He said he doesn't like the look in my eyes."
That makes her laugh out loud, and she covers her mouth with her hand while doing so. She seems like a child to me - a child with immense power. Playful, enjoying the little things. Still, I'm not sure if it's only a mask she put on.
"I can totally understand that. Your eyes are pretty, but you are... how to say it? There's something about your look that amuses and pisses me off at the same time," she gestures wildly as if trying to explain, "For someone weaker than you, you must seem scary and unapproachable. For your equal, you might look reliable and a bit emotionless, and for people that are stronger than you, it must look like you're looking down at them. Watching their steps and waiting for the right opportunity to step over them. As if they are just a footstep in your way and your goals are much bigger, even though they are currently so much stronger than you."
She pokes my chest.
“It's pretty funny and annoying at the same time, which makes it a blast to watch. People like you either get so strong nobody wants to mess with them, or they screw up so epically, so massively, that the gods will poop lightning and fart thunder while laughing their heads off.”