Hadjar was dreaming. He saw a stone inside a cave untouched by the rays of the sun. The cave was within a distant mountain that was shrouded in a dense fog. The stone stood in the middle of pitch-black water. There were symbols on the stone that had been carved out by sword strikes. Seeing these symbols, Hadjar’s heart sank.
He felt like they were going to cut him if he looked at them any longer.
He averted his gaze and immediately cried out in horror when he saw a blade that could take his life merely by being in the same room as him.
Hadjar awoke abruptly, taking a half-sitting position. The barely distinguishable images were still flickering in his head.
The cave. The stone. The sword.
Hadjar shook his head in an attempt to ward off the delusion. He even slapped himself on the forehead. However, this only resulted in him feeling an unpleasant stinging sensation.
“What the hell…” Hadjar couldn’t believe his own eyes.
He was staring at his hands, marveling at how they’d changed compared to what he’d grown used to over the past decade. There weren’t any scabs, nor were there any abscesses or gray scars—only clean, healthy, dark skin that was covered in short, black hair.
He then tossed his blanket aside. He didn’t spare a thought about how it had even appeared there in the first place.
With tears in his eyes, Hadjar wiggled his toes. The man now had strong, long legs. He bent his knees and, laughing while he cried, fell back on the bed.
He spent nearly a quarter of an hour laughing hysterically. The laughter only died down toward the end of it, leaving him sobbing quietly.
“South Wind,” Hadjar said in a low whisper.
His teacher had given his life in order to help Hadjar be reborn. He’d done so selflessly, doing everything he could to help, expecting no reward.
Another name was now on Hadjar’s long list. Correction, a nameless face. Regardless, it was as high up on the list as Primus’ own.
One day, the General’s son would pay for his transgressions.
Hadjar would make sure that the Scholar could rest in peace.
Sighing, Hadjar got up.
That’s when he realized that he was in a wooden hut. There was a bed against the wall of the small room he was in. The reborn Prince got up.
Other than the bed, there was a homemade nightstand and a window made from a dried animal gallbladder. The house looked rather shabby, because, in normal towns and cities, people could afford glass.
Hadjar tried to take a step toward the door, but immediately fell down, gripping his knees tightly.
“Idiot,” the young man rebuked himself.
Sure, he had his legs again. However, for the last ten years, he’d been walking around on wooden sticks and was now suddenly much taller than he’d been before.
He would likely have to learn how to walk again.
At that moment, the door opened. More precisely, somebody tried to open it, hitting Hadjar on the head in the process.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” a warm voice said. It was like honey in his ears. “Why did you get out of bed?”
A girl entered the room.
Hadjar mentally rolled his eyes.
Was it his fate to always have women nursing him? Or did someone in the sky gets confused and, noticing that Hadjar was generally unlucky, had decided to give him some good fortune for a change?
“I’ll call my grandfather,” the cute girl cooed and ran off down the corridor.
“Well, that was unexpected,” Hadjar whistled while trying to get up.
He only managed to sit up and then lean his back against the wooden wall.
“Status,” Hadjar ordered.
[Reconfiguring the interface. Error correction has been completed. Host’s Age: 9 days!]
Hadjar didn’t really show any surprise, since he quickly puzzled it out.
It was actually quite logical, when he thought about it.
Upon his rebirth in this world, the neuronet’s age counter had returned to zero and then began to track it from the beginning. It seemed as though Traves had done something to his body and Hadjar had been reborn for the third time. Or was it the second time? He was rather confused by his obviously broken cycle of rebirth.
[Name: Hadjar. Level of cultivation: None. Strength: 0.7; Dexterity: 0.9; Physique: 0.8; Energy Points: 0.3]
It seemed like even the settings had changed, switching back to the factory default. Where was his favorite table format?! Admittedly, this one also looked good.
“What have you done, young man?” A... Hercules asked as he came into the room.
Hadjar was unable to come up with any other names for this man. He was about seven feet tall and his shoulders were about three feet wide. His mighty hands could’ve easily turned Hadjar’s head into pie dough.
In one gentle move, the man picked up the Prince with ease and put him back on the bed.
“Thank you, Honorable…”
“Robin,” the gray-haired Hercules said. “Call me Robin, wanderer.”
‘Wanderer’—Hadjar mulled the word over in his head. It sounded quite pompous and yet it was no worse than ‘Prince’. In any case, it was more mysterious.
“How long have I been asleep for, Honorable Robin?”
“Just Robin,” the ‘old man’ corrected him with a slight reproach in his tone. “We’re common people here, we speak to each other without any formalities.”
The Hercules nodded.
“Ten days. We even wanted to send for Gnessa. She’s our herbalist. A kind of scholar. We thought she could maybe cure you.”
Hadjar’s hunch was now confirmed. So, the neuronet wasn’t mistaken—he was indeed only nine days old now.
“Would it be possible for you to tell me where I am?”
“Of course, wanderer,” Robin continued to nod. “Everything’s possible. But you know my name, and I don’t know yours yet.”
Hadjar mentally slapped himself for his foolishness. He wasn’t used to offending people so easily. But, in his defense, he’d just experienced another rebirth, however weird that might sound.
“My name is Hadjar.”
The old man tilted his head to the side.
Hadjar rolled his eyes.
“Honestly, my name really is Hadjar.”
“You have a very simple name, wanderer.”
“You have no idea, Robin,” the Prince emphasized the old man’s name, “how often I hear that.”
The old man laughed, tugged at his beard with his mighty fist and, after going back out into the corridor, returned with a stool in his hands. It honestly wasn’t much smaller than Haver’s throne had been.
Robin shushed his dark-haired granddaughter that was peeking around the corner. She giggled while covering her mouth and then rushed off into the street.
The gust of wind that blew through the hut pleasantly tousled Hadjar’s newly grown hair. But something else was the cause of his joy.
He could hear his old friend’s voice again, calling to him, guiding him somewhere toward the East.
“Please, go ahead and ask your questions, wanderer Hadjar.”
“Where am I?”
“In my house,” Robin glanced around the room. “In my room. In the village…”
“Is the village yours as well?”
“No. I’m simply a hunter here. The chief asked if anyone had some room to spare. And I did. We must help people when we can, wanderer.”
“Indeed,” Hadjar agreed. Especially since he’d been one of these ‘people’ Robin was referring to.
“We found you in a cave by the lake that’s about a six-day walk from here.” Robin went on. “Once you regain your strength, don’t be surprised by all the people who’ll be whispering behind your back. There were never any caves near that lake. We pulled your body out of a rather unusual grotto. By the time we returned to the shore, the cave had disappeared again, covered in stones.”
Six days away? So the hunters had dragged him on their backs for days, putting themselves and others at risk.
“You should’ve left me behind.…”
Robin immediately frowned at that.
“I don't know what kind of people you've met before, stranger, but people from our village don’t behave in such a manner. Every person here sincerely believes that we need to look after everyone in our country. Otherwise, we won’t survive.”
“What about the army?” Hadjar asked, remembering that Primus would take people from the village and force them to work in the mine.
The old man took a moment to think about it and then laughed.
He laughed for a long time and quite sincerely, to boot.
His laughter made Hadjar bounce slightly. It wasn’t out of fear, but because the bed was shaking.
“What army, pilgrim Hadjar? Those rocks must have hit you on the head... The nearest town—which is Spring Town—is a month away on foot. And that’s assuming that you encounter no trouble going through the Woods.”
Spring Town—where the brothel ‘Innocent Meadow’ had been.
But... that's impossible!
Even if he presumed that the fastest and most powerful river had carried him and he’d somehow survived it... he still couldn’t have gotten that far!
Unless, of course, Traves’ cave, where Hadjar had been found, had magically appeared near the lake.
“And which forest is this?” the Prince asked.
"Just a forest," Robin shrugged. “There are mountains around it, just ordinary mountains. There are other villages as well. We trade with them sometimes. We live very peacefully here. We don’t disturb anyone; we just hunt, fish, work the fields and have children. We’re simple people, stranger Hadjar.”
He clenched his hands slightly as he said this. They were as thick as a young tree trunk, the skin as tough as tanned leather, and the veins looked more like ropes.
"What’s that, then?" Hadjar nodded at Robin’s hands. “Scars you earned plowing a field?”
“If someone with evil intentions tries anything, we don’t allow them to disturb our peaceful way of life.”
They stared at each other in silence for a long time.
Hadjar finally nodded and lay his head back on the pillow. He understood what Robin meant. In addition, his credo made it so he’d have to return the favor. These people had put themselves at risk by helping him for no reason other than to help him.
Hadjar wouldn’t be able to sleep properly if he didn’t thank them…
“Rest up. My granddaughter's name is Lida. She’s a good kid, a bit flighty but reasonable. Sleep well and recover your strength. I’ll introduce you to the others later.”
After that, Robin used the blanket to cover Hadjar and went out into the living room, gently shutting the creaky door behind him.
Hadjar was alone.
He lay there, staring out the window.
Some clouds were floating in the sky.
He didn’t find them irritating anymore. Probably because he was no longer so burdened. Hadjar could once again breathe deeply. Feeling alive for the first time in a long while, Hadjar got out of bed after two minutes.
He fell, but, gritting his teeth and leaning against the wall, he managed to somehow stand up on his wobbly legs. They barely obeyed him. He had to use all his strength in order to stand up straight.
Hadjar came to the door and opened it.
“Robin!” He shouted to the old man who’d gone outside. “Do you have two wooden sticks? I’m tired of just lying in bed! Can I help you with something? I'm not used to doing nothing.”
The old man turned around... and smiled warmly at him. He seemed pleased.
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