As it turns out, teleporting is a much more entertaining experience than one would think.
The process had not been instantaneous, from my point of view at least. Sure, from one moment to the next I had been transported from a dimly lit middle age stone hall to what looked like ruins of a strange city with dark buildings that stretched high into the sky.
But between those two moments, gravity had lost its hold on me and I was hurled through a rainbow-colored well of dancing lights.
Nothing too crazy.
I didn’t immediately stand up. I just laid on the ground, basking on the sunlight on my skin and savoring the oxygen filling my lungs as if it was an expensive delicacy.
Looking at my hands and the rest of my body, I could tell that the feeling of youthfulness wasn’t just an illusion.
My face felt like mine, but I couldn’t be sure. It was smooth, without any wrinkles or other signs of old age. All of my scars were gone, along with the insidious pain in my back. While it wasn’t possible to pinpoint my exact age, I could tell I was in my teenage years. Around fifteen maybe? What did I really look like?
The main thing making me wonder if I truly was a younger version of myself was my hair. There was enough of it for my head to rest on, like a cushion of black curls. Even though it had been in a buzz cut my whole life until I ultimately shaved it all.
Figuring I had allowed myself to be defenseless for too long, I decided to postpone the study of my appearance to a later date.
It took me a few minutes to be able to stand on my feet, but I somehow managed to stop my legs from wobbling and took in the surroundings for the first time.
I was in a wide open square, among the ruins of a town, or maybe even a city. It seemed that, at one point, it had been more modern than what I had seen on earth. The parts of the buildings that were still standing had a sleek finish to them and were covered with black panels that seemed to absorb light instead of shining. Not many were more than two stories tall, but those that were defied logic. They reached far beyond the clouds, far enough that I couldn’t see where they ended.
The hints of architecture I could pick up reminded me of the middle east, even though most of the domes, column and spires were severely damaged.
It didn’t seem that there was anyone living here anymore, and while I could obviously be wrong, I had a strong hunch that I should leave this place as soon as possible.
I had come across ghost towns in my previous life, when I was still a kid fleeing bloodshed and later, when I was a man partaking in said bloodshed. This was entirely different.
Sure, every single building I could see had some level of destruction to it. Most roofs were caved in and there were even traces of fire. It was clear that this city had gone through extreme violence.
But what made me shiver was that it was all clean.
Whatever humans stop caring about, nature takes back. Ghost towns are filled with animals, dust, broken and boarded up windows, and more importantly, plants. Trees and plants find ways to grow out of any cracks in the strangest places and cover everything.
War-torn places would have those, then ammunition shells everywhere and mostly in the vicinity of makeshift defense points that had been found useless then abandoned. Corpses in various states of decay. Trash littering the street that would range from propaganda tracts to ownerless toys, going through any single piece of furniture one could imagine.
One has not really seen the fall of society until they walk past a complete toilet in the middle of the road.
But in this seemingly abandoned city, with its buildings and houses in ruins, there was nothing that seemed out of place. Not even dust. It was spotless.
It was clean.
I had to get the hell out this open space, find cover as soon as possible and-
No, I need to calm down, I thought to myself, pushing the feeling of urgency aside.
Why did this have to be a dangerous situation? I was in the middle of ruins that were well cared after. For all I knew, this was some sort of museum or historical heritage site. Didn’t people take care of ruins back on Earth, like the Coliseum in rome or the pyramid of Giza in Egypt? I was probably just in a damn tourist trap that was… somehow… deserted in the middle of the day.
Not able to completely shake off my paranoia I opted to at least leave the square for the shadows of an alley. I tried to make as little noise as possible as I ran but it was hard to be silent, considering I was the only moving thing around. Only after I had checked nothing was coming after me, did I crouch and try to think of a plan.
First I had to establish what I knew, and it wasn’t much. I was in a different world, that had different rules and magic. I didn’t know the name of the city I was in, but I knew I was in the Shattered Realm, which wasn’t really a reassuring name. That was pretty much all I knew.
Second, I have to establish what I have… besides a magic eye that I apparently can’t use unless I’m willing to weaken myself, I thought with a regretful sigh. That wasn’t something I was willing to test unless I was in controlled conditions.
Hadn’t I basically been crippled? Now that I could think about it, I was starting to regret that part of my deal with the djin.
Wait, magic. I still had some ether that I could add to my class and considering what the effects promised for leveling up, it should significantly boost my survivability.
But which of those skill trees should I use it on? I wondered. I wished I had asked more specific questions about this strange system, instead of winging it and wasting ten precious units of ether because of my curiosity. For nothing but a… drone?
I couldn’t help but smile thinking that the situation wasn’t so dire after all. Reconnaissance was a drone’s specialty and a way for me to find either other people or the fastest way out of this place. The other logical option would have been to find a high enough vantage point, but I didn’t trust any of the structures around me to not collapse under my weight.
That, and the incredibly strong gut feeling that was screaming at me to not cross any of the gates that, even if nothing but their frames stood around them, were all closed.
How were double doors, of all possible things, the only intact items in a city in ruins? With none of them even vandalized?
I did not know and I did not care.
Dead and brought back to life, I was too old for all this shit- even if I, technically, wasn’t old anymore.
There was a saying I used to bark at recruits losing their focus on the main mission because of collaterals, and it went like “Don’t think about it.”
All I knew was that I wished I at least had a means to defend myself.
I brought my thoughts back to the ether and called out my status screen and looked at my three options: machine symbiosis, enforcer and sharpshooter.
The later one really picked my interest, even though I had no weapons to use it on. The first one seemed to be related to the armors mentioned in the class’ description. Enforcer seemed self-explanatory, but could really mean anything. Still, I surmised that skill trees were a way to specialize in particular areas covered by a class.
Since what I wanted was survivability, I added twenty ether to Enforcer which sounded like the most likely to offer me something in that direction. The 0/20 next to the skill tree became 0/40 and notifications popped up into existence.
Dreadnova Enforcer reached level 2
+3 to Vitality, Strength, Constitution, and Perception.
You have unlocked the skill Kinetic charge.
Kinetic charge – Active – cost 2 mana every meter – Cooldown: 6 hours
Gain temporary speed and a coat of energy shielding body from impacts when running in a straight line.
Speed and shield strength increase with running time. Increases stop if armor mana reserves are fully depleted or running direction is altered.
Speed and shield strength decrease from projectiles impact.
Speed and shield strength dissipate if user stops running.
That was… very interesting, although it sounded more defensive than I thought it would be. There were many restrictions, but it basically meant that as long as I had mana and endurance, I could theoretically just keep running faster and faster through obstacles.
I didn’t feel any different from the stat gains either, though I supposed that was normal. I didn’t know how much three points changed things after all.
The skill was definitely a step in the right way though, so next, I willed forty ether into the Enforcer skill tree. This time only one window appeared.
Dreadnova Enforcer reached level 3
+3 to Vitality, Strength, Constitution, and Perception.
I waited a few seconds, then let out a curse.
Seems like I only get a skill the first time I go down a skill tree.
By adding twenty ether to each skill tree I would still only have been able to level up three times with the initial ninety. However, I would have had three skills instead of two… assuming my theory was correct.
I added twenty ether to Sharpshooter.
Dreadnova Enforcer reached level 4
+3 to Vitality, Strength, Constitution and Perception.
You have unlocked the passive skill Recoil absorption.
Recoil absorption – Passive
Recoils from firearms affect you 50% less than they should.
I dismissed the skill as something that was of no use to me in that particular situation and felt better about not investing in Machine Symbiosis. With such a name, I doubted it would have given me something immediately useful either.
Now all that was left was bring out the drone-
Wait, how do I take it out again?
I scratched my head and remembered the drone was categorized as a sub-function of the skill “Summon”. Maybe those were the keywords?
“Summon: drone, “ I tentatively said.
A blue bar representing my mana in the lower corner of my vision was shortened, as little black dots were materialized in front of me and flew into each other to form a spherical amalgamation. The black sphere became half as big as a soccer ball and the process stopped.
I stared, mesmerized as the matter and its color shifted to a shiny silver with a black visor surrounding it.
“Hello, master, I am Aerial Drone_01. Would you like to change my name?”
The voice was calm and composed, reminding me of those you could hear from some phones. Almost human, but one could tell something wasn’t quite right.
“You can just call me Ed,” I said. “Also yes, from now on your name is Kirby.” Like Jack Kirby the famous scout, which was fitting. Not the cute pink monster my granddaughter loved. Not really.
“Understood, Ed. Setup complete. What are your orders?”
“Before that, can you tell me what you can do?” I said. “Also, lower your voice, if possible.”
“Here is the list of my functions.”
Kirby – Function page
No function installed.
“… You couldn’t just tell me you can’t do anything?”
“But that would not have been accurate, Ed. Showing you my function page seemed like the optimal answer. I advise you to install new functions to improve my ability to help you.”
Is this thing messing with me? I thought.
“And how do I that?”
“Functions can only be installed by trained individuals.”
“Never mind,” I said after massaging my temples. I felt like I was going to regret giving it a name that reminded me of my loved ones. “Kirby how far from me can you fly?”
“Flight distance solely depends on mana available. Mana consumption will increase the further I go until there is none available, which will result in my dismissal until next summoning.”
The fact that there wasn’t a set distance as a limit was good news, but there was still one thing to confirm.
“Is there a way we can communicate from a distance?” I asked.
“Not with the set of functions available.” The drone said.
“Too bad… Well, I want you to fly straight up until you can give me a plan to get out of this city.”
“Apologies, but I am unable to give you any plan with my current functions. Even if I could, I would be unable to transfer it to you.”
I groaned. It seemed Kirby took what I said a bit too literally.
“No, I want you to fly up, find the shortest path out of the city without having to enter any building, come back to me then guide me down that path. Can you do that?”
“Affirmative, Ed.” the drone said, and without dallying, it started its ascension.
I watched the already small silver ball slowly get even smaller in the sky with the wariness of a parent watching their kid leave for the first day of school, before shaking the feeling off.
Staying focused in unfamiliar situations was important. Maybe I was being over-paranoid to compensate for stupidly losing the free usage of a goddamn eye, but the drone could attract attention and I had to be read-
There were shadows in the square. Moving shadows.
It took a moment or two for my brain to register the event taking place, due to the strangeness of the situation. There were dozens of snakelike shadows stretching from the buildings. I looked up and around but couldn’t see whatever was casting them. It was eerie.
Then my blood froze when I realized they were all gathering around the spot where I had been laying down for several minutes.
Like hounds that had caught a scent.