Chapter 80

Did this thing really exist in the past?She wondered as she unsheathed her rapier. Or is it just the spawn of yet another demented host’s mind?

“There you are!” Yaga’s voice greeted her as if the witch had never been the main force after their lives. “Though not of human blood, your kind surely is better suited for grunt work. But I cannot help but wonder… wonder if you have the tools to undo human blasphemy.”

The moon-eye seemed hesitant, staring at her as if it was searching for something else. Had the presence of a human in the dungeon triggered some special event? Probably, but assuming that Maru was the only person to ever make it this far, there was no way to know how far from the “regular” route they had deviated.

Nor would anyone ever know, since if she did her job right, this dungeon would soon cease to exist.

“No matter,” the witch continued. “I have restrained the blight that girl left upon me, but cannot destroy it. It requires… something I have too much of. You shall do so in my stead.”

The irony that she was being threatened to defeat the last obstacle to the dungeon’s heart by one of its very own creatures was not lost on Maru.

Intertwined circles of light filled with runic symbols appeared in the center of the wooden platform, and three pairs of deformed hands, identical to those that had tried to capture them in the forest, came into existence one after another. Then, a female figure slowly emerged from the light with its arms outstretched.

Maru frowned. Some kind of summoning?

“It” looked like a woman but could never have been mistaken as one, even without taking into account how the yellow light of Yaga’s moon seemed unable to tarnish her otherworldly appearance.

Her long hair looked like liquid gold and her skin could have passed has porcelain. Though there was a piece of cloth covering her eyes, the rest of her face was visible and Maru could tell from the pink on her cheeks and lips that it was the kind to enrapture hearts with a mere glance. The apparition seemed to be speaking, but no words reached Maru’s ears.

She wore a seemingly simple white dress, but even Maru’s untrained eyes could sense the pulsating ether trapped into the exquisite material it was made of. It was not the kind of items that had survived the cataclysm.

The “woman” moved her arm in a gesture full of grace, and if all her perfections had not been enough indication that she could only have been fake, then her artificial joints would have. Her skin did not simply look like porcelain, it literally was, and stopped were her limbs connected to reveal the small pellets they pivoted against.

Some higher type of automaton,Maru guessed. No wonder she is designed to resemble a human.

However, whatever the machine had meant to do was not allowed to happen. One of the six putrefied hands floating over her made a sudden pulling motion, and the arm returned to its original outstretched position.

Doll of the Beautiful

Her title appeared in bright red letters as opposed to the common silver, and Maru assumed her stance.

“Now… face it! Kill it and earn the right to live!”

Trying to test the waters, Lima activated Fading Steps and Storm Lunge, granting some of her movements the support of the skills.

She crossed the space to the boss in an instant, and thrust her blade toward its chest. The doll was not impaled but was still revealed to be weaker than expected, as the attack sent it sprawling to the wooden floor with a crack where Maru had aimed.

What in the…

Maru skeptically watched the three pairs of floating hands force the machine back on its feet as they pulled on invisible threads. The doll once again tried to move by itself, but they subdued like the first time.

“Again!” yelled the yellow moon with palpable hunger.

Maru stared at the immobilized “boss” and, after a short moment of contemplation, sighed.

She assumed her fighting stance again and activated Razor Focus.

“Show me the path to victory,” she whispered, before coating her raised rapier with aura. The blade shone as brightly as ever.

Right as she was about to launch herself toward one of the witch’s hands, she heard a sound coming from the edge of the platform.

A glance revealed that the third warrior had finally reached her. The man was out of breath and his aura seemed like it would disappear with the lightest tap of Maru’s scabbard.

Under different circumstances, the correct following action would have been for the two of them to join forces in order to defeat the boss, and only then worry about who how to share the loot. After all, Maru didn’t know how Yaga would react to her planned “betrayal” and bosses were definitely not existences meant to be faced by a lone warrior. It was common for delvers from different creeds to put aside their differences for mutual benefits.

However, there was still dry blood on the man’s boots from when he had merrily crushed the head of a young hunter for absolutely no reason. Maru saw death a better option than allowing him to breathe the same air as her any longer.

Grace of Steel. Blue Dancer’s Balestra.

They ran toward each other, but with her now improved agility, Maru reached him before he could take three steps. He stepped back in surprise, which caused the tip of her coated blade to only lightly cut his neck.

But he was already on his back foot and Maru was not going to let him recover. She pressed on, cutting through his frail aura so fast that her opponent did not even have the luxury to think of retaliating.

To his credit, the warrior managed to avoid any lethal wound, dodging her shining blade as well as he could. But he was just like most opponents Maru had met outside of Nashran. Their fighting styles relied on being almost immune to wounds, and few were able to adjust to a thin blade piercing their aura. And this man was not one of them.

Ugly gashes soon appeared on his arms, his legs, his torso, his face… anywhere Maru’s rapier could sink its cold teeth in.

His wounds quickly multiplied as she unleashed a shower of steel on him, methodically pushing the warrior back to the edge of the Yaga’s stage.

She saw the confidence in his eyes being replaced with growing concern at first and then outright panic, and felt nothing.

Fear dulled his movements and Maru’s rapier finally pierced his abdomen as easily as if it had been butter, but there was no blood, to Maru’s great dissatisfaction.

Using aura to not bleed out… let’s see how much you can handle.

She thrust her sword at his heart, but the warrior’s aura suddenly flared, revealing that he had been sitting on a reserve of stamina all along. Maru’s rapier was repelled by the sudden increase in resistance, and one of the warrior’s hands shot forward as he tried to grab her wrist.

It would all be over if he simply caught her. Her sword immobilized, Maru was no better than a human. The weakness of her body was the price she had to pay for being able to cut through aura at such a young age, meaning that a single clean hit from him could kill her.

But unlike her opponent, Maru was familiar with her weaknesses. Even more so now than usual.

Fading Steps.

The warrior’s hand grasped at nothing as she gently spun and, with a swift upward slash of her rapier, severed it from the rest of his body.

“How does it feel,” she asked him, “to have wasted your life?”

Before he could say anything, she kicked him off the spinning stage and watched him fall to his death with cold satisfaction. But, even as he was being swallowed by the darkness below, she knew that it was far too little blood to wash away her pain.

She turned around to face Yaga’s puppet, animated by a new fire. She would not rest until Balrosh died an equally meaningless death at her sword, and then…

… And then I will make sense out of all this chaos.

***

The sound of breaking wood reached my ears and got closer as something kept hitting different trees as it fell. The figure finally came to a stop against one of the surrounding trees and wasted no time to get on its feet, revealing a heavily wounded beastkin.

The warrior who Maru had been racing to the top. He was a full rabbit beastkin.

It wasn’t hard to see that she had used him to vent some of her anger. He was missing his right hand and his whole body covered with deep laceration marks. This was someone who had just lost a fight.

However, Maru hadn’t needed to exhaust her opponents to deal damage, unlike us. The warrior was still covered with his aura. It was faint, but still there, and probably the only reason why he wasn’t bleeding to death.

Goddamit Maru, don’t send us more trouble when we just got a break.

My first instinct was to immediately shoot him down, but then I heard Lima whisper with a trembling voice.

“I… I don’t have enough energy to bring up my aura.”

It stopped my finger to pull the trigger.

“Can you move?” I asked without taking my eyes from the crouched Rabbit.

“I’m sorry… Y-you should run. Things will work out as long as you survive. It won’t… make any difference if I die.”

“It’s going to be fine,” I said, and she started weeping.

But those were empty words. The rabbit was the fastest and most agile of the three. If he managed to predict and dodge my shot, he would reach us before I could fire again.

And then what?

Ikun Omi,I called.

Now you come to me?She sounded displeased. Had you not decided to not rely on me anymore?

I groaned.

I did, and I am sorry,I told her.Is there any way you can help?

Even if there was, why would I? You cannot be defeated by those two.

I can’t just run away, Lima is here and I need to prote-, I frowned. What do you mean, “those two”?

I glanced down the bridge and saw the tiger walk out of the darkness. His expression was cold, but the aura around him violently undulated.

A wave of exhaustion wash over me.

You cannot avoid it any longer,I heard Ikun Omi whisper.Familiarize yourself with the power, lest it consumes you when it becomes too great.

Fucking hell.

The warriors took the moment I dismissed my rifle as a signal for charging at full speed.

I took off my eyepatch, and for the first time since my arrival in this forsaken world, opened my left eye in the presence of other living souls.

 

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Chapter 10: Tamie part 1

Tamie was the first one to see him enter the hall the orphanage used as a cafeteria. Damian’s group was being as loud as usual, captivated by some heroic retelling of a fight against some Bunker rats while the younger children at her table were too busy arguing with each other.

A boy who was at most fifteen, and held a plate filled with the diner of the day, stood at the door. His clothes were in perfect condition and fit him well. She wondered for a second why he kept his eye closed, but such injuries were common in this region.

Continue reading “Chapter 10: Tamie part 1”

Chapter 9

Cleaned up and wearing my new clothes, I was back on the road. To be more precise, I had left the actual road a few minutes ago for a small path that went up one of the many surrounding rocky hills.

When I glanced back, I could see people and trucks coming back from wherever they had been rushing to earlier.

Continue reading “Chapter 9”

Chapter 8

“There you have it. It’s a bit dusty, but I’m sure you’ll manage. Now I gotta go.”

My new boss had led the way through a hallway with closed rooms and, after fumbling with several keys, opened the squeaking last door.

It was more of a storage room than an actual place anyone would sleep in, and was full of what looked like old miner equipment and machine parts randomly thrown in. It didn’t even have a mattress or something I could sleep on. Beggars shouldn’t be choosers, but I really wasn’t satisfied with this arrangement.

Continue reading “Chapter 8”

Chapter 5

Was there any chance that this could be a natural phenomenon? Maybe, but I didn’t want to bet on it. The sooner I would be gone, the better. And seeing how Kirby had started his descent, all my wishes would soon come true.

Then I noticed the shadows creeping down the path I took to my current position.

Nope.

Continue reading “Chapter 5”

Chapter 3

Moving in the perfect darkness wasn’t easy, particularly because of the strange texture of the ground. It was reminiscent of snow, but offering less resistance and dry.

“You are close enough,” the voice said, coming from a much lower position than my own. “ You could fall and I would prefer not to burn you.”

The voice was powerful, enough for me to feel the vibrations in my body when words were spoken. However, there was something better about hearing it with my ears, instead of directly in my head. I felt more in control, less violated.

Continue reading “Chapter 3”

Chapter 2

Incorporeal, but somehow aware. That’s how it felt when the darkness left, only to be replaced by something else. A plane of quasi-existence that I am unable to fully describe with mere words.

I could feel others around me, specks of light forming beautiful streams that stretched forever in both directions.

Even though they never touched, all the streams went the same way, moved by a quiet determination, pulled by a strange hopefulness that resided just over there, beyond the horizon.

I could feel it too, and was content with obediently moving forward. And for a while, I did.

I eventually realized that it was getting increasingly harder. Others would silently move past me while I struggled, confused as to why I felt so heavy. Lamenting, “why me?”

I came to a halt, exhausted and unable to continue anymore.

That’s when I started being pulled down.

I knew something terrible was happening, so I panicked. No one reacted as I was dragged down, out of the stream. Out of the feeling of joy. Out of hope.

There came a point when I was under all the different streams, but the descent didn’t stop. I could now perceive much farther in the distance and noticed that I wasn’t the only one heading down.

All around me were dots of conscious light, wrenched from their infinite destiny.

I moved my awareness downward and found nothing, so I kept pushing, trying to sense what was even beneath the nothingness.

It got cold, cold enough for a man’s blood to stop in his veins. But that did not worry me, as I had been frozen cold before. So I kept pushing my awareness lower.

Beyond the cold, it got hot. Hot enough to scorch a man’s scream in his lungs. But that did not worry me, as I had been burning hot before. So I kept pushing my awareness lower.

The hope of the streams could not reach beyond the heat, so I shuddered. But I had lived most of my life without hope, so I figured I would be able to manage.

So I pushed my awareness lower down the abyss, to what should be its deepest part… And my mind reeled, threatening to break as I looked away.

But it didn’t matter because I had dared to gaze at it. Because even though I couldn’t comprehend what I had seen, I knew what it meant for me.

I was ready to do everything to avoid the fate that awaited me.

Once I made that realization, I was whisked away.

Everything was blurred, as my awareness was severely crippled, no longer able to wander wherever I wished. I felt constricted, limited. Less. It wasn’t until I realized that I needed to breathe that I understood that I was back in a body made of flesh. But younger, much younger than I had been when I died.

“Stand, mortal.”

The voice was low and seemed strange to someone like me who was only familiar with human tongues. I could only compare it to the sound of the wind, howling through an uncaring mountain. Uncaring, because it had been there for eons, and would still be there for eons to come.

I did as the voice ordered me to, still trembling from the ungodly terror I had just experienced. I was in a vast stone hall illuminated with rudimentary torches.

There was no one else around and no exit either. But I knew I wasn’t alone.

“State your name,” the voice demanded.

“My name is Edward Lee,” I said.

There was a pause, during which I heard whispers and hushed voices.

“Edward Lee. You have been brought before us to fulfill an old request. A request for a mortal who meets a particular set of criteria. If you are willing, you will be reincarnated in a world much different than the one you left.”

There was another pause, which was apparently meant for me to think.

“What does that request entail?” I asked.

“Things beyond your understanding and things you are not allowed to know,” the voice said. “But I can see that you fear for your freedom, and you can rest assured that there is no need for such concern. If you were to accept, you would be as free as a mortal can be.”

That last comment caused chuckles in the invisible audience.

“What if I refuse?”

“Then you would simply be excused and your soul would resume its journey to its final resting place.”

“I’ll do it!” I blurted out, almost biting my tongue. “I mean… I accept the request.”

Everything sounded better than going back to that dreadful descent.

And they knew it. Whoever these disembodied voices belonged to, they knew they had me in the palm of their hand.

“Very well,” said the voice, unsurprised.

For crossing from one world to another, you have received the title “Transmigrant”.

+200 glory

You have gained the human racial trait “Technopath”.

Words appeared in the corner of my vision and disappeared once I read them. But before I could try to guess at their meaning, the voice spoke again.

“We now ask to the court; is one of the members willing to offer the mortal Edward Lee their patronage?”

Utter silence, for the first time. Then another mocking chuckle.

“Very well,” the ageless voice repeated, “Edward Lee, it is almost time for you to leave for the world of the living… but you cannot. Not yet. For the Scale is left unbalanced and no one can truly escape their karma.”

There were tremors and I spun around to face an altar at a spot where nothing existed a moment ago. On top of the altar was a bow decorated with carvings that seemed alive.

“Use it,” said the voice.

I did as told, and an arrow made of solid light appeared in my other hand. It seemed oddly familiar, but I couldn’t remember ever seeing something similar.

I looked up and there was no ceiling, only a beautiful starry night sky. So I nocked the arrow, pulled the string as hard as I could and released it. The arrow flew straight up, and so fast it seemed it would never stop.

Half unconscious of what I was doing, I kept firing arrows into the sky until they no longer kept appearing in my hand. Then I put the bow back on the altar, unable to understand what had just happened.

I felt different, lighter. As if some part of me was missing.

Though I couldn’t understand them, the whispers around me had turned into what sounded like intense arguments.

“Now that you have passed judgment upon yourself, it is time,” said the ageless voice. “Edward Lee, the court-”

“Hold,” said someone else.

A heavy silence followed.

“Edward Lee, I would like to be your patron,” said the newcomer. “If you don’t mind, of course.”

There was a rumbling noise as cracks appeared on the stone in front of me. Pieces of the blocks that formed the wall flew past me, as if some invisible sledgehammer took it down, revealing a pitch black room.

To go past the rubble and enter that darkness was far from an appealing idea, but even if I couldn’t tell what a patron was, I could sense it was fairly important.

I took a step and heard gasps.

Light inundated the room, and all around me several doors appeared on the previously naked stone wall. Proper doors of various designs, ornamented with gems and embellished with golden flourishes. Through some of them filtered sunlight and the sound of chirping birds.

I raised a questioning brow at the empty room. A new voice spoke, feminine and charming.

“Rejoice, mortal,” it said. “It appears your karma isn’t as bad as one would think. “In their great mercifulness, several members of the court have decided to offer you their support.”

The voice made a pause, as if expecting me to show a visible sign of my gratefulness. I just waited for it to actually finish speaking.

“However,” the alluring voice continued, “ their support requires you to step away from that ghastly hole. A foul beast is locked inside, and it is surely only looking to take advantage of you. Refuse its offer and start your new life with the support of one of our esteemed members.”

I almost let out a sneer, but managed to keep it inside. Earlier I was hesitating to enter the gaping hole in the wall, but now I wanted to do it just to spite these bastards who were mocking and ignoring me a moment ago.

I didn’t know if I could trust their words but they clearly didn’t want me to get this particular patronage.

If I had been younger, I might have outright ignored the proposition. But I wasn’t a child anymore.

“I am thankful for the offer,” I said without sarcasm. “However there is something I would like to clarify. You said ’support’. Would I be correct to assume that this ’support’ isn’t actually patronage?”

There was only silence to answer me.

“Thought so,” I said as I walked through the opening and into the darkness.

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Chapter 1

Warning: Brimstone Fantasy contains strong language and graphic scenes.
As a first draft, this version may also contain typos/mistakes that readers are welcome to report in the comments.


 

I had wondered how I would die many times before, through the course of a life lived under the sign of violence. But never had I thought I would meet my demise in such a fitting way.

And I had no doubts that this was the end of the road for me, alright. Too many wounds to vital organs, but just enough to leave me conscious for a small moment.

Around me laid thugs, groaning as they were bleeding to death. They were the members of a small, but cruel, gang that had been terrorizing the little town I had made my nest in. In their last moments, they were probably surprised and confused that the old man that had approached them had turned out to be so dangerous. But I couldn’t blame them. They couldn’t know that from my early teenage years until a few years ago, I had been dealing in sanctioned murder.

Well, ’sanctioned’ depending on who you asked.

My “career” started in a forgotten African nation, with me as a child soldier under the banner of “The Populist Liberation Army,” following the orders of an unhinged monster and ended several decades later as a respected member of the regular army, serving a whole other breed of monsters. One that would drink fine wine and wear shining shoes.

I left, not because I was disgusted with being nothing more than a weapon, not because of my body breaking down, but because I had found someone that made me believe that the rest of my life could be worth something. Which was quite ironic, considering I was dying for his future.

A young brat, that I had taken under my wing and decided to raise as my own. He was almost feral when I first found him, and now, standing over me with a face full of tears, he had become someone I was proud to call “son”.

He was trying to tell me something, but I couldn’t hear what he was saying. Still, I feigned understanding since I knew it mattered more to him than me.

I was dying. Whether I had heard his words or not wouldn’t matter. What mattered was for him to not live the rest of his life feeling like he didn’t get to tell me what he wanted to. So I held his face in my hand and did my best to smile as the numbness was overtaking me.

In the corner of my eye I could see his wife holding their daughter with one arm and crying to a phone she held in her free hand. She was a brave girl, and I was glad he had found her. They would be alright.

With the last of my strength, I looked into my son’s eyes and focused all of my willpower into talking without slurring.

“Listen well, son… This is for the best. I couldn’t let them hurt you and your family. I know their type better than I want to admit. It would have only gotten worse. And I couldn’t let that happen.”

A coughing fit took me, squandering all of my efforts to appear strong and remain dignified in my last moments. When I finally regained my voice it was weak and shaking, and I knew he could see me as what I truly was: an old weathered old man at death’s doors.

“I lived a long and tiring life, during times I’m glad you can’t possibly imagine,” I continued. “I have seen many things and if there’s one goddam lesson I’ve learned it’s that what you kids have is something worth dying for ten times over… I am just glad I could be part of your family for a little while at least.”

Over the red and blue light show of an ambulance arriving too late, he spoke, and though I still couldn’t hear him, I could read his lips say: “Our family”.

The smile I gave him was a genuine one, “Stay outta trouble son, and live a happy life. One you won’t… regret.”

I died surrounded by my loved ones, which is pretty damn better than a lot of people get. I like to think I crossed to the other side with that smile still on my face.

Able to rest, at last.

… Or so I thought.

 

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