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Unwieldy (Fantasy & Hammers)

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Maximilian, brought into a God's rat race to fill the numbers, was transported into...


Not too sore, are you?
Jun 9, 2020
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Maximilian, brought into a God's rat race to fill the numbers, was transported into another world. Nothing like the brilliant contestants that fill the other spots, Maximilian was an afterthought in the God's game. Confronted with the frustrating reality of being boiled down to three statistics, Maximilian needs to get his act together, or the worlds he's found himself in might very well suffer for it.

A few words:

This story is one I started years ago now, just writing is at my own pace. It isn't spectacularly original by any means, but I think I have a few ideas that could make it an alluring distraction from live, at least for a little while. This story has had a large portion of its earlier section written before posting, meaning it'll take a little while before I make my way back to the sections of the story that I've been writing in recent times. Hopefully this story will be a fun romp to take you all on, and I hope you enjoy it along with me!

Who is the person writing this?​
Well, hello there! I'm Sarius, an amateur author from Australia. I'm by no means god's gift to readers, but I doubt you'd expect that from stories written here. Currently I'm working on three different stories, all of which will be posted here at some point, but the other two aren't quite ready to start releasing just yet. I hope that this story will be reason enough for you to check them out when I do get around to it!

What should you expect?
As I said earlier, I have already made significant headway into the story. You can expect to receive one story update per day, usually averaging two thousand words. Though earlier chapters are more loose on word count. This will continue for approximately a month, when I catch up with my current content. From there it'll be about two updates a week of two thousand words!

Anyway! Enough from me, let's get a move on with the story, shall we?
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Chapter 1: Literally the Last
Chapter 1: Literally the Last

Stereotypical beginner forest, check!

Beginner Villager Class clothes, check!

Wolf monster chasing after you, check!

Amazing. Spontaneous transportation to another world is even more unimaginative than I thought!

But, running for your life five minutes after you 'spawn' isn't exactly appealing. In a game, you would run head on into the gaping maws of a monster and go mad. Punch and kick to your way to a few points of experience and some junk items you'll throw away when you hit level twenty.

But when a wolf is nipping your ass, and you won't get to put a few more bucks into the machine and try again, it's terrifying.

So, I'm running for my goddamn life.

And a God damned life it is. I that think I, and a group of other people, were quite literally damned to whatever this reality is.

God likes the sound of his own voice by the way, he went on and on, and I was too flabbergasted to actually take in any of it. Sounded like a bit of a dick if you ask me. Plus, dimensional teleportation doesn't seem to treat the head kindly.

So here I am, woefully underprepared and oblivious to what I should be doing. Also, did I mention that I was being chased by a wolf with leaves for fur?

I rushed through the trees, adrenalin pumping. I knew it was catching up to me, and I was busy looking down at my feet, trying not to trip and get mauled by Mr. Leafy Green.

I knew that I had to turn around and do something, but I didn't know what exactly. Going at it with fists raised seemed like a good way to get brutalized. So instead I did what I knew wouldn't get me immediately killed.

Question is, why was I placed here? Was everyone placed next to a miscellaneous monster to battle? A rite of passage, or a culling process? So how was I supposed to defeat a monster with my bare hands? Was there a weapon I failed to pick up earlier?

C'mon! There must be something that guy told us, that I'm not remembering. God damn headache! The leafy wolf, though, wasn't interested in giving me time to figure it all out. I felt a set of jaws nip at my pant leg, frightening me into a mad dash.

I ran as fast as I could without tripping, my mind combing through the pieces I remembered from God's speech. I remember some gloating about how all powerful he is, something about a coming magic age. Useless!

Ah wait!

I remember something! Something about a weapon. Souls were involved somewhere, something about weapons that… Oh what was it again…

That's it!

I turned around and gripped the air, as if I were holding a two-handed sword. I swung this imaginary sword as hard as I could, hoping beyond hope that this would work.

And it did.

I felt something tearing from my chest, a horrifying feeling, like having a limb torn off. Yet, as the tearing feeling was starting to subside, I felt my hands begin to fill with a strange liquid metal.
So much happened in such a short period of time that my brain struggled to keep up with all the sensations.

It was like part of me was being reconstructed and repurposed, turning this part of me into a dagger or sword. Actually, exactly like that, except this wasn't a short sword. This was a whole lot bigger than a short sword.

The first thing that formed was the handle. The metal filled my hands, ridged dark wrapping forming beneath my fingers. The leather handle stretched on for a while until it was about as long as my forearm. Soon after, the pommel formed. A small, rounded disk of metal engraved with patterns that connected with me in a way I couldn't quite describe.

There was no lost time as the grip gave way to a long spire of glowing metal, reaching towards the canopy above me. I thought it'd never stop, but at two-and-a-half metres, it stalled.

With the handle completely formed, the metal began to fill an invisible cast at the end of the weapon. A block of metal formed on the tip. The corners of the metal were so defined that I'd swear that they'd be able cut. The other end was not mirrored, forming into a glorious horn, tapering downward.

As I admired this strange weapon that had formed in my hands, it fell onto the leafy wolf and slammed into its head. The hammer connected with force, travelling unimpeded by the wolf's head, decapitating it. The hammer, without a moment of pause, followed through, sending itself and the head into the earth.

I stood in stunned silence and the world seemed to stand still with me for a moment.

[One Hit Kill: You killed your first Monster in one hit! Was it luck? Or was it a taste of what is to come? +1 Might]

[Literally the Last: You were literally the last to form your Soul Weapon. Were you in denial or are you just a bit slow? +1 Might]

"Mocking achievements? Really?" I grumbled.
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Chapter 2: Hammer in the Dirt
Chapter 2: Hammer in the Dirt

"Holy shit."

So, the weapon that formed out of nowhere? Turns out, it's huge. Like one and a half times as tall as me, with a massive hammer head adorning the top.

It's comically large, unusable and ridiculous looking. Like, I get this is a fantasy world and all, but no one could actually wield this thing, right?

The head itself is so heavy that it lodged itself into the dirt along with the wolf's head. The hammer head was halfway submerged into the ground, putting the long handle at a strange angle. So, in light of this new and strange situation, a quick question. How do I get this thing out of the ground exactly? The thing probably weighs a tonne!

Grabbing the handle, I pulled with all my might, only succeeding in losing my grip and falling back onto my ass. The sudden jolt sent my mind into another spat of pain. I grunted with annoyance, it felt like my brain was swimming in molasses. Did dimensional travel have to fuck with my head so bad? Would have been easier to sport a bad cut or something instead.

Even pulling as hard as I could, the massive hammer wouldn't budge. After a few tries, I resorted to starting at the thing in rage. That God had to have known that this would happen, right? Did he give me this weapon or is this what my soul took form as? Whether God is stupid, or I am stupid is an argument for another time. A piece of my soul is currently stuck in the dirt and I can't do anything about it.

Wait, what about that 'Might' I got as reward for killing the wolf? If this world actually had a stupid game system...

"Uh, status?" I grumbled, because who wouldn't feel like a massive idiot while trying to invoke a game system in real life? But, sure enough, some text flitted through my mind. I didn't see it, but it was like something magically brought the information to my attention.

[Might: 9 (7)]

[Mind: 8]

[Agility: 5]

Well, that was a terrible stat screen. You'd think an actual God would be able to make statistics more interesting, but apparently not.

Why even have a status if it was going to be this bad. Were people actually so gullible that they'd believe this wasn't an arbitrary addition? I grumbled, but gave the stats some thought at least, if this was my reality, I may as well try and make use of them.

For one, my stats were pretty low, my Might being the highest with the extra points, then my Mind. The boost to Might was significant, around thirty percent, but I felt no different. No idea if it had even done anything at all.

I sighed, dilly dallying won't help anyone. Time to give this hammer another shot.

I grabbed onto the handle of the hammer and pulled, leveraging all my strength into the action. I could feel veins protruding on my arms as I shuddered, my muscles screaming with the effort. Ignoring my muscles, I continued, pushing as hard as I could. I was going to get this piece of shit out of the ground, one way or another.

Despite my efforts, the hammer barely budged, only moving a tiny bit. But that only propelled me. It excited me, the feeling of moving such an incredibly heavy object. with my bare hands

Then inspiration struck. I changed my grip on the handle, and hung from it, leveraging gravity and my own weight to my advantage. I mimicked the curling motion of a professional arm-wrestler, using my wrist for all it was worth. I pulled with all my might, weight and momentum, all at once in synchronicity.

"Move you fuck!" I screamed, pulling on the handle so hard that I could hear the blood screaming through blood vessels in my ears. The throbbing pain in my head pulsing away with a sadistic glee all the while.

And then I felt the earth the hammer was stuck in give way. I rolled out of the way, dodging the handle of the hammer as it fell. The handle hit the ground with a heavy thump right next to me. I swear that it made the ground shake a little.

"Jesus." I breathed. I lay there, panting in the dirt when I felt something pull my attention.

[Feat of Strength: You've pushed yourself to your limits, using your everything to accomplish something. +1 Might]

Well, at least the stupid system gave me something for that. More liberal with the stats than I had expected from a system this obscure.

Are the achievements different than training? Does training your strength go up in increments of one, or is that separate from the stats? It being separate would be smart, but I wasn't going to hold out hope. See, this is the problem with stupid, vague stat systems, it leaves too much interpretation with no benefits.

Now that I have the hammer out of the ground, and a little boost in strength, I can go figure out what I'm supposed to be doing.

I don't remember much of the God's speech, blaming it on the headache for now. What I do remember, though, was a lot of gloating. There was no point mourning the loss of that information. So, I'll have to figure it out as I go.

I'm going to have to get moving. The sun isn't going to slow down for me, and I don't want to be out in the wilderness lugging this massive thing around at night. That sounds like a good way to get eaten by another wolf.

I get up out of the dirt and brush off my sturdy clothing. I have a feeling that I'll be falling down quite a fair bit, so these tough clothes will serve me well.

I grab the handle of the hammer and try and pick it up, which was the dumbest idea I'd ever had. It got about 5 centimetres off the ground before I couldn't keep it up anymore.

"Damn this thing is heavy." I growled.

Instead, I resorted to dragging the bloody thing across the floor. The dirt and small stones were going to scratch up the hammer's head, but I didn't have much of a choice.

Looking at it now, the forest was quite beautiful, I'd never quite seen a forest that was this pristine before.

The greens of the leaves were vibrant in contrast to the deep brown of the trees. The dirt was a darker brown, almost like a rich chocolate. It was soft underfoot, so much so that you could walk barefoot through here with no real worries. The smell of the forest was cleaner and clearer than any other forest I'd been in.

Most forests were a cacophony of powerful smells all mixed together, but the air in this forest felt pure. It was excellent to breathe, like drinking a cold cup of water on a hot day. It was the best tasting air I'd ever breathed.

I wasn't sure if the air was any more functional than regular air, but it sure didn't hurt.

The only real problem that I had with this forest were the roots. The roots were everywhere, disused by dirt covering them. Thing is, I can't afford to fall over all that much, especially when I am dragging this massive hammer around. One bad fall and the handle could come down on my leg.

So the only way that I could mitigate that was to walk very, very slowly. Even slower than the hammer already made me walk, which was frustrating. Every time I had to lift the hammer a few centimetres to pull it over a snag, it sapped my strength. Soon enough, my muscles were throbbing with the exertion, screaming for rest.

I couldn't pull the hammer through the roots like you might instinctively think. The hammer might be heavy and would be a perfect tool for the job. The amount of strength to not only use the hammer, but also rip through root systems? It'd be insanity for me to even try, even with my increased Might.

Unfortunately, that means I have to pick up the hammer over and over to jump the roots. Talk about a bad back, I was beginning to relate to Atlas. Poor guy.

Progress was slow. It felt like hours of traveling between trees before there was any change in environment. But, as I travelled the density of the forest lessened. That also meant that I also got a good look at the sky, the thick canopy parting enough to see through. Looking up, however, was quite the shock.

Well… at least the sky was blue?

The sun was a whole lot bigger than Earth's was, but that wasn't a big deal, it wasn't the main focus. The main focus was the other planet that was orbiting this one.

Oh yes, another planet, orbiting this planet. You heard me right. It had a whole lot of blue, and a whole lot of land, and it was definitely a planet. You could see it's night sky, hiding it's face away from the sun and facing this planet instead.

At first, I thought it was Earth. Which it obviously wasn't after a moment of observation. It's continents are different, and you can see them all with your naked eye! Super trippy by the way.

No, it was a totally different planet, casually orbiting this one. Don't ask me how that works, physics is as unknowable as magic is to me.

So that's cool, I guess. If this world was a stereotypical game, that'd be where the was 'Demon Lords' were, right?

Wanna put a bet on it?
Chapter 3: Boo!
Chapter 3: Boo!

The one upside to living in a world with a stupid stat system is that you can use it to rationalize things. For example, you can use it to rationalize why the hell you are dragging a massive damn hammer through the dirt.

"I'm just testing if you can gain Might from training is all, not because I have no choice, not at all!" See, like that. Easy.

I had started walking again, turns out you can only look up at the sky in awe for so long. One mind can only be so blown, so walking seemed like a good compromise instead.

The forest had opened up into plains, with only the odd tree here and there. It was nice actually, there was a cool breeze, and it wasn't too hot. The sun was warm, and slowly reaching down to the mountain range, which wasn't so good, but it sure was pretty. Though the amazing air of the forest had dissipated, which made me unreasonably sad.

Something that I hadn't realised about this place was the fact that the sun didn't move. In fact, it stayed entirely stationary just slightly off centre in the sky, at least from this point of view. What that did mean, though, was that the other planet that was slowly moving to cover the sun from my view meant that night was coming.

Not ideal conditions by a long shot.

My legs are burning like hell, my shoulders were too. My shoulders were always at an odd angle because I wasn't strong enough to hold the handle at a good position. You have to understand, it isn't only the head of the hammer that's heavy. The handle of the hammer is also mad of the same metal. Only good thing is that it is long, so it gives me more leverage when dragging the head through the dirt.

Other than that, it was still stupid.

I kept scanning over the little hills, and soon enough I found what I was looking for. A river.

If you've ever watched a survival TV show, then you'll know that a river is excellent news. Not only is it a source of water, which is vital to survival if you didn't know, but it is also a good marker for civilization.

Villages are usually built very close to a water source or sometimes even surrounding it. The reasons for doing so are obvious, but we don't care about the reasons, we care that they do, that it's predictable.

So, If I follow this river downstream, I'll find civilization before nightfall. It at least gives me more hope than walking around in any direction does.

With a new spring in my step, I started to walk towards the river. I could use a good drink of water. All the dragging of hammers makes a man quite thirsty.

Back to the topic of how my body is going. I'm starting to see improvement in my physical capabilities. To be honest, the only physical attribute I had going for me before this was my height, which is around 6'2. Which, in the modern era, only served to reduce my legroom in transport. Though it did make me extraordinarily useful when grabbing things from the top shelf.

In other words, I'm not exactly the pinnacle of physical performance. There had to be trade-offs for a sedentary bookworm and gamer lifestyle, right? Regardless, I went from 7 Might to 10-

[In for the Long Haul: Pulling heavy objects long distances is amazing for your muscles! Might +1]

Make that eleven, I guess. Anyway, my Might went up four points in the matter of a few hours. Truthfully, The more time I thought on it, the more I found this system stupid. There was no clear baseline, no help to understand and apply the numbers. It was all a mess, which you'd think would be hard when you only had three lines of text to express the statistics with.

I was starting to believe that you could only gain statistics from the achievements. Does that mean training is useless and won't give you anything? Will I need to go gallivanting across the world to force some obscure achievement?

I shook off my pet frustration as I saw a curving river that swept through the landscape.

I dropped the hammer's handle and rushed to the water. It was wide for a river, but not that deep, only going up to my hip in depth. It was quite cold, not freezing, but unused-swimming-pool cold. It was nice after waking for so long, having cold water on your overworked muscles. I submerged myself in the water for a minute, letting myself float without using any of my muscles.

Feeling the gentle current tug on me I was a state of bliss, I almost wished it wouldn't end.

My glorious reprieve was rudely interrupted by a shock of pain from my headache. For hours it had been pulsing with pain whenever it pleased, making my brain feel like a soggy bowl of cereal. I sighed underwater.

I had to get things done and letting myself float into oblivion wouldn't help me, nor would it keep me alive very long.

I burst out of the water, taking a deep gasp of air before trudging the few metres that I'd floated to the riverbank. However, not before stopping to quench my thirst. As I cupped my hands and lowered them into the water, I looked at myself in the reflection. I wasn't changed physically in any way, which I'll call a blessing. I'd always considered myself handsome enough, short brown hair, brown eyes and a good jaw. Nothing close to a male model, but handsome enough to be proud of. I quickly slurped a few handfuls of water to satisfy my dry throat, then turned away from the water.

I walked over to my hammer and picked it up, muscles complaining with pain. The soak in the water had only really helped momentarily, as the fiery pain returned with a vengeance as soon as I started to move again.

Thankfully, walking along the bank of the river was a whole lot easier than walking over hills. For one, it was pretty flat alongside the river. So I didn't have to worry about crushing myself by losing control of my hammer going down a hill. I can't imagine that having that hammer land on your toe would end well.

I could see that the other planet was slowly covering the sun. It was only eclipsing a small part of it at the moment, but it wouldn't be long before it was night.

And everyone knows that all the bad beasties come out in the night.

Also, the water source was also a point of interest to those same beasties as well as humans. That the only chance that I have of finding any sort of civilisation is also the most dangerous place to be.

Anxiety started to set in. I knew it, I'd been too well composed up till now, even with that god-damned headache. I could feel my anxiety level start to raise, my headache rising to match as the sun was slowly eclipsed. Suddenly my mind was in overdrive, I was looking over every hill I could, checking all the shadows twice. I could feel that night would bring something bad.

The planet orbiting this one travelled slowly, its mass restricting the light further and further, its darkened sky slowly subsuming the sun its entirety. Leaving me…

Alone, in the darkness.

To be honest, I don't think I've ever been so afraid. A mix of the dark, the sounds of the wilderness and being in another world with monsters, makes for the most terrifying experience of my life.

Great thing is, terror is a great motivator for walking really fast. And walk really fast I did. With a total disregard for how tired I was, I rushed as fast as I physically could along the side of the river, eyes wide and scanning.

I was making tonnes of noise, but I didn't have much of a choice while lugging the stupid hammer around. If something caught me, then I'd just have to look threatening, which hopefully wouldn't be too hard with this hammer.

Every step that I took coincided with a beat of my heart, every shuddering breath desperately trying to keep up with the physical exertion.

Until I saw it, drinking at the riverside.

It was massive, as tall as me easily. Its outline was stocky and muscular, and the outline of its head had two wicked looking tusks adorning its mouth. I stood stock still, hoping beyond hope that whatever I had seen didn't hear me.

The only thing that I could think of that fits the outline of this monstrosity is a boar. Its facial structure is so different that it probably wasn't even close to one. Regardless, it scared the fuck out of me. My mind went into overdrive as I stood entirely still.

I examined the little silhouettes of ears that I could see on top of its head, as they twitched ever so slightly. I was so scared that I even held my breath. If that thing saw me then I was dead, there was no way that I could make myself look scary enough that I could scare it off. It would eat me.

I stood so still that I didn't dare to even blink. My hands were sweating and tingling from the amount of adrenalin pumping through me. The only sound being the beat of my own heart.

I saw the massive creature move ever so slightly, sending a shock of fright down my spine. It scanned the landscape, it's mighty breaths loud in the quiet night. Somehow, it managed to miss my form in the dark, standing there frightened still. After a long moment of observation, it turned its head away and started to trudge off into the distance.

I stood still like a statue for what felt like an hour, waiting, hoping that the monster's head wouldn't pop back up over the hill it had disappeared behind. But even when I was sure it was gone, I couldn't help but go from a complete stand still to as close to a run as I could possibly achieve.

I ran and ran and ran, blindly following the curves of the river, looking at the ground, afraid of seeing anything I didn't want to see. I listened only to the thumping of my feet on the dirt, the sound deafening to my terrified mind.

Before suddenly, a sharp snap of the fingers and a stony elderly voice called out, accompanied by a flash of bright light.

"What are you doing?"

[Boo!: You endured extreme fright, a real test of the Mind. +1 Mind]

I could only reply with a blood curdling scream.
Chapter 4: The Cost of Not Knowing
Chapter 4: The Cost of Not Knowing

A strong hand clamped over my mouth before my scream went on any longer, cutting the screech short. The hand was like an iron vice, completely blocking my mouth, not allowing any movement from my jaw.

"Be quiet, would you? I'm not going to kill you." The aged voice said, sounding annoyed but subdued. The hand didn't move, and I didn't try to resist. This guy was a tonne stronger than I was, just from the strength of his hand alone I could tell that much. This guy could probably just snap my neck if he wanted me dead.

"Huh, didn't think that would actually work." The old voice said, surprise leaking into his voice. I was being as non-aggressive as I could be after being scared half to death, and it payed off. The old man gradually lessened his grip over my mouth, a test as to whether I'd begin screaming again. Makes sense. After a second of waiting, the hand was completely removed from my mouth, dropping away from my face entirely. I turned my face to the side, trying to get a look at the man.

He had moved about a metre away since removing his hand from my mouth. He wasn't a particularly tall man, about dead on average. He was, however, muscled. He was wearing basic leather protection gear that covered most of his torso but was otherwise covered in simple clothes similar to mine. But even in the covering clothing, his musculature was prominent. Even more impressive was his age. The man had to be in his sixties at least, his skin covered in wrinkles and sunspots, his skin sagging. His face was half stern, half bushy eyebrows. His jaw remained set like stone, giving the distinct stoicness, and his bushy eyebrows spoke of his emotions. He had his eyebrow raised inquisitively. His stony-grey eyes adding pressure on to me, finally resulting in me blurting out whatever I could think of in that second.

"Uh, good evening, sir?" I fumbled out. A second after I had spoken, the man's eyebrows shot up in disbelief before morphing into amusement.

"Good evening to you too, kid. Now, do you want to tell me what you are doing all the way out here dragging a…" The old man looked behind me, seemingly trying to interpret what it was he was seeing. He raised his left arm, and I finally noticed the light source that had flashed on earlier. Or what it was, specifically.

He was holding fire in his hand.

It floated a few centimetres above the palm of his left hand, a little ball of fire. The fire lapped at an invisible container, pushing up against the air, trying to free itself. But my mind skipped all of that initially and just gawked at the fire. It was strange, seeing something so impossible right in front of your eyes.

"Is it a plow or something?" The old man looked to me, only then noticing my gawking. He looked down at his left hand and his eyebrow raised slightly.

"Jesus, you can actually do magic…" The words leaked from my lips before I could stop them. I knew, logically, that I should hide my status as being from another world, even if it was just so that I could avoid any unwanted attention. But if everyone could use magic here then I had given myself away with just that sentence. I started to sweat, the fear returning to the pit of my stomach. I hoped beyond hope that the man ignored it.

But I had no such luck. The old man turned back to me, his brow furrowed severely while he processed my words. His eyes wandered for a moment, before coming to rest on what was see able of my hammer. Then his eyes rapidly widened, and I knew that I was busted.

"Did you say 'Jesus'?" He demanded.

"Huh?" I said dumbly. Shocked at the sudden change in conversation. 'Jesus'? That's what he picks up on of all things? Not on my surprise at his use of magic, but my use of the word 'Jesus'? Why would he want to know that? I honestly didn't really know how to respond to that other than to just tell the truth.

"Uh, I guess so. What about it?" The old man's eyes narrowed significantly. In one swift motion he pushed past me to stand over my hammer, using the ball of flame to see the metal monster that laid behind me.

He examined the hammer closely, and then brushed off the side of the hammer's head. An uncomfortable feeling overcame me as he touched the hammer, like a spider crawling down my spine.

"Uh, hey! Can you not, like, touch it? Please?" I mumbled. Damnit why can't I just speak like a normal human being right now.

The man turned to me, looking me dead in the eye and waiting a moment. I nervously looked at his hands, hoping that he wouldn't touch the hammer again. It felt kind of disgusting for some reason.

"It's a Soul Weapon, isn't it." I paused for a second, my mind started to go into overdrive again. I was being found out! The fear in my gut surged up to my throat, forcing my mouth into saying whatever I could to get out of this situation.

"Ah, no. No, I don't know what you are talking abo–" But I didn't get to finish before the man placed his hand on the head of the hammer.

All of a sudden, I felt disgusting. Nothing like before, now it was like I was covered in filth, inside an out. It made me sick to my very core, it felt as if something of mine was being defiled. I couldn't take it, so I rushed forward towards the man, and kicked out at his chest, wanting nothing more that to keep him away from my hammer, to stop him from touching it.

However, with a simple push from his hand I was sent tumbling backwards in the dirt, the disgusting feeling gone for the moment.

"It's a Soul Weapon." The old man intoned darkly. "Are you one of them?"

I didn't respond right away, trying to catch my breath from the sudden combat.

"I-I don't know what you mean!" I called, and a hand clasped over the hammer's haft again, the horrifying feeling returning. My mind was overtaken by the need to get him away, forcing me to rush forwards with reckless abandon once again. In the middle of my mad dash, the man threw the small ball of flame he was holding.

I was forced to dodge as best as I could, throwing myself to the side with reckless abandon. For all I knew it was capable of burning a hole in me, but with the terrible feeling escalating further, it was slowly overwhelming my ability to think clearly.

Now I was on the floor, writhing in disgust. Like millions of bugs were crawling all over my body, in and out of every orifice, and it was only increasing in severity, becoming more vivid of a feeling.

In a last ditch effort I simply screamed.

"I don't know what you want! I'm from another world!" And the disgust stopped.

No, not just stopped, completely gone. It was as if they were never there in the first place. I panted, struggling for breath not only because of the acrobatics. That disgust was something so overpowering, it caused everything in my body to seize up and clench all at once, leaving my muscles exhausted.

I groaned with the effort to sit up, pushing against the ground with my tired muscles.

In a way I was still terrified. I knew, just from the feeling itself that it could have gotten so, so much worse than it did, spiralling into a torture beyond possible words.

I looked up at the man who stood next to my hammer. He started at me, then crouched to be closer to my eyeline. He looked at me for a long, long moment, not daring to break eye contact with me, searching my eyes for something. He sighed and hung his head in a dismay, breaking eye contact with me for a brief moment.

Something in me wanted to race forward, try to give the man a surprise and take back my hammer, but I shot it down as the instinct hit me. He could overpower me easily and he could torture me through a massive lump of metal I could barely move at a walking pace.

After a long moment he looked back up, meeting my eyes with his grey, stony ones.

"I'm sorry about that. I mistook you for something you weren't." It was a gruff apology; one that inspired a small flame of anger at the injustice of the situation.

"You could have at least checked first." I growled, but the man didn't get angry back, his face remaining calm but apologetic.

"I couldn't have. If I gave only a moment for me to check, I could have died." He shook his head sadly. Me? Kill someone? I almost laughed at the absurdity, but the man wasn't joking. He saw my eyebrow raise inquisitively and he sighed.

"The cost of not knowing is too great." He looked at me with genuine eyes, but stone cold in their conviction. He did exactly what he thought was right. In a way, knowing that there was a reason so important that there was a cost of not knowing sort of made it a little better in mind.

"What would the cost be, exactly?" I growled, retaining the anger in my voice.

The man looked at me for a long while, his eyes piercing into mine. It was as if those stone-grey corneas could see directly right through me, deep into my mind. His face changed multiple times. Emotions flicking through his head that were strong enough to provoke a strong facial reaction from the seemingly stern man. Strong enough that I could swear that I felt them myself.

It wasn't long before his eyes refocused, returning to reality. His face settling on an emotion that I think I may have only ever seen a handful of times in my life. But before I could identify it, the man sighed, his mouth opening slightly, before hesitating once again. He looked deep into my eyes, and only after a moment did he close his eyes and speak.

"The Champion War." He whispered, sorrow dancing on his lips.

Oh, that's what that emotion was.


A/N: And thus, we meet our fist character! A friend? A bit of a harsh introduction, don't you think? Hope you're all enjoying the story!

Any comments or interaction would be appreciated! Would love to talk to you all!
Chapter 5: Who's an Idiot?
Chapter 5: Who's an Idiot?

[Tortured Soul: You have tasted the disgust that comes with having your soul defiled, however, you were lucky and came out unharmed. Maybe even stronger than before. +2 Mind.]

Not the best time for a notification, but I don't have a choice but to take it, I need all the stats I can get my hands on. At least my Mind seems to want to stay about level with my Might at eleven. My Agility though… still at a measly five. Anyway, I have to refocus.

"The 'Champion War'?" I asked. I had dropped most of the aggression in my voice. Don't get me wrong I was still unhappy with the man, but that wasn't going to get me anywhere. If I yelled and screamed at him now, I would probably end up brushed aside, left alone in the dark again. I had no choice.

The old man looked up at me again, furrowing his brow in suspicion.

"Shouldn't you know this?" A little bit of spite leaked into his voice.

"You mean the bunch of people sent from my world over here?" I asked, I was being genuine. Right now, I was regretting not having listened to the God when he was doing his speech. But, whenever I tried to remember, I could only pull up memories of the pain in my head and confusion.

At my words the old man looked at me in disbelief, an eyebrow raising to accompany.

"You're telling me that you don't know? Honestly?" He didn't seem to know what to make of this. I'm not sure what it was that he expected from me, but I obviously wasn't up to par.

"No! I mean, I think I know what you are getting at, but only through context. I was probably told at some point, but I don't think I was listening, or that I could listen. I had a massive headache, still do." I blurted, flustered by the expectations that he had on me, temples still pulsing with pain again. But now it just seemed like he thought I was stupid. He had that look on his face, as if he were talking to a child. Well, I kind of was in comparison to him, I guess.

"Don't look at me like that! Any normal person would be despondent like I was when they were suddenly teleported into a massive white room. Not to mention being talked at by a dude calling himself God! Saying stuff like, 'You are all part of a test and-'," I stopped speaking for a moment, almost shocked by what I had remembered.

"Oh. That's not good." The old man looked at me curiously for a moment, then his brow furrowed in thought. I could almost see the cogs turning in his head, while he appraised me.

"You really didn't know, did you?" I shook my head, a questioning look on my face.

"Should I have?" I said. I know that it was stupid that I didn't take this all in whilst I was in the room with the God. But I was in pain and bewildered. Was it really all that strange, especially when in that sort of situation?

"If you were the same as the rest of that group, " He said with some acid, "At least you are reacting normally to having your soul messed with. Headaches and brain fog are usually the least of the concerns when playing around with souls." He said. I don't know if he was being deliberately vague, or was just lost in his own thoughts, so I decided to take the plunge.

"Alright man, I'm not sure what you are trying to get at here, but I really need a place to stay, somewhere safer than out here. You can question me all you want if you can give me a place to stay and preferably a bed to sleep in along with it." I looked at him. I tried not to sound like I was pleading, but it was probably so obvious that it hurt to look at. The man's face stayed still, almost as if he didn't hear me in the first place. You wouldn't be able to tell at all if you didn't notice the tiny movements of his eyelids. A small tell-tale, but one nonetheless.

The old man took a while before he spoke again, only adding layer upon layer of insecurity to the pile of anxiousness that was my mind right now.

"Fine." The old man said, staring into my eyes for a moment. I was overjoyed, finally securing a place to sleep was a glorious feeling, especially after the day I've had. However, he quickly turned and started walking at a brisk pace. A pace that was far too fast for my tired legs, at least with me dragging the stupid hammer behind me

But I didn't have a choice, I just had to suck it up and start walking. I hefted the massive shaft of the hammer and started to pull, desperately forcing my legs to push forward to keep pace with the old man's footsteps.

I had only moved a few paces before the old man turned to look at where all the noise was coming from, which was my hammer being dragged behind me. He looked at me funnily, almost as if I were a court jester.

"You can put the hammer away, kid. I'm not going to attack you, not like you could do anything if I did anyways." He said, a slight chuckle escaping his lips as I stared, dumbfounded.

"Put it away? What do you mean?" Then the man froze.

"I mean unsummon the thing." His left eyebrow reaching an all-time high.

"W-wait. I can unsummon it?" I said, disbelief washed over me, shortly before a tidal wave of shame hit me, knocking me to my knees. Oh my God. I'm actually an idiot. The greatest idiot that ever was. My head screamed in sadistic, gleeful laughter, like a villain cackling after a completed evil invention.

The old man looked at me, with my hands covering my face and back to the humongous hammer that laid in the dirt behind me. Then he connected the all the dots, his eyes lighting up brilliantly with humour.

"Wait, you've been dragging that massive thing around the whole time?" He giggled slightly, before waiting slightly, baiting out an answer.


There was a moment of silence before a roar of laughter so loud that it hurt my ears came from the old man. I thought I knew shame, but this was on another level. Why the hell didn't I think of that? It's so simple, if you can summon it, you can unsummon it. It was simple stuff, but in my hubris and brain-fog, I had completely forgotten myself.

The pain of my body only served to deepen my shame. It was as if my body itself was lambasting me for my idiocy, whilst the roaring laughter of the old man continued on for minutes. He only stopped to catch his breath before continuing.

After what seemed like half an hour, the old man's roaring laughter managed to taper off into the occasional uncontrollable giggle. After a while he patted me solidly on the shoulder, while chuckling.

"Oh, I don't think I've laughed that hard in my entire gods-damned life," he paused to giggle a bit more, "Come on, unsummon your Soul Weapon and I'll bring you back to my place for the night. If I wasn't sure you weren't like the rest of you are, then I'd be damned sure now." He punctuated his comment with a short giggle and started to walk again, albeit at a much more casual pace.

I removed my hands from my face and placed a hand on my hammer. From there it was only a thought and the massive hammer once again returned to the strange liquid metal state that it had been when I first Summoned it. It leaked into the hand that was touching it like water down the drain of a bathtub.

I sighed, then got to my feet and started to walk after the old man, following the warm light of the little ball of fire in his palm.

God damnit I was an idiot.

A/N: Hey there again! A few very helpful people told me that maybe I should be posting at a different time to fit better with the American time-zones, so here we are!

Another chapter down *checks backlog* many more to go! Hope you all have a great day!
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Chapter 6: I'm an Idiot
Chapter 6: I'm an Idiot

It was only a small village, probably only had a few hundred—if a thousand—residents all in small homes mostly made of wood. They were a little bit dumpy, ramshackle if you were being nice. They were off centre and not at all symmetrical, it seemed a lot like the houses were built with the wood in mind, rather than the house. It was an interesting sight, not quite civilised, but not like the houses made of garbage that you see in some places back on Earth.

Most importantly, it felt fundamentally different than what was back on Earth. It truly was a 'We're not in Kansas anymore' moment. What a strange feeling.

The streets were dirt, not that I expected any different, but I did expect there to be more people out. Just one or two, maybe. Maybe a bit of noise coming from a tavern or nearby home, but there was no sound at all, not a peep. It was most likely sometime in the early morning, but on Earth you could still find cars whizzing past on the main street. Things are different in this world, people actually slept.

It was still cool in the darkness of night, but the smells of the street made me crinkle my nose. They had clearly been heavily used by human and animal. You had to watch your step or you'd end up ankle deep in shit.

My body didn't hurt nearly as much as it had before, whilst I was dragging the stupid hammer. But there was quite a bit of soreness, soreness that I knew would most likely be extreme muscle pain by tomorrow. I was not looking forward to that. Not at all.

The old man didn't speak at all while we walked, so neither did I.

The air wasn't awkward, but the silence was still high strung. Questions to ask whirled in my mind, and I'm sure the other man had a similar amount. So, instead of taking in the open, silence was the only option.

Our steps resounded with the night, cutting through the darkness. It made me feel slightly less afraid walking through this town than if I were alone. I didn't have the best impression of the guy, and to be perfectly honest I still didn't that he'd even gotten close to torturing me... but he was growing on me. Mostly because I felt just a little safer around him.

We slowly approached a house that was just a little further away from the rest of the houses, but that wasn't really what distinguished it from the rest. The house was immaculate. It wasn't a mansion, of even as great as a modern home, but it was absolutely perfectly constructed. In comparison to the rest of the homes, this house's planks were all perfectly cut, exactly the same length as the rest and excellently constructed.
The old man did a little half jog up the few steps to the front porch, a jog that I tried to do but pain flared through my legs and I decided to slow it right down.

"Alright. This is my home, room at the end of the hall to the left is where you'll be staying. Tomorrow we'll talk." He turned to me, giving me one last glance before he disappeared into his house. I had assumed we were going to right into the talking, but it seemed like sleep was king.

I wasn't going to complain, I desperately wanted some sleep, even if I knew that I would feel horrible in the morning.

The allure of sleep dangling just in front of me, I stumbled down the relatively long hallway. It'd been furnished with nice things, small keepsakes I assumed, but rather minimalistic otherwise. I stumbled like I was absolutely smashed and wandering my way home, minus the nausea, thank god. Opening the door to the room, I was greeted with a decent sized bed, sheets neat and tidy, small bedside counter, a chest of drawers. I can't imagine that the old guy got visitors all that often, but this room was immaculate.

Not like I cared, I just about face planted into the bed, barely feeling its comfortable firmness before I began sleeping, clothed and all.
My eyes opened to a bright light shining through a massive window that I hadn't noticed and pain. Oh, the pain.

I sighed, before twitching a leg muscle to gauge how bad the pain was. And it was pretty bad, but not quite as bad as I thought it would be, which was nice, but the pain that was ever present was pretty horrible.

For a while, my body was in the state where it was just telling me not to move at all, holding me hostage in my comfortable bed. Just to spite my body, I started to force myself to move, and as I did, I was quickly greeted with a notification for my troubles.

[A Good Night's rest after a Long Day's Work: A lot happened yesterday, pushing yourself as hard as you could. However, a good night's rest did your body wonders. +1 Might and Agility]

Just as I started to complain about falling behind in Agility I gained some. This system is a weird one, granting so many stat ups didn't really fit in the way I thought it would have. Not like I was going to complain about it, even if it really was stupid.

I stored the idea in my 'ask old guy' folder and moved on. I started to move again, trying my best to be gentle on my aching and creaking muscles. I had never done so much physical exercise ever, not since I was a kid, at least.

The fire in my legs didn't go away when I stood, but I just ignored it the best I could at this point. Today was going to be interesting.
I brushed my clothes down with my hands subconsciously and a small cloud of dust appeared. I groaned, realising I'd just slept in the poor guy's sheets with my dusty ass clothes on. I'd have to try cleaning them later for him. I definitely needed to clean my clothes, they were practically coated in dust, so much that I couldn't even tell you where it all came from. I walked through a forest, for God's sake, not a bloody desert.

I shook my head and moved to the door. I was sure I hadn't closed it last night, so either it somehow closed on its own, or the old man was already up. I say "already" like I know what time it is, but really, I'm clueless. I'd guestimate around midday if I was to go on my sleeping habits from Earth.

Opening the door and then closing it behind me, I walked down to hallway while looking around. Now that there was proper light, I could see some of the little keepsakes that he had on shelves on the walls. I don't know if any of them were of any specific value, of if they were this world's version of souvenirs, but they sure were cool. Most of them I had absolutely no idea how to even describe, but a few of them were somewhat recognisable. Like, one of them was almost definitely a wand. It was intricately carved, in a way that for some reason felt like a young boy's handiwork, adorned in sharp edges in the engravings. Curious, I picked it up, examining it closer.

I wasn't going to actually do anything to it, seems like something an idiot would do, but it was fascinating. The engravings were a lot like what I saw on the hilt of my hammer. It was distinctly someone else. It gave tells to whose it was, but not quite enough to truly let me form a picture in my mind.

"Axen." a clear, voice spoke from behind me, startling me. Before I turned to see the old man standing there in casual clothes, leaning on the doorway to what looked like the lounge room. He looked at me curiously with a cup of some hot drink in his hands.


"It was his name," the old man nodded towards the little wand, "he gave that to me as a gift for my 50th birthday." He smiled slightly a good memory it seemed.

"It's a wand isn't it? Isn't it valuable?" I asked, for some reason I wanted to know more. Holding this wand in my hands made me feel like I knew this Axen somehow. I wanted to know just a little bit more. Satiate my curiosity.

"Oh it is. It's worth enough to start a small war over." He chuckled as my eyes grew wide and I carefully placed the wand back on the little shelf it came off of, only daring to examine it from a distance.

"A wand is a valuable thing. Because only a few can make wands, only those born with the talent. To find the talent in the first place, you must be trained in shifting. There is no other way to tell," he paused to take a sip of what I assumed was some sort of tea, "Many years ago I taught a young boy the basics of shifting while I was on my way through a village. Turns out that he had the talent, and this was his first wand before he eventually grew out of it. He managed to track me down years later to give it to me. He turned out to be a fine man." The old man took another sip and chuckled, before turning to walk back into his lounge room.

I stood, somewhat stunned by the man's explanation. I don't know what shifting, was, but I'll mentally replace it with magic, for the time being. I'm not sure what I expected but wasn't he a little bit too nonchalant? He had this immensely valuable thing lying on a little shelf in a little wood shack in a small village. It sounded like he had forever changed this kid's life! A chance encounter, that was for sure.

For a moment before I walked away, I looked at the small, engraved wand one last time. Just for a moment, a flash of recognition hit, a small boy with fiery red hair that looked like an explosion on his head grinned like a maniac, holding his prized possession in his hands, a carved wand.
Then it disappeared.

Wands can do cool memory stuff. Noted.

I turned and followed the old man into the lounge room, finding myself in the nicest part of the house. The place practically oozed comfort. It felt cosy just looking at it. The walls were adorned with bookshelves and books, maps and a hundred other points of interest. If the wand was anything to go off of, then these walls were likely lined with incredibly valuable things, one way or another.

The old man sat in a recliner, something that I was somewhat surprised by. I guess theoretically it wouldn't be all that hard to make even with little technology. Regardless, he was sitting down by a fireplace, without the fire going of course, it was the middle of the day and it wasn't even cold.
I eyed the chair sitting just opposite of him, over a small coffee-table that had his cup of tea on it. I walked over to the chair, but before I could sit, the old man stood up straight and extended his hand.

I wasn't really sure what to make of it, but I hesitantly grabbed his hand, and he gave it a small but firm shake.

"Mayer Renue." He said.

"Maximilian Avenforth. Max." I said, following the trend of being succinct.

Mayer sat back down in his chair gently, and so did I, letting my legs rest once again, the pain slowly subsiding. There was a slow silence. I wasn't sure what the silence meant, but I wasn't going to be the one to break it. He could start with the questions. Mayer grunted, seemingly in understanding that he had to start and stopped to think for a second before speaking.

"You're from Earth?" I was shocked a moment, before remembering that he seemed pretty knowledgeable about my situation, so I just nodded.

"Year?" He asked. I frowned, a strange question, but something I could answer, nonetheless.

"2019. Why?" When he heard my answer, he let out a low whistle and sunk into his seat for a moment, in thought. He resurfaced from his thoughts after a second.

"It's been seventy years here since the last Champion War happened. But for you, the last one happened in 1999."

"Huh, looks like Earth and…" I trailed off, realising I didn't know the name of this world.

"Virsdis." Mayer chimed in.

"Virsdis are on different time streams or whatever. Wouldn't that mean that we aren't really in the same universe? Is this another dimension entirely?" I asked, somewhat confused. This was a little bit too much like time travel for my liking. Time travel always ruins a good story.

"To be honest, I have no damn clue. This is the work of Gods, I have no doubt they have the answer, but Gods are notoriously tight lipped." The old man placed his hand on his chin, stroking his beardless face. Lost in thought.

"What is it?" I asked, hoping to get some insight into why that was so important. Mayer looked up at me and after a moment, shrugged.

"Well, if it has only been twenty years over there, then he would still be alive." He said.


"An old friend of mine, one of the past Champion candidates."

"Old friend?" I said, shocked. This guy knew the last generation of the Champion candidates? I hadn't even known there was a last generation until a few moments ago.

"Yeah. He was a brilliant man, not any older than you are. Absolutely brilliant he was. A real leader. A warrior the likes I had never seen before, and likely never will again." Meyers grinned to himself, memories flicking through his eyes, "His name was Ryan Hayes. Heard of him?" I frowned and shook my head.

"Unfortunate. I'm sure that he's off doing something real important." Mayer chuckled before picking up his tea and sipping on it again. As he did, a question popped into my mind.

"So, last night you said that you were sure that I wasn't part of the Champions? What did you mean?" I asked. As I said it, the man burst out into a fit of laughing, before finishing it in a cough and a grin heavy on his face.

"Oh no, I didn't mean that. You are definitely part of the Champions. I was talking more about what it was that they stand for." He said, chucking a bit before taking another sip.

"Stand for?" I said, eyebrow raised.

"Well. Ryan told me years ago that the Champion candidates were the best and brightest that Earth had to offer; 50 super geniuses from across your world." I frowned. That didn't sound quite right. I wasn't anywhere near smart enough to be called a super genius. I wasn't talented in any special way. What gives?

"Sorry to break it to you kid, but if you were one of these super geniuses you definitely wouldn't have stayed here for the night. No way I would've let you."
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Chapter 7: God Gossip
Chapter 7: God Gossip

My eyebrow flew up. An unasked question spoken and Mayer rolled his eyes obnoxiously.

"No, I wouldn't have killed you. The Champions, in general, are wickedly smart. They are masters of multiple intellectual fields. Sometimes they are masters of combat, tactics, and social intrigue. They are geniuses among geniuses, and do not make mistakes as large as not surmising that you could unsummon a Soul Weapon. Even if they were subjected to terrible torture. I should know, I've seen it myself. They aren't infallible by any means though." The older man held my gaze thoughtfully, before returning to sipping on his tea.

"What does that mean about me though? If it was supposed to be a group of the elite from my world, why am I here?"

"No idea. In the end there may not even be a specific reason at all. Gods aren't any different than humans in their temperament. If anything, they're worse. They take perceived slights to heart, smiting hundreds of people at once if they feel like they have been personally slandered, though they do have their limits. However, they've also made a random beggar the king of a country. They are random and work in ways that, if they make sense at all, allude us. It is quite possible you being here is just pure random chance." The man shrugged.

Well that's not exactly a super fulfilling thing to hear. Being told about a grand quest of some sort would be ideal right about now, something to set my aspirations to. But being told that you are just here by pure ass? It's disheartening. It lacks the purpose that the other candidates have. Wait-

"Wait, so what's the actual goal here? Why are the rest of the people here?" I asked, desperately clawing at my memory to gleam something to use as an answer but came up with nothing.

"Well, according to Ryan, that God was talking about a magical age coming to your home world. So, in defence, the God wants to find a capable leader for the planet to rely upon going into the magical age. It doesn't sound quite right to me, and Ryan agreed it was bullshit, but we never really talked about it further." I furrowed my brow. Well, he wasn't exactly wrong. It didn't really seem all that legitimate to me, like for example, how far away is this coming of the magical age supposed to be? It had been 20 years on Earth since the last wave of candidates, what had stopped this magical wave from coming then? Was this really as cut and dry the God made it out to be?

But the reverse was true, he was a God, who was I to be distrustful?

It was a trust game, one that goes around in circles, round and round with no end. Hence, I decided to not play by walking the fence. There were more things that were far more interesting than this God, what about–

"Other Gods? Are there a lot in this world?" I asked. The existence of Gods was an interesting prospect for me. Traditionally, I have believed through my life that the existence of a God is unproven. Until proven otherwise, I would reserve my thoughts on the matter. But now I have been given ample proof, and so I now wanted to know more. It was possibly the largest change from Earth to Virsdis; the possibility of active Gods.

"Oh boy, there are so many Gods that I couldn't even give you a number. Nor would I even bother." He chuckled at himself before continuing, "Turns out, that when one culture believes in a Sun God, that God is created if there is ample belief. Now, when another culture believes in a remarkably similar Sun God, only with slight differences, it doesn't just take the original Sun God and add power to them. Instead, another entire God is born." Mayer shook his head, as if lamenting the wastefulness.

"That sounds… confusing?"

"Damn right it is. There are probably a few hundred Sun Gods. They actually have Courts for Gods that have more than a manageable number of peers. There are many whose life's work is trying to unravel the hierarchy of the Gods and their Courts. Usually by examining whatever God related material that they can get their hands on. It is admittedly interesting, when it comes down to it."

So, Gods had their own whole thing going on. I honestly didn't know if this information would ever be useful. I almost wanted it to be. Inter-God Court politics sound exceptionally interesting but maybe I've just watched too many lawyer TV series for my own good. To be honest, I was hooked. I was way in on the God gossip.

"What about a God that is the complete opposite? A God type with only one iteration." At that Mayer thought for a moment. It obvious that he didn't really think about these questions all that often.

"Hmm, well. There are a lot of stragglers that are their own types, not really fitting into any particular Court. But they generally don't have much of a following, they don't have the same cultural span that, say, the Harvest Gods have. Everyone cares about having a good harvest. Not many care about something obscure like a God of Pots." He chuckled at that. It was obvious that he was actually serious about that last one.

"What about a big one though? Like one that commands the same sort of leverage that a Sun God does? Do they exist?" Mayer sipped his cup and smiled.

"The Death God. The one and only. Old Arun does not share titles."

Figures it was the God of Death who was the edgy lone wolf.

"Arun is one of the only Gods to seriously interact on a functional level with the material plane. Whenever someone is dying, they know, because Arun is always standing there, waiting to take you to the other side. Seen him a few times myself, spooks you pretty bad the first time—but the times after that… its almost like seeing an old friend."

Mayer took one last sip of his cup, finally finishing it. It almost felt like a sand hourglass in a way. The ending of the tea meant the day had started. Mayer stood up from his seat and started to walk around. After a minute or two he popped his head into the lounge room.

"Time to get the day started. Can't be sitting around talking all day."
Chapter 8: The Beginning of Pain
Chapter 8: The Beginning of Pain

Mayer rushed me out the door, like a cattle dog herding… well, cattle.

The small town was a lot fuller than during the night. Residents were milling about, taking care of their daily tasks and doing their work.
The townsfolk were all dressed from brutally practical, probably for work and work only, all the way to half decent. Frocks and tunics seemed to be all the fashion, and my clothing even seemed nice in comparison to some.

"Hey Mayer." I called out to the stoically silent man. He looked at me out of the corner of his eye. "What is this town even called?"

"It doesn't have a name. We're at the very end of a trade road, between two larger settlements. All the towns down these roads are called road towns, imaginatively. There are too many to keep track of, and no one to officialise it." He shrugged.

Well, that was enlightening.

Speaking of trade, I wonder if there was proper trade? This town was on that border of civilised and not quite civilised that made it difficult to tell. Mayer had said that there were other towns, larger settlements even. That meant that there had to be trade of some sort. Its possible that it was trade without use of coins, just goods for other goods, or a de facto good to trade like wheat or something.

As we walked down the dirt street, there were quite a few looks from the townsfolk, eyeing me up—trying to figure out who I was or where I was from, I'd assume. However, once they saw who I was with, they seemed to become entirely uninterested in who I was. Which was interesting.

I'd picked up that Mayer was a little understated on his reputation. He wore the clothes of a normal resident; he even looked the part. But if his home was anything to go by—not to mention his magic—he was more than just that. There was also the wand, because honestly, if that didn't trip someone's "holy shit this guy isn't what he seems" sensor, then I want what they're smoking.

Plus, he also knew Ryan, a past Champion, which means something. I'm just not sure what exactly.

"Um, what are we doing?" I honestly didn't know what to expect for an answer to this question.

"What do you mean, what are we doing? We're going to do some farm work!" Well, I certainly wasn't expecting that.

"Farm work? Uh, why exactly?" I didn't quite understand why Mayer seemed to think that it was so obvious.

"Why else, to pull your weight. You aren't here for free kid." Mayer laughed evilly.

Oh no, this isn't going to be fun, is it.


Holy shit. Kill me already.

I swear to God, or Gods or whatever, this guy is trying to kill me. Not Mayer, he's off doing something else, the slack bastard.

No, it's this other guy, mid-thirties probably and a hard taskmaster. Currently I was using the horned edge of my hammer to break up the earth to plant something in. No idea and can't even bring myself to care.

If there was any way to kill all wonder that you have about a new world with magic, its to work yourself silly. Show you just how undeveloped this world's technology is.

The work was plain body destroying. I was being used in place of a damn horse, doing at least two peoples work, maybe three. The constant strain was unrelenting. I couldn't even use all the little techniques that I'd picked up to help manage the weight, because I was actually using the weight to break the earth. I had to use all my strength to keep the hammer in control at all.

If I hit one little pebble that didn't give in to the weight, then my hammer goes veering off course. Originally, I had tried to pull it along using all of my body weight cartoon style which was—as you could guess—colossally stupid.

The hammer didn't actually stay deep enough into the dirt. Meaning that, when it hit anything, it'd be pushed off course or up out of the earth and right onto my foot.

So now my foot hurts like all hell. Probably not broken. Probably.

I had already spent hours doing this. It was ridiculous, even in comparison to yesterday's exertion. It was worse even. Plus, I hadn't exactly fully recovered, my muscles were still sore when I woke up, so I was already working with a deficit.

I can't possibly imagine that Mayer actually cares all that much about me immediately pulling my weight. Especially not as soon as I stepped foot in the town. He definitely has an ulterior motive. Well, ulterior makes it sound worse than I mean. He obviously knows something more than I do, and he's not telling me for whatever reason, most likely to watch me squirm.

My best theory is that he knows more about the stats than I do. It had become more likely that either only select beings had access to the stat screen or literally only the Champion candidates do. Simply because no-one seems to act the way that you'd think they would with the ability to upgrade your stats. For one, horses were still used for labour, which would be absurd because the farmer would be as strong as a bull from even basic achievements. So, I highly doubted that the average person had the screen. However, that doesn't necessarily mean that people without the stat screen cannot achieve great strength. I'm not sure how life with a stat screen compares with one without here.

Is the screen only an advantage with no drawbacks? It seems like it, at least from where I am so far. Though... what happens when achievements are getting harder and harder to get? Does the screen start to show its downsides?

There is no reason to overthink things for now. Except, overthinking things is the only thing keeping my mind off of the searing pain in my legs right now. So let's return to overthinking things.

I was also somewhat hesitant to call the screen a system. A system is more like a network of things, many different components all converging to create one functioning machine. But I've been given no real indication that this screen is anything other than a stupid–

"Max!" A voice called, breaking me from my overthinking loop. I looked over to Mayer, eyes scalding hot with mock hate at being left to this torture. Mayer didn't seem to care, jumping the low fence and coming over close to me and looking at me oddly.

"Am I done? Can I go rest?" I said, exasperated and more than a little tired. Mayer Held out a hand, making me pause as I started to put down my hammer. I stared directly at Mayer, quirking an eyebrow inquisitively, preparing a question.

"Stay still for a second." Mayer held deadly still; his eyes locked with mine. A few seconds and I started to feel uncomfortable, a few seconds after that I began to be confused, a few seconds after that, intimidation, then finally-

[A Day on the Farm: A day on the farm is hard, especially if you're the horse pulling the plow. Oh wait, you were. +3 Might]

My mouth opened ever so slightly, not enough to notice anything, I would have thought anyway.

"It worked, didn't it?" Mayer said, a crafty grin on his face. I had no choice but to nod. Once I did, the older man's face lit up with a genuine grin.

"That means that it hasn't changed since Ryan was around, or at least not this part. Now that I know that its roughly the same, I can help you at least a little." The old man looked at the farmer and nodded in appreciation, and the farmer dipped his head deeper, more a sign of respect than acknowledgement.

"So, you know about the stat screen?" I said, not actually asking, just really moving the conversation forwards. Mayer nodded.

"Me and Ryan spent hours figuring the thing out. It was an interesting time. Turns out, two heads were better than one. Ryan abused that shitty screen all he could." My eyes widened.

"Ryan thought it was a bad system too?" Mayer laughed quietly.

"Yeah, he was always ranting and raving about it being unscalable and unnecessarily restrictive. He hated that it didn't reward training and practice naturally. Always said it was a ball and chain, but you Champions don't have much choice." I scrunched my eyebrows together, confused.

"Does that mean it isn't strong?" I asked but Mayer quickly shook his head.

"No, you can get extraordinarily powerful with the screen, as you are. The last Champions were uniquely powerful by the time the Champion War started in earnest. But Ryan loved to theorise about how much more progress he could have made if he could train and progress naturally." Mayer chuckled.

I guess even Ryan thought that the screen was as bad as I thought it was. I... didn't know how to feel about that. I felt like I'd been robbed of something. I couldn't help but wonder if Ryan had felt the same, being boiled down to three numbers and some stupid achievements. I sighed heavily.

Well, even so. If Ryan could get powerful with this shitty stat screen, then I could too. I hope.

A/N: Hey there for the second time today! The last chapter was really short, and I felt bad, so here's a second one to satiate the thirst you may or may not have for this story!

A quick notice as well; I have been feeling pretty unwell these past few days, resulting in a General Practitioner visit. I had to go get myself a COVID-19 test, which was unpleasant with a sore throat, but at least the nose part was fine. Seeing as I live in Australia, where COVID-19 has a very low case number, and that my symptoms are significantly improving already, I'll likely be fine—but just in case I don't post for any reason, you can assume that I either tested positive and are working on figuring that mess out, or I'm just feeling terrible.

Regardless of my plight, I hope you beautiful people are all having an excellent day!
Chapter 9: About a Bet
Chapter 9: About a Bet

I woke in Mayer's guestroom, a radiant day to greet me through the large window. How lovely.

Aside from the pain, but that was quite alright. I could deal with a little bit of pain, but what I wasn't sure I could deal with was Mayer.

How the hell was I going to do anything even close to as extreme as what I did yesterday. My body was royally fucked, beyond belief. My muscles felt like they had been torn in half and sewn back together again. I glared at my stats, bloody minded. So much for being a videogame character.

I sighed to myself and pushed myself up from the comfortable bed. I didn't have much of a choice. If Mayer had a plan, then I could do nothing but to follow it. He seemed like a nice enough guy, all in all—I just don't know how he'd take me saying no. I don't know him well enough to even speculate.

Each step I took made me feel like I was bleeding from my pores. I don't think I've ever been in this much muscle pain in my life.

I trudged over to my clothes—laying on the floor where I dumped them yesterday—and I put them on. I moved the shirt over my head slowly, trying not to agitate my arm or back muscles in the process.

Walking through the surprisingly heavy door of the guest room, I made my way to the living room—where I knew the devil himself would be, lounging about drinking tea. Only stopping before the doorway to catch my breath before I willingly walked into hell. I took a deep breath in, trying to relieve myself of the worry that comes with every new day on this planet. I exhaled and walked through the doorway, greeted with the sight of the older man sipping on tea and reading a book that seemed relatively old.

"Ah, young Maximilian. Nice to see that you have awoken from your slumber." The old man said in a mockery of what seemed like a rich, posh asswipe. Looks like things stay constant amongst worlds, there still existed the pompous rich and those that mocked them. Though Mayer's accent was rough around the edges to say the least.

"Oh yes, my dear Mayer. I had just a wonderous dream! It was truly spectacular. You see, it was a dream in which my poor old body didn't have to move itself today! No pain and a great deal of resting for me—insanity, I know." I said, doing my best true posh English accent, a little bit frilly to add a pompous air to it. Mayer looked at me, mutely surprised. He raised an eyebrow, a small smile working its way onto his face.

"You're pretty good at that, are you highborn in your world? I assumed you were a commoner based on your accent." He asked curiously. I scoffed imperiously at his disparagement of the Australian accent. Which only happened to be entirely true. I let a grin grow on my face, settling into the day's more relaxed atmosphere.

"No. Not even remotely. I come from Australia in my world. Australia isn't a big fan of Kings and Queens. A lot of the values of our country come from harshly exiled criminals. Those exiles originally came from a country called England, which was a powerhouse on a global scale back in the day. Our accents are derived from their accents. Why?" I said. Mayer's face entered thought mode.

"The origin of this world is quite similar to you own country. Many people that did not conform were sent through to this planet as way of execution. It has been around two or three generations since then, I think. What was once a collection of murderers and thieves—most for moral or lawful reasons, mind you—is now an actual functioning world. To an extent." Mayer chucked lightly. I laughed too.

"Let me guess, it's still a bit of a jungle out here. Lots of crime, lots of lawless areas?"

"Precisely, hence why I am here on this rock—instead of the other one." Now it was my turn to frown. I had sort of assumed that Mayer was a bit of a lord here. He seemed to be treated quite well by the townsfolk, judging by the look he'd gotten and the scant conversations I'd overheard. I wouldn't be surprised if he had such a position.

"You are the lord of this place, right?" Mayer looked at me dumbfounded.

"Of course not, I couldn't ever be the lord of anything. I don't think that I'd ever be able to deal with the social parties and conniving, political interactions all day. I think it'd melt my brain inside my skull from the mixture of boredom and bitterness. I just hold a sword and hit people with it real good—otherwise I'm a bit of a chump." Mayer laughed at himself, giving me a distinct impression that he was way underselling himself.

"So, then why are you here? What is it that could pull you over here if you aren't interested in capturing a slice of land and ruling it zealously?" The old man's face twisted into a grin.

"Because this is where all the nasty beasties are. And where the nasty besties are, I usually am."

"Oh," I said, not enlightened but more of a 'I probably should have just guessed that one' kind of 'Oh'. "So, I assume that this place is used as execution lands for particularly devious criminals or naysayers. A kind of ultimate punishment then?"

"In a way. All sorts were sent here years ago because of some war that happened, but now there aren't really any being sent anymore. Those over there," Mayer pointed in the rough direction of the other planet, orbiting this one, "have forgotten about the people they sent here, which I can't help but find interesting."

"Interesting? Why?" Mayer took a deep sip of his tea, thinking for a moment.

"Well, on that other rock floating around this one—Orisis—they haven't even found out that countries are forming on Virsdis yet. For years, one of the things that has been keeping some of those countries politically stable has been wanting to get back on Orisis." I looked at him confusedly.

"Why would Virsdis want to go back to Orisis? They'd get into a war as soon as they stepped a toe on Orisis. There is no way that Orisis will take kindly to it, and I can only assume that Orisis is far more powerful in general. Teleporting across worlds can't be that easy, right?" Mayer nodded, crossing his arms after placing down his tea.

"Well, life is hard here. Many believe that if they could simply get back to Orisis, their life would be made easier. Some people want war, to strike back against those that once oppressed them. But the real push comes from those that have made their way into power. For years they have been convincing others that war with Orisis is inevitable and important, even. Honour is a massively important feature to Orisian culture and Virsdis is much the same." My eyes widened, dumbfounded.

"I'm going to be honest. That sounds like just a bad idea on all fronts. What stake does the average Virsdisian have in this whole war scenario? Are they just going to throw themselves at Orisis, farming hoe first? Against a society that can send people to a planet they orbit?" Mayer laughed lightly.

"I suspect so, boy. Orisian honour lives strong on Virsdis. They want to take from Orisis, rightfully so. But it's a difficult political matter. Many only have revenge to guide them. Those that live on this world are only a few generations deep. The wound is still raw." I rubbed my face in exasperation, plopping myself down in the chair opposite Mayer dejectedly.

"Mayer, you said that this happened a few generations ago. What about all the people that grew up here, never knowing Orisis, never knowing what it was like? Never really understanding what it was that happened over there aside from stories told by their Mother and Father. Maybe they hate Orisis in their parent's stead. Maybe they would even stick a spear into a man's gut for their parent's honour. But what about their children? When it is a story that grandpa once told dad who is telling them? Would they have the same hate that their father has in their great grandfather's stead? What about the generation after that? Do they remember at all? Or was it just something they heard about from a friend's Dad?" The man held his hands up in surrender against the barrage of frustrated questioning, consoling me with a look.

"I understand, Max. I do. But even after generations this will be a political goal for King after King. It will only be a few more generations until something is produced, and then a war will begin, if it hadn't begun before then. With the next Champion War somewhere on the horizon I wouldn't be surprised if it gets significantly interrupted. But, well, there are also other reasons to want to leave Virsdis, Max." I quirked an eyebrow at that, ready to hear some silly response, but what I got was a… little more compelling.

"On Virsdis there is an ancient race called the Nightfell. They are few in number but are immensely powerful. There are only legends of old warriors fighting against them and eventually banishing them to Virsdis. They live on the dark side of Virsdis, a place so dangerous that I'd need to think twice about going." His face was deadly serious. Not a silly response then.

"These Nightfell… how powerful are we talking?" I asked hesitantly.

"More than powerful enough to make Champions stay away from them in the last wave. It has been seventy years since then, and they haven't gotten any weaker." He responded dryly. I grimaced, realising I'd been working on half the information. Mayer hadn't told me, but still.

Then I remembered back to my first day here, as I looked up at the beautiful sight of Orisis' night cloaked sky as it orbited across Virsdis' vision of the sun.

I had made a bet. A stupid, stupid bet. The words echoed in in my ears, even as I scrunched my face in embarrassment.

'If this world was a stereotypical game, that'd be where the 'Demon Lords' were, right?'

"God damnit, why'd I have to jinx myself." I grumbled, and Mayer raised a bushy eyebrow in response.

A/N: Hey, hey people! I'm glad to say that I feel significantly better than I have the past few days, as well as receiving my COVID-19 test results with the news we all wanted to hear…


Hope you all have a great rest of your day!
Chapter 10: A Day of Rest
Chapter 10: A Day of Rest

I rubbed my forehead, internally insulting myself before sighing and giving it up.

"Ah! Whatever," I said, frustration coming through in my words. I looked at Mayer, a sort of dull surrender in my eyes, "Can I please have this day off. I want to rest and not do crazy Champion stuff today." He looked at me while taking a long sip from his tea and then slowly swishing the tea around his mouth, probably basking in the taste. After a long moment he swallowed gently and spoke.

"I think that's fair. You can have today to yourself; it would probably do you some good." He said, placing his still half full cup on the coffee table. He walked leisurely into the joining kitchen and started to methodically move—preparing something.

I wasn't entirely sure what it was that he was doing. Then he clicked his fingers and a small flame appeared. It sat in what looked like a large metal bowl, with a grate placed over top of it. It wasn't anything like a stove from Earth, but more technically rudimentary than that. The way that it was built around in Mayer's kitchen made it look strangely elegant. In reality, it was a lot like a fire pit really—something that was meant to be dug into the ground. But even with its ancient quality, it was a fine centrepiece in Mayer's kitchen—like a beautiful antique stove in an otherwise modern home.

The first thought that I had was that the woodsmoke would fill the small living room—but as the fire burned on, no smoke came. The air remained perfectly undisturbed by the smell of wood, or any other fuel. This gave me a moment of pause, the inextricably linked objects—fuel and fire—were separated, and when I looked into the fire; I found not a single log of wood, or a solitary coal. Not even a cinder.

"Magic?" I asked him, and he nodded.

"Shifting." He corrected, "Ether burns clean. A pure flame tends to cook the best, I find." The old man pulled a pan out of a cupboard to his right and gently placed it into one of the holes in the grate. He moved to another cupboard, pulling out an egg and presented it to me. They were large and speckled, almost two times the size of a chicken's from back home.

"How many?" He asked. I usually had four chicken eggs, and so I asked for two. He nodded and got to work.

Now that I thought about it, I didn't eat at all yesterday, or even the day before. For some reason it never occurred to me during all that time. I didn't feel even a little bit hungry, and even now that I was being presented with the opportunity, I still wasn't really hungry. Instead I felt 'peckish', like I could eat, but not really needing to. I sat on a stool that was tucked underneath a beautiful wooden benchtop that separated the large kitchen area from the living room.

"You didn't think about food at all, did you?" The old man said as he broke the eggs into the pan. The eggs were largely the same as a chicken's, though the yolk was a deep red, almost like blood.

"No, not really. I'm not sure why, I should have been craving food like mad." Mayer grunted at this as he cracked the second of my eggs and another two eggs for himself with clean, practiced motions.

"It's because you are a Champion; your bodies are different from ours. You still feel pain, and still suffer, but you are far hardier than the average person. In fact, as far as I understand it, Champions can effectively go without sleep for weeks—if not months on end." To be honest, I couldn't really muster the energy to be surprised, or even excited at the prospects of not having to sleep. "It is also why Ryan always hated the screen. So much physical training put to waste."

"So that's why you pushed me so hard yesterday, I guess." He nodded easily

"I needed to be sure that I was correct. If you had come to me asking for food then I would have given it to you, of course. I'm not looking to kill you." He said, a faint smile on his lips as the eggs fried in the pan—bubbling and popping with a distinct alluring aroma.

It didn't take long for the eggs to be perfectly cooked, and once he plated them and gave my share to me, I practically wolfed them down, despite not feeling all that hungry. The taste of the eggs was almost lost on me, only the silky sweet taste of the yolk was left in my mouth after having eaten them. I guess my body really wasn't going to stop me from eating, just being hungry.

Despite only looking to be about two times the size of a chicken egg, they were a great deal more filling. I looked up from my plate to see Mayer standing there on the other side of the table slowly eating his eggs, savouring the taste—like he had the tea earlier. For a moment I hesitated to ask what was on my mind, something that I knew to be true, but almost didn't want to believe.

"Mayer." I said softly. Mayer turned to me, eyes just as soft, "Is this as bad as it seems? Me being a Champion, this 'test' as the God put it?"

He answered without words. His eyes looking into mine, narrowing only slightly, and then looking back to his eggs. It was precisely the lack of an answer that that solidified what I already knew to be true.

I sighed deeply and decided to let the worries go out with the air from my lungs. If only for a moment.

"Alright," I said, with somewhat forced energy, "I want to go out today, go see the town a bit, get to know some people. Is there anything I need to know before going?" Mayer looked thoughtful for a moment, his eyebrows lowering in thought before he gently placed down his knife and fork. He walked across the barrier between the two areas and opened a drawer of a little table near the door to the hallway. Inside was few things, but what he pulled out was a small leather purse with a cord so that it could be easily pulled open and closed. Probably not the safest way to store money, but I'm not sure that Mayer was worried about keeping valuables safe. He had a damn wand lying about in his hallway.

After digging around in the leather purse for a moment, he pulled out two heptagonal shaped coins. He then walked over to me and placed them on the table next to my plate before returning to his own.

They both looked to be make of iron, both had very similar shapes and imprints on the coin. Both imprints were relatively bland, most likely to make it easy to make by hand or rudimentary machines.

The existence of this currency alluded to there being some sorts of machines, but how advanced they were was a different story altogether. Humanity back on Earth had been using coins, or close enough to coins for a very long time. They were able to make enough to run a society on them back then, so I couldn't tell you how hard or easy it was to make something like this.

"Take these. Around here iron is used. Anything larger than these and no one would be able to give you change," he said, cutting of a bit of his egg and eating it, "those are iron smah, they are worth 10 iron hum each. That will be more than enough to get you through whatever you want to do."

I looked down at the two coins in my hand. The names were odd to me, but I started to try my best to memorise the names. I only knew that smah was a really nice feeling word.

I tightened my fist around them and put them into my pocket.

"I'm going out. I'll see you later today." I said and Mayer nodded before I walked into the hall, and out the door.
Chapter 11: A Guide
Chapter 11: A Guide

Once again, I was in the outside world.

It was a lot different when you weren't rushing around from place to place, never picking up the details of where you were going. As I walked out of Mayer's home, small things started to catch my eye. The grass on the side of the road was a darker green than I was used to, the dirt darker still. The roads were well worn, obvious prints where horses—or whatever the equivalent was—had trodden through the damp dirt. It must have rained the night before as I was sleeping, as I could see small pockets of water trapped in the dirt—the bright sun reflecting off of them.

It was such a sensory difference from the city that I had lived in my entire life.

Extremely rustic, unclean, uncivilised to a point. All of these things should have me screwing up my nose like a spoilt noble, but something about it had a feeling that I couldn't quite describe in a word.

It was that feeling of life, of simplicity and effectiveness above all else. As I walked down the street, towards the small collection of storefronts, I took a better look at the houses that lined the streets. The people that owned these houses were most likely the same people that own the stores, being so close to the middle of town. The people who own farms live on them, so I couldn't be entirely sure if I was judging this place correctly. But I feel like my initial reaction to the homes had been rather ruthless.

They were ramshackle, sure—that much was obvious. But they were exceptionally clean and well maintained. Their houses spoke of their unfortunate financial status, but its cleanliness spoke of their pride, in a way.

I had never been in a tough spot financially, something I am eternally grateful for, but I have been in tough spots in other ways. I know that sometimes it is all too easy to just give in, allow it to take over everything and leave you bare.

I examined each house individually as I passed them. They were all built wildly different from each other, assumedly to the needs of the owner. It was obvious that many houses have had sections added, possibly to accommodate new editions to the family. Many of the editions to the houses were made using slightly different wood. A glaringly tell-tale, but they were usually more neatly built than the original home. It seems that progress was being made at a pretty rapid pace. These homes couldn't be anything more than five to ten years old—but in that time, they have progressed that far.

I thought back to Mayer's home, trying to place if it had been built using this new wood or technique. Looking at the editions to the homes, it was clear that even they had issues. Some of the boards were slightly misaligned, and no house had glass, not like Mayer's had.

Mayer's house was testament to how different he was from the rest of the people who lived here. His home was absolutely immaculate, well cleaned, well built. I could only assume that the house was fair bit more advanced on the inside as well. The house even seemed to have plumbing, complete with a sink, even. I don't know if it was magic—or shifting, rather—that powered it, but it sure seemed like it. I don't know how you would even get the infrastructure out here to have plumbing.

I walked down the road, speeding up a bit after a few minutes of slow walking. My body protested against me, pain running down my sides and legs, but I ignored it. Now that I knew that Champions possessed an inexhaustible body, I wasn't about to waste it by acting exactly like a normal person. I knew that it wasn't going to feel any good, but I knew myself. That means that I also know that if I didn't force myself to take advantage of my body now... then I would pay for it later, possibly gruesomely.

I stood up straight, a big difference between my normally slouching form. To be perfectly honest, I had always been somewhat conscious of my height. Where I lived, I was—for the most part—the tallest person in the room. A head taller most of the time. When I was younger, I was good at sport because of it. But slouching came naturally, in a way—helped me fit in a little bit more than I did with a world not exactly built for someone my height. Admittedly, I didn't fit in all that well socially either, but I managed to get by—finding some friends along the way. But standing too much taller than other people wasn't really of interest to me back then. Physicality wasn't something that I overly respected, past the initial, 'Wow that person is tall!' factor.

But here I was different—no, I had to be different. I was a Champion, after all.

So, I stood up bolt straight—a tiring position to walk in, something that was usually trained over a long period of time. But I had to start somewhere, and this was where I was starting. Although I was walking faster than before, I was still walking at a leisurely pace. I wasn't in any rush, but I didn't want to look like silly when walking down the road.

It took quite a while for standing straight to feel even the least bit natural. It was probably going to take tens of hours walking like that to really get into the groove of it. I had caught myself slouching four or five times now already, and it had only been thirty odd minutes since I had left Mayer's place.

The walk into town was deceptively long. On the first night that I had come here, this walk had only seemed to have lasted a few minutes at most. Probably because I was walking a whole lot faster than I was now, but also because I was scared out of my mind.

But I managed to get there all the same. I'd say it was about forty minutes of walking altogether. Mayer lived on the other side of town than where any of the stores were, or even where he had found me—running from whatever that massive creature was.

There were a lot of questions that I would like to ask the man, but I knew that if I started asking, I'd never stop. I don't think I would ever be able to get things done if I did that. Maybe a smarter person would be asking every question that he could possibly think of. But personally, I think it would be pure self-indulgence.

I didn't need to know everything, not yet anyways. Someday I could ask all the questions I want, and I might even get answers for them. But my relationship with Mayer was hardly good enough to start asking questions like, "Why is it that you just so happened to be out on the other side of town when you found me?" So, I decided to leave well enough alone. Mayer undoubtably had his secrets—big and small—and I had no interest in digging them up.

I realised in my moment of thoughtfulness that I was slouching and stood up straight again. My back was already disagreeing with my decision, but I held firm, and my muscles complied—however reluctant. As I was properly straightening myself, I realised that there were sounds of feet dragging through the dirt near me.

I looked up and saw a young boy, who looked twelve or so years old walk past me, looking up at me as if he were trying to remember if he knew my face. I looked at him for a long moment, examining his clothes. They were dirty, torn and overall unkempt. His skin was pretty clean, but he wasn't able to hide a littering of bruises and other cuts and grazes all over his body. I thought for a moment, contemplating my next actions—before waving the boy over with a grin on my face that I hoped didn't look evil.

The young boy frowned at me, but slowly walked towards me—exuding hesitance. This kid was short, somewhere around five-and-a-bit foot. Which made the height difference quite stark. I would have said he was younger at a cursory glance, but he didn't have the same childishness on his face that younger children might have.

"Hello. How are you?" I said, trying to speak clearly, abandoning the slurring accent I grew up with—making me sound more British than Australian. He eyed me somewhat suspiciously, but didn't make any moves to approach me, or run away. A good start.

"I'm new around here—I'm thinking of introducing myself a little bit, just to say hello. Any idea where I should start?" The kid seemed somewhat shocked by this. I don't know what he was shocked by specifically, but he was all the same.

"Are you asking me?" The boy responded. I raised my eyebrow, pointedly looking around the barren road with no lack of emphasis.

"Anyone else around here that I could be talking to?" I said with a grin. The boy looked around dumbly before perking up a little bit. I'm not quite so sure why the boy was so surprised by this, but I carried on.

"Anywhere specific that you would recommend that I go? I need to at least make myself known, introduce myself somehow." I said, ponderously. The situation was a bit awkward; I know that Mayer had a reputation of sorts, but I wasn't exactly sure what that reputation was. People seemed to leave Mayer alone, and maybe quietly respected him—but I was hanging onto his coattails, no reputation of my own. I'd rather I wasn't seen as Mayer's kid, or something of the like. If I had a reputation of my own, getting around would be far easier, with the ice broken and all.

The boy um-ed and ah-ed for a moment before looking up at me with his quizzical eyes, shining from within a worn visage.

"Well, I guess that depends on who it is you want to meet." The boy said tentatively. He spoke clearly, with a strangely educated tone to his words—despite his appearance. I smiled, wouldn't hurt to treat the kid as if he weren't stupid. Not that I would have anyways.

Turns out, that was an excellent idea.

The boy quickly surmised that any of the farm folk—as he called them—were going to be in the midst of working. The other types of workers would be doing very much the same. However, those of a service industry would be working at the moment, meaning that you had the chance to go in and talk to them.

Initially, I had thought that I would go to the pub—or whatever they call it here—but the boy made a good point. Right now, anyone that was eating at the pub would likely either be eating before going on a day's work, or on the road. The rest would be drunkards from the night before. Not exactly the best company to have in the morning. Old hungover men.

"I suggest that you go into a few stores and buy something, chat a bit, y'know. If ya give a good impression, they talk all between themselves and such." I nodded, taking the boy's words seriously. It made good sense to me, I would leave going to the pub for later today, or tonight. Mayer did sort of infer that what he had given me was quite a fair bit of money around these parts, and so I would use it to the best of my abilities.

"Then it looks like I will need to go buy some things." I said, a grin still on my face—then I stopped to ponder for a moment before speaking again, "Do you have the time to drag me around town? I'm not quite so confident in my mental map. I could figure it out, but it would be a little more hassle that I would rather avoid." To be honest, I wonder how I sounded to the boy in that moment—a different accent and all, was it strange?

The boy looked conflicted at my request. He fidgeted his hands through his relatively long sandy blonde hair. Back on earth, he would look like an abuse case, but in this world, it could easily be just as much rough work as it could be abuse. He was slight, malnourished, and clearly at least a little sleep deprived. I don't know what part of town he was from, but it was nowhere good—that was for sure. So, it was then that I pulled out my trump card.

"What about..." I reached my hand into the pocket of my rough pants and pulled out one of the iron smah that Mayer had given me, "I'll give you some of this if you take me around town, and you can use it to buy whatever you want." I looked at him seriously, back straight as a nail. I always believed that if you wanted the best results from a child—or even teen—or to have them do something for you, you treat them seriously. As if they were an adult, even. Offer them a good incentive, and I think you will have your request done in no time.

The boy's eyes lit up at the coin that I pulled out of my pocket. I knew now that it was worth something, that was for sure—and this was definitely worth quite an amount to this kid. I had intentionally kept the exact amount that I would give vague. Especially because I was going to go around town buying stuff with the same money that I was theoretically going to give to the kid. If I oversold the amount that I would give, it would just backfire on me. No-one wanted to be extolled through a small town as a cheapskate who rips of children—certainly not me at least

"Do we have a deal…" I said, fishing for a name. I remained serious and solemn whilst I held my hand out for the boy to shake. He looked conflicted for a moment, looking back towards a part of town I haven't been yet. Before long he turned back around to me, his face filled with decisiveness.

"Rethi, my name is Rethi Orsen." He said as he took my hand firmly and shook it with an endearing clumsiness.

"Maximilian Avenforth." I replied happily.

Today was going to be interesting.

A/N: Two posts today, mostly because I am feeling nice! Also, some more good news—the medicine that I have been taking for a chronic condition is helping! This medicine I am taking mostly helps with mental acuity and 'energy'—though I have found that it brings me up to a normal level and just helps remove the mire of lethargy I've been living my life in for more than half a decade.

Obviously, I'm still sceptical of exactly how efficacious it actually is—over me just having a good writing week—but this week had been a really difficult week physically. On top of the physical components to my chronic conditions; I had a minor COVID-19 scare with an infection and some side effects to the medicine—that I've since solved by slightly lessening the dose. It was kind of like driving a hunk-of-junk car off-road and the engine somehow holding up despite the rough terrain.

Anyway, just thought I'd share the minor excitement. Hopefully it leads to many more good days than bad ones.
Chapter 12: Small Town Hero
Chapter 12: Small Town Hero

Rethi was quick on his feet, probably used to roaming about for long distances each day. I have no idea where we were going, just that we were going in the vague direction of the stores I had seen on my way into town

The little malnourished boy put me to shame in comparison. I was huffing and puffing after ten minutes, trying to keep up with his expert navigation. After we walked between two houses for the third time, constantly evading the roads that the houses faced onto—most of which lead toward a main one that parted the town in half. I finally managed to pipe up, still struggling to catch my breath.

"Rethi…" I huffed, stopping behind him. When he realised that I wasn't following right on his heels anymore, he turned around, somewhat confused.

"What are you doing? We need to go see Master Gram." He hurried me along, but I didn't move.

"Why are we walking between houses like this? Couldn't we just follow the main roads?" I said. I'll admit, I was a little bit frustrated. Walking between the houses was hard work, usually it involved jumping fences or avoiding other obstacles. Luckily, there wasn't anyone inside the houses, but it was unlikely that every single house was going to be entirely empty. At some point there was going be someone who sees us technically trespassing on their property, and I didn't want that on my name.

Rethi looked at me, he started to say something, but stopped himself—instead just resorting to looking down at the ground beneath his feet. I couldn't quite tell if he was embarrassed, or some other emotion. I can't say I understood at all, to be perfectly honest.

"Rethi, is it okay if we go by the main roads instead?" I asked him tentatively, trying desperately to sound as calming as I could. He looked up at me, eyes like a kicked dog, then nodded and quietly moved out to the main road and started to walk—albeit slower.

We walked for a long time until we got to anywhere of importance. The houses started to get a little nicer as we moved into the heart of the town, closer to where the storefronts were. Rethi was now very quiet, and just as careful. I couldn't tell what it was that made him change so quickly—from the sprightly young boy to this strange, hollow thing that used to be Rethi. His dirty hair—which I thought was sandy blonde but couldn't quite tell—was covering most of his face now. It was long and unwashed, framing his slightly tanned skin which was surprisingly quite clean.

There were bruises down his arms, poorly hidden. And some even worse ones when he moved a certain way—his dirty clothes shifting to uncover welts on his back. I didn't know what reason you'd have to do this to a kid, but it sure as hell wasn't something that I was okay with.

The roads became more worn as we progressed down the main road, and then suddenly we were at the door of a nicely built establishment named 'Gram's Apothecary'. It was probably the nicest building I had seen yet—aside from Mayer's home. It was made out of a dark, rich wood that seemed relatively new in comparison to what some of the buildings around here were made out of. It was a wonder that something this nice was built at all in this little town.

It was a two-story building, most likely a store doubling as a house. But it was made solidly and soundly, unlike some of the houses that I saw further out. I looked at Rethi, some of his earlier energy returning as he stood outside the apothecary. He looked to me, eyes excited and seeming to urge me inside the building. I sighed, then caught myself slouching once again.

I walked up the well-worn steps to the small veranda and took a peek through a crude window that was beside the door. It wasn't anything like what Mayer had, but most houses didn't even have glass at all.

Inside was a room filled with tables that showed off some wares, and a counter. The counter ran along the back wall of the store. Behind that counter was a large array of drawers, most of them had small labels on them—undoubtedly medicines or herbs of some description. A door was also behind that counter. There was no one currently manning it, so I assumed that Master Gram—as Rethi had called him earlier—was behind that door.

I straightened up and looked to Rethi, who was looking at me curiously and I gave him a nod. I placed my hand on the bronzed metal doorknob, opened the door, and walked into the store with purpose. I heard a shuffling of feet as Rethi followed in after me and the ringing of a bell that was pulled by the door opening.

Immediately as I opened the door, I was hit by a thousand smells that I couldn't quite place. Distinctly herbal or flowery, but also a note of some harsh cleaning product. The powerful smells almost made me cough, but I managed to reign it in. We stood there in the middle of the store for a moment, eying the door behind the counter, waiting for movement. I looked to Rethi, eyebrow raised, but he looked back at me with a resolute face.

I was beginning to wonder if we should leave, but just as I went to speak the door behind the counter opened and a bedraggled man of about forty bustled through the door.

"Oh dear, I'm quite sorry, I didn't expect customers so early!" He said, quickly moving behind the counter, grabbing bits and pieces—a pen, some ink, paper. In just a moment, the middle-aged man turned to look at me, a small weary smile on his face.

"I'm sorry to have woken you, Master Gram. I didn't mean to disturb your sleep." I said. Starting the conversation off with this seemed to be a safe bet. He didn't seem like he would take offence to being woken up, but it never hurt to be a little extra polite—especially to a doctor of any sort. The middle-aged man looked at me curiously, his thin wisp of a face growing into a more honest smile.

"Very kind of you to say so, but I was oversleeping, an issue of my own making I assure you." He gave a dry chuckle. His face was unshaven and had been that way for a few days. Gram looked me up and down. I wasn't sure what he saw exactly, but when he met my eye again, he looked at me questioningly.

"Ah, I'm sorry," I said flustered, "I didn't introduce myself. My name is Maximilian, I am new in town." I walked up to the counter and held out my hand.

"Ah yes—Michael Gram." He said, introducing himself, "I'm the doctor around these parts. Come to me if you need any help." He shook my hand with a weary smile and glanced to Rethi, who was standing behind me. His eyes lit up at the familiar face.

"Ah! Rethi, it has been quite a while since I last saw you, yes?" Gram said enthusiastically. Rethi smiled ruefully.

"Yes, Master Gram. I've been quite… busy." The young boy said. His words trailing off as he rubbed his fingers together nervously at his side. The middle-aged man gave the young boy a quick look, his face falling into neutrality, before perking up again and walking over to a part of the counter that could be lifted to let someone through. He lifted the wood and opened the door that was behind the counter, beckoning us through. Having obviously come to the understanding that we were here for a social visit, rather than a business one. Rethi quickly followed, his eyes bright with excitement—almost skipping through the door. I followed with a confused smile, looking at Gram before walking behind the counter and through the door.

The door lead into a small hallway that had stairs at its end that likely winded up to the second story of the building, and then two doors. One that was firmly shut and another that was open just enough to see inside.

It was a room with a clean wooden table in the middle, and a few small tables and backless chairs in it as well. You would have said it was a dining room of sorts if you didn't take notice of the copious amounts of tools that were hanging from the walls and on the tables. Bottles of liquids and other assorted things were strewn about the room, along with some half-washed tools in a basin. It was a surgery room. It wasn't much like an operating room in a hospital back on Earth, though. This was more like a room that surgery just so happened to take place in.

It was somewhat disconcerting, but it was probably some of the best medical attention that you could get way out here on another planet—in the middle of nowhere on said planet. I hear the door to the storefront close behind us, and Gram's soft, shuffling steps as he came up behind me. He looked at me, scratched his nose and then realised where I was looking.

"Oh! No need to look in there. Little bit too morbid for this fine morning!" He chuckled and hurried me along, forcing me to pry my eyes away from the little room. He closed the door to the surgery room and hurried us up the stairs to another door.

"Oh dear, I'll have to ask you boys to squish up to the wall for a moment." We did as he asked, and he squeezed past us and up little stairway—unlocking the door at its end. It took him a moment to unlock the door—cursing at it under his breath while he tried to get the key at the right angle.

It seemed that he hadn't come from upstairs to greet us. I doubt that he would have locked this door just after he had woken up, more likely that he fell asleep in the surgery room. I shuddered at the thought. To each their own, I guess.

With a click, the door had finally been opened. If it took that much work to get the door open with the key, I don't think that a robber of any sort will be getting it open all that easily either. He rushed us into a room that was about the size of the store front that we had been in earlier. It was a homely looking place—well lived in, and the smell of something that reminded me of coffee had long since been absorbed into the walls.

"Please, sit!" The man said, pointing us towards a nice wooden table. It only had two seats pulled up to it, but Rethi happily sat on the floor, legs crossed—letting me sit on the chair.

Gram quickly poured us a few wooden mugs of water from a wooden jug, clear and clean. I hadn't drunk anything much since coming here either, but I felt similarly towards the water as I did the food. I sipped on the water offered to me leisurely.

"Uh, Master Gram? Is Alena about?" Rethi asked shyly. Gram's hand hitched, almost spilling his coffee before laughing to cover it up.

"I'm afraid my daughter is out doing chores for the time being Rethi. She'll be back later today." He smiled genuinely, but with a small-conflicted quirk at the edge of his lips. I unconsciously raised an eyebrow. A protective father, then.

"So, what brings you to this little nameless town, Maximilian." Gram said as he sat, my name playing off of his accent oddly.

"Just call me Max," I said, helpfully, "I am meeting with an old friend of my family. Mayer is his name." I had come up with this scenario as I was walking here. I just decided that this was just vague enough to keep people away, whilst also mollifying their curiosity a little. Gram looked surprised, as did Rethi. They observed me in silence for a moment, before Rethi let out a low whistle. I granted them an odd look, their surprised silence was growing on my nerves. Thankfully, Gram spoke first.

"Mayer, eh? Seems like the Jamerson boys weren't lying about Mayer letting a young man plow their fields for them. You've been the talk of the town for a solid night down at the pub!" Gram chuckled.

"Really? Already?" I said more dubiously than I meant to. Gram didn't seem to take offense.

"Oh yes, Mayer's movements are quite well gossiped about in this town of ours. There isn't much else that is any more exciting than Mayer himself." Gram said, nodding to himself. That gave me an idea.

"Huh, my family didn't talk much about him, just a tid-bit every now and then. So, I really don't know much about Mayer, just that he is a good man." I said curiously.

"Well, you've been missing out! Hasn't he, Rethi?" As if to confirm Gram's statement, Rethi nodded excitedly from the floor.

"Yeah, Master Mayer has been around for years now. We've been trying to find out who he is and all. Hard nut to crack." Rethi said looking up at me hopefully.

"Now, now Rethi. No need to invade a man's privacy." Gram said, catching the glint in Rethi's eye. "Master Mayer has been quite helpful many times in the past, he deserves all the privacy that he so pleases." Rethi looked down at the floor again, a dejected look on his face. He was like a Labrador in a way, happy and excitable and dejected and mopey when told off. I chuckled then turned to Gram.

"What sort of things has Mayer helped you with?" I asked. If I was going to have to live around the man, I may as well find out what he is like.

"Oh, not myself—I've never needed it, see. Though other's in the have. Its never menial things either—always big things," Gram said, tapping his lip in thought before making a small excited noise, "For example; Last year Grayham was having some real issues with monsters invading his farm and taking some of the livestock. We don't have many, and Grayham is one of the only livestock farmers we have. The forest wolves had probably become desperate, they usually don't like to get too close to humans—but when they do it is usually a surge, or because a few became desperate enough to do so." He took a large swallow of water and then scratched his stubbly chin.

"Anyway," he continued, "after few nights of it happening, and Grayham starting to get more and more concerned that he would soon be left without any animals to tend to—a few people started to try and get together to stake them out. The plan was that they'd scare them off or kill a few for a couple nights in a row. But that didn't stop them." Gram looked down sadly into his wooden mug.

"That night a few men were dragged into my shop, half dead and chewed to bits. They were attacked by twelve forest wolves. I tried to patch them up, but one of the boys died. He was the only son of a widow and I believe she died later that year." He shook his head, seeming to clear away the melancholy form his mind, letting a wide grin come over his face.

"The men gave up, Grayham was injured as well, and he was staying at another farm for a few days while he recovered. However!" The man exclaimed dramatically, "Just when Grayham had returned to his farm—all patched up thanks to yours truly—he noticed that his livestock had actually grown a head!" Gram laughed deeply, obviously remembering a delightful memory. I looked at him with a smile, infected by his joviality. Rethi was also listening with rapt attention, like a child listening to a storybook tale that they had heard a thousand times—yet were still wholly enamoured by. As his laugh died down, Gram's grin grew even further—lowering his voice to a conspiratorial whisper.

"Now, no-one truly knows how it was that the forest wolves stopped attacking Grayham's livestock, but if you just so happened to be up late that night—cleaning your shop—you might have glimpsed the figure of a man that looked just like Mayer covered in blood and with a glowing sword in hand." He then sat back in his seat, drinking from his mug.

"Really? You actually saw him?" Rethi just about exploded with excitement. I looked at Rethi's excited jumping about, then at Gram's wide grin—I reviewed the story in my brain and chuckled to myself.

Seems like Mayer is somewhat of a small-town hero.
Chapter 13: Signing Bonus
Chapter 13: Signing Bonus

Turns out, Mayer was basically the talk of the town all the time. He was the mysterious figure that was obviously hiding something. Not that I think Mayer was hiding anything intentionally, just living way below his means. It was just so apparent that he was different than those that surrounded him that it was like white on black. His house was better—better built, made out of better things. He constantly seemed to show a disinterest in glamour and decadence but seemed to strategically use large amounts of money when he felt like it.

Gram told stories of Mayer that made him out to be some rich noble that got sick of high society and came out here—to live in peace away from all the squabbling. I couldn't disagree more. The way that he talked and his presence felt was obviously more like a warrior. I think that my favourite story that Gram told me was when 'something' had blown a massive hole out of the side of Mayer's home—then summarily contracting the family of carpenters that had happened to fall on bad times not a few weeks before.

Apparently, Mayer would have nothing but the absolute best, and so he paid for the best possible wood and the best craftsmanship that they had to offer. Gram says that the carpenters worked around the clock for almost two months to get it up to Mayer's standards, before he hit them with a large sack of iron ruhk—which I think is fifty iron hum in one coin. Still trying to wrap my head around that. Regardless, it was a huge sum of money and Mayer forced them to accept it gratefully—so they did and their issues were washed away, well and truly able to coast through the year without lifting a finger.

"Master Mayer seems like a really nice guy!" Rethi said, his eyes just about radiating his mix of excitement and wonder. Gram nodded at Rethi and opened his mouth so say his piece.

"I think so. However, there is a reason that many respect Mayer so much around here, Rethi." Gram looked at Rethi, a small quirk of the lips followed when he saw a suitably confused reaction.

"People around these parts—maybe over the entirety of this god forsaken planet—are prideful. Prideful and stubborn to a fault. People around here won't just accept your money for nothing, they would be incredibly insulted. They would take it as being treated like a beggar, something that so many despise." Gram looked pointedly at Rethi, "He makes anyone who needs money work to the bone to earn their part. He gives them a task that might even seem impossible, but those who push through—no matter how hard it is—are the ones who succeed in the end. In this way, Mayer makes them earn the rights to his charity. Not that it could be called that by the time Mayer is done." Gram smiled softly at Rethi, who had gone quiet. Rethi's face had gone dark—his jaw clenched tightly and hands curled into fists. I could see a quiet pain on his face.

Something Gram had said rang true, far too true for polite company. I don't know exactly what it was that Gram had said exactly, and I honestly couldn't tell if it was malicious or not. I had assumed that Rethi—if not his entire family—was in a bad way. Maybe that was why Mayer was such a big deal to Rethi, but I couldn't really know for sure at the moment. So instead I decided to change tact completely.

"Alright Rethi," I said, getting up from my chair with a little more exaggeratedly than I would have liked, "Time to get going, we have other people to go see!" Gram looked a little surprised, but hid it well, and Rethi broke from his state and quietly got up after a moment of hesitation.

As we were leaving the store, I watched Rethi closely as he walked out of the door behind me and I started to walk in a random direction, buying me time to observe him.

Rethi followed me quietly, head down and looking at his feet. His entire demeanour had gone from 'happy, excitable child' to somewhere in between prideful indignation and depressed.

Strange. I looked forward towards the random direction in which we were walking. I'm sure that we were going towards the pub, if my memory served me right.

"What was that?" I asked, keeping my voice as straight as possible.

"Nothing." He didn't even bother to look up. I raised my eyebrow at that, and I think Rethi must have felt me do so.

"My mother isn't doing so well. We don't have any money. I..." he paused painfully, "I am a beggar." Rethi went silent after that, so I just gave him a nod. It gave my brain just that little bit of leverage to put the pieces together.

If Rethi was a beggar, and Gram said that people despise beggars around these parts, then Rethi was in pretty dire need of money. If this society is just as prideful as I think it is, then being a beggar is one of the deepest depravities—effectively the same as being a whore, but probably worse. At least then you could claim that you were earning your money.

Imagine, as small child who has to lower himself to being a beggar to ensure the survival of him and his family—they heard word of a man who would give money to those that were down on their luck. A man of honour and virtue. Would you not be enamoured by that prospect? That maybe one day that man would pick you to do a job for him, and once you have completed the hardest task in your life, you were given a ridiculous sum of money as a reward.

It was a real opportunity for a kid like him. An opportunity to find a new lease on life.

"Hey," I said softly, "Do you mind if your home, instead of the pub or another store?"

I knew how it sounded and it sounded absolutely horrible. I intended to go around all day and meet new people and see new faces, but when you have something like that shoved into your face… I can't help but feel like I have a responsibility to see the reality of the world I've been plopped into.

Rethi looked at me, his face more noticeably sullen now. His eyes asked me 'Why?', but I just continued to look at him, unswervingly. He sighed and as the breath of air left him, it felt like someone had collapsed something inside of him, making him look even smaller than he already was.

He nodded, his small, hunched form walking forward quickly, without caring for any complain I would have previously had. I followed diligently, even as he skipped between houses like it was nothing, avoiding main streets like the plague. We moved out now—out towards where it became more wilderness than a residential district. The houses became more decrepit, to the point where most of the houses were obviously abandoned, and not a soul lived in them. Most were partly, if not mostly, destroyed or deteriorating. Some were burned, some were smashed. That this wasn't something that was done by pure neglect.

The only real explanation would be monsters, or maybe pillaging from bandits.

We walked on and on until it became obvious that it was going to get worse from here. The houses were all basically gone, bits and pieces of old charcoal left buried in the dirt. When we came upon a house that was only slightly destroyed, it was obvious that this was Rethi's home. It was a house that would never exist further into the town, but out here it was probably the best house in the area for a five-minute walk.

It was far away from any of the other houses, or the rubble of—possibly the reason that it wasn't just charcoal buried in the dirt like the rest of them. We walked up to the door, which had obviously been broken at some point and had been hastily put together again with extra bits of wood and some nails. Rethi got to the door and opened it slowly, the door creaking dangerously, threatening to fall apart if provoked.

I looked into the home—or tried to, as it was almost entirely pitch black. Were candles expensive? I honestly couldn't tell you. Rethi walked in quietly and I stood outside, not sure if I was allowed to go inside or not. A moment later a small light sparked in the darkness through the doorway. Rethi appeared at the doorway, the light playing tricks on his face, making him look something like a grim reaper. He gestured me in, letting me through the doorway into a small, barren room that looked to be the living room. There was a table and a hole in the ground that an old pot sat over, propped up by a metal stand.

It looked and smelled like poverty. There was no way that this house had been properly cleaned in years, and if it had then it was probably so grimy that it couldn't be fixed.

I coughed lightly, trying desperately to make it not look like I was choking on the air. Rethi gave me a small, sad smile before turning to open a door on the right side of the room just a crack, and then peer through it. He then opened the door just enough to put his head through.

"Mum, are you okay?" Rethi said, his voice soft and without edges. There was a mumble from the behind the door that was vaguely female. There was some rustling and from the other side of the door and another mumble, this time from Rethi. His voice too low for me to hear properly.

Then there was silence for a few moments before there was the sound of a foot hitting the wood flooring. Then a few steps before Rethi moved out of the way of the door and the pale, malnourished face of who I assumed to be Rethi's mother appeared. At first looked like her head was floating, because of the lack of light, but as she moved out of the doorway and into the living room it became obvious that she was just wrapped in blankets and robes from head to toe.

She looked sickly, horrifically so. She was sweating heavily but was shivering noticeably. Fever of some sort maybe. If her surroundings were anything to go by, it was obvious why she was sick—or at least wasn't helping her in getting better. The house was in a horrific state, the germs alone would probably make any kid from Earth so sick they would die. She likely didn't bathe enough and most likely had no medicines to take to help her. It was unlikely that she would get better in her current state and I could only really see a long road of pain and then eventual death.

"Hello." She said, her voice papery thin and weak to the point that I could barely hear it across the room. I nodded deeply at her, a bow of sorts. I wasn't sure that they recognised this gesture, but I did it without thinking.

"Nice to meet you Ma'am. My name Is Maximilian Avenforth." I tried to keep my voice soft, but in the silent room it was difficult. I'd swear my voice bounced around the room seven times before she smiled weakly and moved over to the table. Each step was supported using the wall to prop up herself up. Rethi slowly moved alongside her, not touching her but obviously ready to catch her if she were to fall. If the stereotype Gram had espoused held any truth, then she was too prideful to use her son's arm for support—even in the state she was in. Admirable in a sad, depressing way.

I walked over slowly to the table—being as courteous as I knew how—and a took a seat at their table. The seats and chairs were ramshackle at best, and almost scary to sit on at worst, but I sat anyway—making sure that not a hint of reproach or other such emotions touched my face. They didn't need to see that. It would just be cruel. She sat down gently and sat as straight as a ruler. It was obviously uncomfortable for her, but I didn't make a comment.

"So why have you come, Mister Maximilian." She asked plainly. She didn't play around or mince words, she was not in the right place to have a long drawn out conversation. Rethi simply stood, as there were no seats other than the two at the table—though not because they didn't need more like Master Gram. I, however, was at a loss for words. I didn't know why I had come here exactly. She eyed me coolly, despite her profuse sweating. I had to say something and fast, otherwise I was just going to make a fool of myself by default.

"To learn, Ma'am." I said quietly. Her eyes narrowed slightly, unsure of how to take my remark. I stayed silent while she contemplated what I had said. I flushed a little—being under the microscope wasn't exactly my first pick of enjoyable activities, but still, I remained silent. After a moment she looked back to me, her grey eyes so different to that of her son's bright green.

"What do you mean 'learn'?" She said, her voice still cool but with a noticeable undertone of reproach. She hadn't liked that answer, but a bad answer that was truthful could potentially be better than a good answer that was a lie, I guessed. I thought on her question for a moment, not for long, but enough to show her that the answer wasn't easy to put into words.

"Well…" I started, my voice full of thoughtful contemplation, "where I come from is much different to this small road town. The culture is much different here, the way of life is much different here." I said I didn't reveal my opinion on their honour, it just wasn't worth it.

"Where do you come from?" Rethi's mother asked. The question caught me off guard of just a second until I got my face under control. I thought about the places I knew on this planet, which was none. I didn't even know the name of a country close by, let alone any others further away. I knew the names of the planets, Orisis and Virsdis, but that didn't help me much. So, I decided to go with the super safe route and looked to her…

And smiled a wide smile. Not smug, but a sort of smile that said, 'I can't tell you'. I shrugged my shoulders slightly before looking at her in the eyes and seeing a little bit of surprise there. I sat there staring at her with what I hoped was a smile of sincere honesty on my face. The surprised look in her eyes faded quickly before slowly, then words began to seem to flow through her head, but never leave her mouth, leaving it hanging slightly ajar. I let it continue for a little while before I offered her a lifeline.

"I have met your son, Rethi. He is quite a diligent young man." I said, keeping our interaction intentionally vague whilst giving Rethi a little bit of a status boost while I was at it. From what I knew, Rethi was a beggar, and meeting his mother made it obvious that she was a proud person. I looked to Rethi quickly, seeing a somewhat worried look in his eyes. I think he was nervous that I might spill something of my impression of him, leading to her finding out that her son was begging to keep her alive. One of the greatest debasements that a person can face in this culture.

"Oh?" Rethi's mother said—broken from her cycle of not finding the right words, I could almost see the relief in her eyes. I wasn't actually sure if it was just relief at me moving the conversation away from where it had been, but when a smile spread out on her face, it was obvious that it was because of her son.

"Yes, he has helped me out a little bit so far, and I was hoping for your blessing to let me employ him in a sense." I said, a smile on my face. I tried not to sound too salesman-like, but the concerned look that hit her face made it obvious that I didn't do such a good job.

"And what is it that he will be doing for you, Mister Maximillian?" She said, cautiousness readily obvious in her voice, using the title as a sharp implement. She was obviously becoming weaker thought our conversation, so I tried to keep it short and sweet, ignoring the wild looks and subtle gestures from Rethi over his mother's shoulder.

"I am intending to train with Master Mayer, and I hope to have your son help me both during training and during interactions within the town." I said, sounding surer than I actually was. I actually had no damn idea what I was going to do with Rethi, but I couldn't stand around and let him beg and scrape for his sick mother without doing anything—or let him do something so tortuous as whatever had given him the welts on his back that he had tactically hidden from his mother.

"Employment?" She asked wistfully, a hesitant smile spreading on her face when she slowly looked over her shoulder at Rethi, who looked stunned, but tried to put on a smile for his mother.

"Yes, employment. I do not have the details of payment just yet, but he will be fed as much as he needs plus some, given proper facilities to do his job, and space to sleep if required. I cannot promise that anything other than that will be given, aside from a payrate that will be decided upon at a later date." I said punctually, as if I had done so a million times. Of course I hadn't, I hadn't even thought of hiring someone for anything—ever.

"R-really?" Rethi spoke now, his voice louder than he had meant to be—he looked worryingly towards his mother, before turning back with restrained enthusiasm. I nodded to him, as well as to his mother.

"I promise to you, upon my name that I will do whatever I can to pay you well. For the sake of you and your family." I said to Rethi, before turning to his mother. I looked at her with absolute honesty.

"I cannot guarantee that this job will be easy or risk free, but I hope to make a good impression on you and your son. I hope that would accept this—if you intend to allow me to employ your son." I smoothly reached into my pocket and pulled out the two iron smah Mayer had given me, and placed them gently onto the table—sliding them over to within the easy reach of Rethi's mother. Rethi and his Mother looked at the coins with wide, disbelieving eyes. I don't know how much money that was, but it was obviously enough to be important to them.

"We cannot accept this money. Rethi has not earned this money." I had expected this response, to be honest. All I had to do was give her good cause. I made a good effort to look somewhat offended, in a way that didn't reflect badly on her all too much but was supposed to be a culture difference situation. All I had to do was make it my honour that a worker be payed a 'signing deal' as such. If that doesn't convince her, then there isn't much that I could do.

Rethi looked about to argue with his mother, but I quickly interjected with a tone that showed a little bit of hurt, but stubbornness.

"Ma'am. I understand that in your culture, taking money from others without sufficient work being done is frowned upon, but in my culture we having something that we call a 'signing bonus'," I looked at her, allowing her to process my words and become curious, then continued, "A signing bonus is something that an employer gives an employee to guarantee that they will come to work for them, an upfront investment. Many years ago, this was just used to capture the interest of high value prospective employees, but it slowly evolved into a show of respect and a burden of responsibility. To be given a signing bonus by an employer is a sign of respect, and if accepted by the employee, it means that they bear the responsibility of what that money means." I stopped, letting the weight of my words sink in. I was obviously playing this up, this wasn't something that was so culturally significant back on Earth, but I feel like this was the best way to sell them on this idea.

"If you are to accept this signing bonus, then you are putting my pride as an employer and your name on the line. This money is to show my interest in you, and to show you that I am betting on my instincts." I stopped.

I hope I hadn't oversold it. I had totally been bullshitting for the entirety of that, so I wasn't sure how convincing I had been. I had tried to keep a smile on my face, but I also wanted to make them aware of the gravity of my fake cultural meaning of that money. In reality it was just money that I wanted to give them because I wanted them to eat properly for what had to be the first time in weeks, if not months.

I looked the mother dead in the eye, clearly stating that I was expecting someone to accept that money. I waited while the mother thought about it. After a moment she nodded, almost to herself, before looking towards Rethi, silently giving him the go ahead to make his choice, leaving it totally to him.

Silence followed. I looked at Rethi intently, smile gone from my face, left with pure gravitas. I realised that while I was conjuring up that story about the signing bonus, I had legitimately become serious about this. This actually meant something to me now. So, I looked at him with all the weight that I could muster behind my eyes, making it know just how important this could be to him and to his Mother, and also to me.

Rethi reached out his hand, slowly moving to pick up the two iron smah off of the table, but hesitated just before he touched them, and glanced towards his mother, seeking for her affirmation. But none came. Rethi's Mother remained entirely impassive, giving him nothing to work with but his own instincts and pride.

He swallowed deeply, looked to me, and with a bowed head he picked up the two iron smah off of the rickety old table.

I couldn't help but let my face break into a grin so wide I would have sworn I looked like a lunatic. I looked to the mother again and put out my hand, letting it hang in the air for just a moment before I spoke.

"Maximilian Avenforth." I said softly to her. She looked at me a long moment before giving a small grin and placing a weak, sweaty hand into mine and shaking it.

"Shae Orsen." She said, happiness evident in her voice as she spoke. When she smiled, I realised that she wasn't really all that old. Maybe early thirties. Regardless, I looked towards Rethi and held out my hand and he grabbed it quickly, and shook my hand vigorously. He was just about crying, I don't know if it was the money, or being given a job, but it didn't really matter.

"Rethi Orsen," He said, his voice cracking right in the middle of saying his last name, "I hope to work well for you Master Maximilian."

I couldn't help but laugh a deep, hearty laugh before standing up from my seat. I had never been called 'Master' before. I would have to try and convince him to call me Max at some point.

I sighed happily and bowed deeply towards Shae.

"I feel as if your son will be a good worker of mine. I have to leave to tend to other things, but I believe that I will be seeing you on occasion from now on." She nodded happily at this. Although I she looked just about ready to jump out of her chair and dance about, I could see all this excitement wearing her thin and, to save her the pride of having to dismiss me before she collapsed, I decided to make a tactical exit.

Before I walked through the front door, I turned to Rethi.

"I expect you to be in front of Mayer's home by 10 o'clock tomorrow morning. Do you have any other engagements that I need to be aware of to make adjustments?" Rethi shook his head vigorously and I nodded.

"See you tomorrow then!" I said then I left. Then suddenly, as I was walking up the street of ruined houses, I realised something incredibly important that I had forgotten entirely.

"…How do I get home from here."

[Skilled Salesman: You masterfully sold someone on an idea (that they might've have killed you for) in a really inventive way! Or you just got lucky—regardless, a reward for a feat. +4 Mind]

[Might: 15]

[Mind: 15 (+4)]

[Agility: 6]
Chapter 14: Wages
Chapter 14: Wages

These little power-ups were interesting to me. When I received them, I didn't feel at all different and I was convinced that there was not effect—at least with any immediacy. This is mostly supported with me still being entirely lost in this god damn maze of a town. You'd think that adding an extra fourth to your intelligence would be a pretty big deal, but I can't really find any observable difference. I certainly didn't feel any smarter, that was for sure.

Regardless, I sort of just continued to walk in the vague direction that we had come from, roughly where Gram's Apothecary was. But, as my feet dragged in the dirt, I started to realise what I had just agreed to.

I had just promised money that I didn't have, to a down-on-their-luck family for feel good points. Now that I was actually thinking about it, like someone that wasn't a numbskull, I realised that I was going to have to get money from somewhere—and the only reasonable place that I could get money, was from Mayer.

He might be a rich man, and probably just as powerful, but he was a man of responsibility and accountability—at least that is what the stories say about him. I was inclined to believe them. So, the only real way that I could obtain the money from Mayer—without lessening myself in his eyes, or offending him—was to offer myself, as genuinely as I could, to do some work for him.

Despite all this, I feel like I learned something valuable about myself today.

I always felt that words came easy to me. I was good at English—or anything else essay — but I was even better at talking. I don't why, but way back when I was just a little kid, I felt like I could just about talk my way out of anything. Obviously, this didn't last very long. Just because I was a good liar when I was eight years old, doesn't mean I was any good at fourteen.

Lying becomes far different when you get older. When you're a kid, you can almost get away with manufacturing things from thin air—but as an adult, or a young adult, a lie that manufactures too much gets pulled apart and gets exposed in ten seconds flat. I was good at making stuff up from thin air, on the spot, but not at meshing it with enough truth that I didn't sound like an absolute idiot.

But after today, I don't know if I was really correct about myself— about not being good at lying. Or bullshitting, if you were of the less elegant disposition. I think that I might have just been using the wrong tools on the wrong car.

You see, in this world, you have a little more creative liberty. Back on earth, you couldn't simply say "Well, in my society we…", because the next minute people would ask where you were from, and here lies the issue. You couldn't just say a place that everyone knew, because people would be able to pick up on it—and you couldn't make a country up altogether, because the internet exists, and you'd be found out in an instant.

But here, you could just be illusive. This world was so underdeveloped and uneducated, that you could probably just make a something up and have it fly as truth. Now, of course limitations apply. You couldn't exactly just name yourself as the King of an entirely fictional country—because people aren't idiots, you needed a way to sell it.

So, you do what I did, and give myself a tangible link to Mayer, and say I am going to be trained by him. This gives me leverage without having to sell it too hard. Then I hook into something that they care about—honour and pride—and leverage that to work in my favour while repurposing something into a 'custom' that my people follow as an act of pride and honour.

There were still tonnes of limitations to this whole thing, and I may not be a genius, but I wasn't stupid. I would try my best to keep myself from getting in to deep—and possibly getting into lies that I couldn't deliver on.

Ethical lying, some might call it.

But just the realisation that I could actually do something of my own accord, even if it was something as morally dubious as lying? It was honestly sort of amazing.


It took me what felt like hours of walking to get home, but thoughts of sneaky lies and interesting ruses kept my mind active. It was like finding out you had a superpower and thinking of all the fantastical ways that you could use it. At least this 'superpower' was marginally more useful than a massive Soul Hammer.

Before I knew it, I found myself on Mayer's front porch, a place that I had already started to call home. But as I walked up to the door, I started to become a little nervous. At first it was only a little niggling feeling inside my chest, but it had quickly become more serious than that.

I may be able to lie well to random villagers that know no better—but could I lie to Mayer?

I had already started to consider this place home, and there was no way that I could afford to lose this right now. I don't know the first thing about surviving in this world, and without the wealth of information that Mayer seemed to have about the Champions—I had very little to gain and everything to lose. I couldn't afford to lie to him, so I decided that I would take another route.

I quickly opened the door and walked though, as causally as I could be when feeling pretty damn nervous. I walked into the main living area, and there was Mayer, reading a book as he always seemed to be. I looked at him dead on and spoke.

"Mayer. I need to be able to make some money. Can I earn some from you?" I looked at him nervously as his eyes rose from his book. He cocked his eyebrow and closed his book over his finger, keeping the page he was reading on preserved for when he would go back to reading right after I finished talking to him.

"You're back early, things not go as planned?" He said, dodging the question I had asked him with expert grace.

"No, actually I think it went pretty well." I said, honestly. I definitely didn't achieve what I had wanted to, but I at least made an impression on Gram. I wasn't exactly sure what to make of the man, though I think I was successful in my own way. But the success of whole day relied on this quick talk with Mayer. Mayer looked thoughtfully into my face and nodded to himself—before returning his attention to me.

"There is indeed a way for you to make money." He said, not elaborating. I waited a moment before I was sure that he wasn't going to say anything more, and then decided this was probably where I needed to talk about what it was that I wanted. I decided that it was better to be ballsy then be demure in this situation. I doubt Mayer cares too much for snivelling.

"I don't really mind what kind of work that I end up doing, but it would be good to earn a fair amount of money for it. I would like to be able to earn a little bit more that what a provider of a household would bring in for honest labour work. I wouldn't mind doing book work either, for whatever the fair pay for that would be." I said plainly as I could. My hands were sweaty now, and my brain continued to tell me that they were in the wrong place and needed to be moved. I didn't give in, and stalwartly rested them at my sides. Mayer shot me an amused glance, shifting in his chair a little, angling himself towards me ever so slightly. If anything was a good sign, then it was that.

"What makes you think you are worth anything near that much?" But to this, I had an answer.

"Well, I don't tire, at least not in the same way that everyone else does. I can do long hours without rest, food or drink. I am educated from another world, and although I may not be as smart as my peers, I would consider myself at least smarter or more educated than average, at least here." I said smoothly. He tapped the arm of his chair with his fingers, thinking with a grin of his face. It was like he was playing chess, and he was having a particularly interesting game.

"True, but even still, you are inexperienced. You could be a great liability, even if you were ready to work as hard as you can. You aren't worth nearly that much money as a worker, all things considered." He smiled at me goadingly. He had just checked my king and he knew it. But what he didn't know was that my queen was sitting in the back, ready to trap him in his own game of social chess.

"But that isn't my true value to you," I said, a smile growing on my face as I spoke, my nerves calming and my head becoming clear.

"Oh?" Mayer said, genuine interest passing over his solid features.

"My true worth to you, is that I give you a reason to help others—no questions asked." Mayer's eyebrows shot up. His eyes narrowed, not in suspicion, but it made me feel a shot of panic for a moment, before collecting myself.

"I can do any job, for anyone—put in hours of hard work doing whatever needed to be done, and all you have to do is pay me a large sum of money that is effectively nothing at all to you. But what you gain is the ability to lend help to anyone in this town under the guise of them doing you a favour. You've already done as much with the farmer that you told me to plough the fields for yesterday. If you allow me this, you can kill two birds with one stone. You can allow me to train my strength or whatever else needs to be trained—you can also help those that needs to be helped under the guise of being done a favour." It was a long speech, but I think it hit all the right spots for me to convince the man.

Mayer looked at me expressionlessly for a moment and then shrugged and re-opened his book. I stood there, waiting for acknowledgement of this deal. He definitely wasn't actually reading; his eyes weren't moving at all. He was thinking.

Mayer was an interesting man. He gave the overall impression of being a hardboiled soldier, stubborn and stalwart, but I felt that he had a certain youth to him—a mischievousness that was entirely undetectable until the moment that he showed it. His wide grins were testament to that. He seemed to be a genuinely good man, but he seemed so isolated from everyone else in this town. He was a mystery.

Mayer chuckled briefly before stopping and looking back up at me.

"Alright kid, you have me. I'll pay you well and good for whatever work you do. I'll decide what the work you did was worth, and make sure to add on a little extra on the top. Most likely you will be doing gruelling work that you will hate to your bones—but I will cater the work to what you need to grow." Mayer nodded to himself and started to read his book again.

"Thanks Mayer." I said, genuinely grateful.

"I don't know if you will be saying that in a few days, but no worries kid."

It was only early evening, not even passed five o'clock, and I definitely didn't feel tired. Not even a little bit. But I decided that I'd had enough for the day and just went to sleep to pass the time.


3rd day since Maximilian's arrival.

Today Maximilian decided to go out and about. I don't know what he wanted to go see, but I assume that he would be naturally curious—being in a new world and all. But it was only a few hours when he came back to my home. He was all nervous, but he managed to hold himself together well enough.

He asked me about doing work for me, for money of course. I thought that maybe he had lost the money that I had given him on gambling, or something equally as ridiculous—but no. I humoured him and he told me that he wanted a wage of a bread winner, plus some. Nothing that was too outlandish, especially for me—but I rebuked, saying that he wasn't worth that much. Of course he wasn't.

But the boy convinced me, and I mean truly convinced me. I swear he could read my mind at that moment. Maybe he had heard stories that the townsfolk tell of me, but nonetheless he wormed his way into my mind, convincing me that I should hire him at that price, that it would be worth it.

I swear on my soul that there was no shifting involved, and he wasn't lying or being deceitful. I don't know what it was about his words, but he spoke directly to me, to my thoughts. There is something else to him that I haven't grasped yet… and I need to, soon.

For a moment I was seriously entertaining the thought that Maximilian may be pretending that he is not as smart as he truly is. That he is one of those Champions, so psychopathic that they actually seem human. But no, he just isn't.

But maybe he is smart, just in ways that even the God that brought him here didn't realise.

For now, we will wait and see.
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Chapter 15: Inhuman
Chapter 15: Inhuman

I woke up super early, a consequence of also going to sleep early.

It was five or so in the morning, still entirely pitch-black outside. I laid there, just letting myself rest, letting my mind go through the initialisation processes that go along with waking up. I knew that I didn't need to sleep anymore, logically, but sleeping was a part of my life—of everyone's life—and removing it almost felt wrong, even if I knew I had to do it.

I let myself lay there for god knows how long. I watched out the large window as the colours of day slowly mixed with night, like milk being poured into coffee. As I watched, I felt my mind grow sharp, the fog receding from my mind and clear thoughts returning to me.

I decided, then and there, that this would be the last time that I sleep in a long time. I needed to get accustomed to my new body, and fast. The only way that I know how to do that, is to push myself to my absolute limits. Though I knew that I wouldn't like it.

I sat up and slowly stretched out my body, loosening my muscles for the day to come. I wasn't enough of an idiot to think that this was going to be easy—in any sense of the word. Mayer would push me hard because he knows that my body can take it, and because it's the only way that I'm going to be able to survive here.

When I finally pulled myself out of bed it was probably around nine-ish. The sun was nice and warm, the day inviting. I didn't even need to get dressed, I still had all my clothes on from the day before. Amazingly, I had managed to get my shoes off in my sleep, allowing me to curl up in my sheets without totally destroying the clean bedsheets with my muddy shoes.

I grabbed my shoes, not bothering to put them on just yet and walked out into the hallway and then the living room. Mayer was already awake, reading a book as he was wont to do. I always try to take a look at the language on the cover of the books, but its always a different language than the book he reads the day before. He's quite the multilinguistic person it seems. We gave each other cursory nods, then I sat myself down in the chair and began to put on my shoes. They weren't the best pair of shoes ever, but they were definitely sturdy—no sign of real wear on them despite the amount of walking I have been doing the past few days.

"Food?" Mayer asked shortly. I nodded, letting Mayer cook whatever it was that he was going to cook. He cooked eggs again today. I assume that I don't really need food, but I may as well eat if given the chance. Nothing wrong with some extra energy to burn despite what seemed like an endless supply.

He used his magic—shifting, I corrected myself—to cook again this time, so it was obvious that I wouldn't be cooking any time soon. I could 'cook' back on earth, but only barely. I still needed someone to look over my shoulder while I did, just to make sure that I didn't fuck anything up. Regardless, I was pretty sure that I would be able to cook some eggs, if my life depended on it. When Mayer plated the eggs up, I ate them voraciously—not that I felt hungry, but I did so anyways.

Just about when I finished eating, Mayer quietly placed down a ceramic teacup in front of me. I hadn't been given tea by Mayer yet, so I delicately sipped on it. It was nice, though it was the kind of stuff that you have a sip of and you aren't quite sure if you like it—but a moment later, as the aftertaste hits you and the taste evolves into a warm, or even flowery experience that seemed to soothe the mouth and throat. I was never a massive fan of tea, more a hot chocolate man myself, but tea had to be the only drink that I always managed to find palatable. I could feel so nauseous that I would almost throw up just at the thought of food—but be able to take a sip of tea. Just the right mixture of water, milk and neutral pleasantness.

I stared thoughtfully down into the cup after taking my seventh sip—admiring the feeling of the warm tea slide down my throat—when there was a small, timid knock on the door that managed to echo throughout the house like a bomb had gone off.

Mayer's eyebrow furrowed. I'm not sure if anyone, ever, had dared to knock on Mayer's door—at least without Mayer knowing it was going to happen first.

I stood up from my seat, taking a quick glance at Mayer, before walking out into the hallway and towards the door. I walked up to the elegantly crafted door and placed my hand on the handle, gently opening it after a moment. Behind it—in front of the house, though standing quite a ways away—was a young boy who anxiously playing with the hem of his shirt, his clearly not sure if he was meant to be here or not.

As soon as the door opened to reveal me, the boy's eyes lit up with recognition and relief. I imagine that Rethi was worried that Mayer would open the door and the mess of trying to explain why he had done so. I smiled softly and gestured him inside without saying a word. Quick to catch on, Rethi nodded compliantly and moved into the home.

I closed the door softly, and then turned to walk back down the hallway and into the lounge area with confidence. There was a good chance right now that Mayer would be unhappy about this, but I had made a promise and I was going to abide by that promise. Plus, Mayer had never put limitations on what I could or couldn't do.

As I walked into the lounge and sat down in the chair I had been sitting in, and started to drink my tea again, Rethi moved in beside me and stood straight and silently next to the chair that I was in.

Mayer had a brief look of recognition in his expression, before his face fell back to neutrality. He looked at Rethi, then at me, then back to Rethi. Not in a confused way, but analytically and methodically. I sat and pretended to be totally unperturbed, which I was most definitely not. Though I was less worried than I thought I would be.

Rethi, however, was absolutely quaking in his boots. His surprisingly clean boots, by the way. It seems that Rethi had a new set of clothing, or maybe a slightly newer set of clothing. The clothes weren't frayed and worn, but freshly stitched and clean. Rethi himself was clean as well. You could have sworn that in this moment the boy was a shopkeeper's son. But to me, those clothes represented the weight of the promise that I had made them. Those clothes no doubt had been an extremely expensive investment for their family—probably worth a meal or two at least—and it was up to me to make the clothes worth that investment.

Mayer looked at me, not turning his gaze away until I met his eyes. In my eyes, I tried to push in as much resolute honesty as I possibly could. We held each other's gaze for a moment, only a tiny spark of tension between us before our gazes fell away, and Mayer's switched to the kid. I internally sighed in relief—it seems like he wasn't all that annoyed over it.

He looked the boy dead in the eye, Rethi's anxiousness just about doubled until Mayer said the magic words that any kid as poor as Rethi dreams to hear.



Rethi ate a lot. Mayer stopped cooking food for him after five whole eggs. Three times what I ate. When Mayer did finally cut him off, he looked somewhat dismayed, but quickly adjusted his attitude when he saw me with my eyebrow raised. He looked down, almost ashamed and I just laughed a little and waved my hand.

"Let's get going." Mayer said, his voice quiet but commanding. I got up and Rethi followed me out the door, standing for a moment before Mayer came out and closed the door gently behind himself and started to walk. Halfway through our walk, Rethi seemed to realise where it was that we were going, but when he went to tell me I just brushed it off before he spoke. There was no real reason to talk before we got there—plus Mayer appreciates the quiet.

We walked pretty far out getting close to where I had first entered the town on my first night. Small farms replaced houses, most of the crop growing well, but as we moved out, we saw the farm that we were going to be working on today. It was a large farm, a few times bigger than the others in the area, but the crop on it was almost entirely destroyed. Torn and scattered about, most of the crop had been eaten or was just rotting. I don't know what did this, but I wouldn't be surprised if the answer was monsters.

Mayer began to ungracefully walk directly through the fields, and we followed suit. I guess the crop was already destroyed, but it still didn't feel good for whatever reason—like we were breaking a rule of sorts. As we moved closer to a small house on the far side of the property, you could hear the 'thunk'ing of a hammer hitting a fencepost into the ground. It was pretty obvious from then on what we were going to be doing today.

When we finally reached the source of the sound, we were met with the tired face of a man in his forties. He looked a great deal older, but that was more likely to do with the sun rather than his actual age. The man looked towards Mayer and an immediate look of respect spread on his face. There was maybe a hint of embarrassment in his expression too, but the man hid it as best as he could.

"Good morning, Herai." Mayer spoke, his voice quiet still. Herai nodded deeply in a bow almost, before speaking.

"Mornin' Master Mayer. It seems that you want me to take on a few lads for ye?" The man looked at me, and then to Rethi. His face grew a little stony when he caught Rethi's eye but made no word of it and definitely didn't let Mayer see.

"Yes. These boys are here to learn how to put up a fence for you. They will work hard, but they are beginners so I cannot guarantee that they will be the best." Herai gave a small, dry chuckle before looking at the sledgehammer in his hands that he had been using to drive a large pole of wood into the ground. There was a small shovel that laid by the side of the large pole, but it seems like you could only dig so far down without having to use the sledge hammer to push the pole deeper into the earth.

"Erm, I dunno if I have tools for the lads to use." Herai said, his hands grasping each other nervously, obviously not too happy to be turning Mayer down. Mayer, however, just shook his head and procured two shovels out what seemed like thin air. They were new and look as if they hadn't ever been used. Though it was probably shifting fuckery.

"No need to worry, we have all the tools to do what we need." Mayer said. I looked at the two shovels and saw a distinct lack of sledgehammers. Looks like I'll be using my god damn hammer today.

Herai looked at the tools, adequately confused, before I decided to summon my hammer from nowhere.

It was just as majestic as the first time I had summoned the thing. The liquid metal quickly formed into the shape of a hammer, and I quickly positioned the half-formed hammer head to be flat on the ground. The rest of the hammer head formed, and the weight of the thing made the soft dirt under the hammer head to compress a few centimetres.

Rethi and Herai looked on with shocked expressions as Mayer and I purposely looked as if there was absolutely nothing amiss. Both of them quickly caught on and pointedly looked away from the hammer to stop themselves from gawking.

Herai looked towards us and nodded slowly before saying, "That should be good," and nodded towards Mayer. Mayer promptly walked off, leaving us behind with two shovels, a massive hammer, and a whole lot of work to do.

Turns out, fencing an entire property with massive poles is really, really difficult. It has been three or four hours so far, Rethi and I were only just getting into a rhythm now. First of all, you have to dig out a few metres of dirt to get to the point where you can put the pole into the ground—which is hard not only because the pole is heavy but also because after you put the thing into the ground, it is just a little bit too tall for you to hit it with a hammer comfortably. Which make it doubly as hard, because you have to swing a massive god damn hammer really high to be able to hit the poles end. Thankfully, it only takes a few swings before it is at an acceptable height, and then it becomes a little bit easier. But it still continues to be difficult because repetitively swinging the damn thing makes your arms about ready to fall off, though by that point you are already digging yet another hole to then put another pole in—then hammer that down a good length, then do it all again.

There was very little rest, at least for me. As the hours ticked on, I let Rethi take a 5 minute break every hour, but none for me. No, I was going to be restlessly doing this work, no breaks, no moments of dazing off, not at all.

5 hours in, and my hands were bleeding, the wood and metal of the shovel slowly began to eat away at my skin. But every time that I would get around to using my hammer, and Rethi was taking a quick breather, the hammer's hilt on my wounds was like a cool stream of water on a sunburn—then when I moved back to the shovel, my hands would be ever so slightly healed. After hours and hours more of this, my hands started to produce blisters that would painfully pop themselves until I would then grab the hammer and my skin would heal over. Though soon I realised that I was always healing, and the regeneration was only getting faster and more comprehensive as I continued

Over time the pain in my hands and in my back went from being torturous, to becoming a deafening howl in the back of my mind—letting me think of absolutely nothing else. So, to compensate I worked harder, and harder—until my mind wasn't communicating with my body anymore. It didn't even bother to compute the creaking of my bones and the searing pain of my skin.

It was hell, my hands and the handle of the shovel were covered in my blood. It was horrifying, to a certain portion of my mind—but the rest of my mind told it to shut up, and it did. I continued to work until I realised that it was well and truly dark outside. Rethi was trying his absolute best to stay awake but his hands trembled, and his legs quaked underneath his own weight. His hands were also raw with blisters, but not like mine. His were going to be sore tomorrow for sure, but not anywhere near as bad as mine were at the moment. Though of course my own wounds would heal within minutes. Without taking even a moment to stop I glanced at the young boy, meeting his weary eyes.

"Go sleep."

The boy looked at me for a moment, too tired to even reply, before he slowly trudged towards the home that was now hundreds of meters away, rather than the tens at the start of the day. At this pace, to surround the entire property was going to take about a week of work. A massive investment of time and money when you weren't making any, due to the crops that were just destroyed by what was likely to be monsters.

But what if someone were to work without sleeping, without rest, without so much as stopping for lunch?

As Rethi slowly walked back to the house, I picked up my hammer, and swung it with all the might I had, again and again, driving the wooden pole into the earth with ferocity and unrelenting power that I never knew that I had.

That was one benefit of all of this, I learnt very quickly where my limits where, which is to say that I have effectively none. I couldn't lift the hammer very well, or swing it well either, but I could swing it over and over again. Over and over and over and over again.

Again and again my hammer pushed the pole into the earth, over and over my hands bled as I dug the earth with the shovel, over and over again I repeated it, healing faster and faster all the while.

I don't know how much time passed, but before long I heard the quiet footsteps that I immediately recognised as Rethi's. I didn't even look up and I continued to work. I didn't even think that something may be wrong, at the time anyways.

More and more time passed, and I gradually got better and better at this. Not stronger, but the kind of mastery that only comes with doing something a thousand, two thousand times. I could swing my hammer about as well and a child can swing a baseball bat now, which was far better than what I could manage before, which was pitiful to say the least. As the hours passed though, what I learnt wasn't how to swing the ludicrously large hammer, but how to use force correctly.

How to plant your feet, how to use your limbs, how to efficiently use the force that your muscles can create and using the force of other objects. These things came almost naturally in a way. Very little thinking went into how I was moving my body, but more went into how every swing, every movement felt.

As the hours went on, this feeling became more and more important to me. Every time I would fix something that felt bad, something else became apparent. In a way it felt like wack-a-mole. For a while, I was becoming more and more frustrated with the unrelenting stream of 'bad' feelings, more and more would come every time that I fixed one, another and another. It became frustrating, and the more frustrated that I got, the more bad feelings would unearth themselves, like an incorrect note being played in a symphony. The noises became louder and louder, until they completely overwhelmed all the good parts and ruined everything.

Only, then for the first time did I stop, and as soon as I did, a rush of freezing cold came over me. I realised how cold it was outside, freezing in the night. I closed my eyes, letting the cold surround me like a blanket of ice, cooling off my frustrations. Maybe five minutes, that is all that I allowed myself. Those five minutes I could have been working, maybe have dug a metre deeper into the soil, but I allowed myself this much time, just so that I could truly recognise my fault.

Frustration was not something I was particularly prone to, but I was human, and in being human I was able to be frustrated. But now, I was inhuman. I might feel emotion like a normal human, might act like a normal human, but I was very clearly no longer human. My body was inexhaustible, my mind unsleeping. This was only something that could come from training, from magic, but I had no training and I couldn't do this world's magic.

So, I was inhuman. And as someone who is inhuman, I must hold myself to more than falling into emotions. I did not have time for frustration, frustration is something that will only hinder me in my progress, in this task.

So, I got rid of it, for just this task.

Every time I felt even a hint of frustration, I would quell it with all of my might. Hours and hours of repetitive and downright boring work, but I didn't allow myself to feel a lick frustrated. I pushed myself harder, and no matter how many times my hammer slipped from the pole and I had to lift it all the way back up, or when I didn't quite dig in the right direction, and I had to re-dig part of my hole, I didn't allow myself to feel frustrated.

Hours passed and Rethi re-joined me, he began to help me by digging a hole ahead of mine. We didn't speak, which probably made the process even more boring than it already was for Rethi, but I was too focused to even notice.

He wasn't too fast at digging, to the point where I was constantly catching up to him, but it was obvious, even when I was totally concentrated, that he was trying his absolute hardest.

We continued on for what felt like minutes to me, but the day passed again, and Rethi had made himself scarce for a little while, before coming back somewhat shamefaced, but holding some food. I don't remember if he offered me some, but if he did, I didn't answer him.


Rethi panted heavily. He had been going at this for almost two days now, and he was absolutely exhausted. One thing that he'd learned over the past few days was that Master Maximilian was not at all human. There was no way, no possible way, that a person could achieve what Master Maximilian was doing. Rethi had seen hardworking men in his life, but Master Maximilian was in another league entirely. If he had any doubts before, now he knew for sure that he was related to Master Mayer. There were rumours that Master Mayer was a significant general at some point, but anyone that could have actually confirmed that was either on Orisis or may as well be, so it was just rumour.

But now he was thinking it was a whole lot more truth than fiction. Who else but a part of Master Mayer's own family would be able to do this? Rethi watched Master Maximilian work for a while, before sighing and noticing the gnawing feeling his stomach. He was hungry.

Rethi broke out in a cold sweat. He'd have to go ask for food. Ask for food from them.

He procrastinated for a short moment, but the pain coming from his stomach had slowly become unbearable over the past few hours. It was well and truly night now, but he had been putting off going to the little farmhouse, delaying the inevitable.

Rethi placed down his shovel and quickly said that he was going to get food to Master Maximilian but received no reply. He started to walk towards that dreaded farmhouse. He was absolutely starving, the hard work burning away anything that Rethi had put inside his body. But even so, he'd only had one meal, and a rather unfulfilling one at that.

They had given him bread, knowing full well that it wasn't nearly enough to feed him, but that was what they offered, so he took it. But even with lack of food, Rethi carried on. He had to, it was the only way that he could ever make enough money to support his Mother and himself. Even if Master Maximilian only gave him a pittance, only a small portion of what he'd promised, then it would be better than he was getting before.

Rethi needed to carry on, but he also needed food.

As he approached the house, Rethi heard the laughing of two boys as they roughhoused around the corner of the house. He stopped and stood absolutely still for a moment, fear shooting through his spine, but he closed his eyes and pushed on, deciding that he needed food more that his pride.

Rethi yelled out to the door of the little farmhouse, "Hello Mr Herai. If you could spare some food, it would be much appreciated." He called, but there was no answer.

No answer but theirs.

"It's the beggar." said one of the boys. They came around the corner with smiles like wolves painted on their faces. They were full of malice, their well-built bodies from year of good nutrition and hard work, and in contrast, Rethi. The scrawny starveling.

"You come 'ere to beg 'ave ya?" The shorter of the two asked, distaste seeping into his voice. The taller one snorted and moved closer to Rethi, way to close.

"No, I'm not here to beg, I'm…" the taller boy grabbed my arm and pulled Rethi forward, putting him off balance and throwing him to the floor. Rethi's chin hit the dirt, ripping the skin and making his head jerk wildly. Rethi felt a sharp crack in his neck, not a bone breaking, but his neck moving in a way it wasn't happy with. As his chest hit the dirt, all the air left it in an odd sounding grunt, then he felt a large weight pressing on his back.

The shorter of the two was now sitting on Rethi's back, grabbing his sandy blonde hair and pushing his face even further into the dirt.

The two boys were laughing and taunting him, but he didn't hear anything.

Nothing at all.

Shame overwhelmed Rethi, he could do nothing. Nothing but lay here, being humiliated, being taunted. And Rethi was the supposed scum. Him.

What a fucking joke. He thought as he opened his mouth to yell—but was cut off by the sound of the door slamming open. Out of the top of his eye, Rethi saw a woman appear in the doorway. She was a horrible looking woman, not in beauty but in the way that her face was adorned with a disgusting scowl. Aimed right at Rethi.

"Get off of him." She commanded. The boys did as she said, and Rethi got up to his feet unsteadily. He looked at her with as much rage as I could possibly muster before walking off without saying anything. Empty handed.


I hit the post hard and fast. I could see where we had started a few days before, not twenty posts distance between where I was and the end point. Another day had passed, and it was the middle of the night. I didn't even feel tired anymore, if anything I felt sharp as a blade, as if I had just woken up and hour ago. It was an interesting feeling. I don't think I have been sweating for at least the past day either, which was interesting. My muscles don't feel tired or sore anymore. I'm not sure what caused the change, but it seems that my body has effectively got unlimited stamina, which is all sorts of crazy when you think about it. It sure as hell makes swinging around this hammer easier, before it only took three or four swings to make my arms feel like spaghetti, but now, I could swing the thing around all day and not feel even a little tired. It didn't make the actual swinging part any easier, I still wasn't all that strong.

But when you can supplement with boundless stamina, strength almost didn't matter. I would be excellent at running away from things, even horses wouldn't be able to catch me—eventually succumbing to their stamina. They would all burn out after a day, and I would be able to continue for tens of hours without a single bit of rest, running at full pelt.

Before I knew it, I was hammering in the last pole. Each hammer blow spelt finality, and when the final blow hit, a feeling of absolute euphoria flowed over me.

[Inhuman: You are no measly human. What you are, is more. Your body is inexhaustible, overflowing with energy. Now you need power to match. +10 Might.]

Ten whole points in Might was three times more than what I had received previously. I had certainly done something far out of the ordinary. I now had a whole twenty-five strength. Now I could feel the strength of my body change, it made everything just that much easier, lifting my hammer was still difficult, but just a smidgen easier. My muscles felt more solid, able to bear more weight. I could sustain forever already, or at least for so long that it almost didn't matter, what I now had was some more raw strength. Even if the screen was stupid, at least it gave a decent payout.

I looked around all, a smile on my face and found Rethi lying on the ground near me. I happily went over and placed a hand on his shoulder and shaking him ever so slightly. The young boy screamed, pushing against me wildly.

Grabbed onto the boy's shoulders, my newfound strength really helping. The boy was weak, weaker than he should be.

"Rethi." I said, my voice as calm as could be. The boy's face snapped towards mine, his eyes going wide, before looking away shame written on his face. I grabbed his chin and got a good look at his face his chin was covered in dry blood, the rest of his face was a little bruised as well.

I felt my expression darken. But I hid it from the boy.

"Let's get you home." The boy nodded weakly at my words, and I put him on my back, unsummoned my hammer and started to walk towards Rethi's home.

Don't get me wrong, I was going to be back in one way or another.


A/N: Hey there my guys. So, this chapter is a chonker and really marks the start of showing just how ridiculous Champions are by default, even without use of the 'screens'.

Hope that you all enjoy the chapter! Would love to see some more interaction too, I've been running dry on attention over here ; )
Chapter 16: Notes
Chapter 16: Notes

When I had finally made my way back to Mayer's home, I walked in solemnly. Rethi was still on my back, sleeping now. He deserved the rest. I had been incredibly inconsiderate of him these past few days and he deserved all the pampering I could give him for that. To be honest, I can't say that I thought someone would dare attack anyone even marginally related to Mayer himself, but I guess two degrees of separation and being a beggar was reason enough.

I wasn't furious or anything, I was actually pretty calm, which was surprising in a way. I don't know if I should be really angry or what, but I wasn't. I was, however, going to get a certain justice.

When I walked into the home, I passed the living room in which Mayer was resting in and went straight to my bedroom. I gave my bed to Rethi, plopping him down as gently as I could, which was made easy seeing as I had the new strength from all that work. It was a good feeling. Most likely that increase in Might will be the largest I will ever receive. A full sixty six percent increase in strength all in one go is a massive increase. Hopefully, it will serve me well. Though it still isn't enough to truly handle my hammer. Thank god that my muscles don't tire out, or I wouldn't be able to use it at all.

After I put Rethi down and took off his shoes, I left and went to the living room and sat down in the chair that I sat down in a few days ago. I could swear that it only felt like twelve hours in retrospect. Mayer fixed me with a raised eyebrow.

"You didn't come home." He said, his tone inquisitive.

"No, I didn't." I said, as if that answered anything. Mayer's face grew slightly humorous for a moment and then back to inquisitive.

"Did you sleep?" He said, looking down to read a line of his book.

"No, I made an effort not to. I haven't felt the least bit tired in two days at least. Even under extreme physical stress my body has maintained itself." I said this quite blandly. Informatively, some might say. Mayer nodded again and stopped, fingering the edge of a page and bending it over. I cringed internally—that book looked like it was a thousand years old. I couldn't imagine doing something like that to a book half its age.

He looked up at me and saw me eyeing the book and gave a chuckle, then opened the book and ripped out a page before I could say or do anything. In that moment, I felt more emotion than I had in days, I was scandalised. But before I could say a word, the ripped-out page in Mayer's hand melted into smoke and wafted over to where he had pulled out the page.

It was hypnotizing, watching the page rebuild itself from nothing. It was as if the smoke slowly got into order and began to print the page back into existence. By the time it was done, my outrage was well and truly quelled.

"An indestructible book?" I asked, half curious, half mystified.

"Indestructible?" Mayer shook his head, "No, not truly. Really, really difficult to destroy is more accurate." The older man chuckled wryly.

"You've tried I assume?" I said, eyebrow raised poignantly. He looked at me incredulously.

"Of course. I have. If someone says it is indestructible, then its limits have to be tested." He said as he flipped to the very last page of the book and showed me a tiny little hole in the corner of the page. It wasn't a normal hole, it was too clean, too seamless. Its edge was too perfect. But even so, I didn't quite understand what he was showing me.

"This is all the damage that I could manage to do to the thing. I threw my all at this book, and this is the fruits of my labours." I looked at Mayer, then back to the hole. Now, I don't know how strong Mayer is. But he is most likely the strongest being I have ever met—besides the God that brought me here. If he couldn't destroy the thing, then I don't know who possibly could.

"Seems like someone really didn't want that book destroyed." Mayer looked down at the book, seeming to gaze into the soul of it, the true being of it. Before sighing and putting it down on the small table beside him.

"Alright, how did your job go?" He rested his face on his palm and looked at me, obviously asking what I gained.

"Good, increased my Might by a large portion, and managed to get myself acclimatised to not sleeping and being able to work endlessly." Mayer nodded and looked about to move on, but I cut in.

"Mayer, I believe that we may have given a gift to someone that wasn't entirely worthy." I was calm and assertive. I do not believe that Mayer would be offended by something as simple as that, but I wanted to make my point clear. It seems to work better that way with Mayer.

"Oh?" He replied simply.

"While I was working on their fence, it seems the family that own the farm were neglectful of my… helper." I said hesitantly, not knowing the boy's exact job title yet, "He was given very little to no food over the past few day, likely the only good meal he has had was the breakfast he ate beforehand." I paused for a moment to read Mayer's face, but he seemed to be thinking, so I continued on.

"Then, on the final day, it seems he was assaulted by their family in some fashion. I am unaware of the exact circumstances, but Rethi will be able to clear up any confusion. I personally believe that they have gone out of their way to starve my companion, and then at least one member of their family has attacked him." I stopped talking and let Mayer think. He was a smart man, but you had to also realise that he was born in a very different place that I was. On Earth we are so hellbent on justice and fairness that this sort of situation would clearly be abuse and would earn the ire of many, but here? Who knows. But as well as this, it isn't my reputation that I am using, it's Mayer's. I'm beholden to his whim, and if he doesn't believe that it's worth punishment, then I can't really say otherwise.

Mayer thought for a good minute. I had no idea what it was that he was thinking about, and I was intensely curious, but I stayed still and let him be.

"What do you think of this. Personally." Mayer spoke suddenly, breaking himself from his thoughts. I hesitated. I had initially kept my opinion out of it as much as possible, but when he asked, I answered.

"My companion is a young boy, whose mother is incredibly sick, likely without enough money to get treatment, even if there was any for her specific condition. The boy resorted to becoming a beggar to be able to make ends meet," Mayer grimaced at that, but I continued on, "I employed the boy under dubious pretences—as in reality, I don't truly need a companion, but I believe that they need money enough that I should help them. I used employment as a façade for my charity, but I'll hold myself to this. I intend wholeheartedly to deliver on what I said I would." Mayer nodded. I don't know if it was an approving nod, or an affirmatory nod, but I took it all the same.

"Under this context, I believe that you have the social power over this village to potentially change the opinion of the many townsfolk on this matter. If you enforce your word by protecting a person that is loosely related to you—who so happens to be a beggar—it will at least stop people from acting on their misguided thoughts. It will become important to this village that, if they want you to continue to be part of their community, then they must abide by your rules in part. This would be a worthwhile rule to have to your name." I bowed my head slightly. I finished my argument. It was a bit all over the place really, but I think it got the point across loud and clear. Mayer took a deep breath in, held it for a few seconds and deflated.

"And how do you propose that this will be done? Do we make an example of them by beating them and hanging them up in the street? Killing them? Destroying their farm?" All of Mayer's options seemed quite violent, but I have a feeling that they weren't all too uncommon, even in smaller towns like this one.

"No, no need for something as drastic as that. You aren't a King, ruling from up on high. But your word, is just as powerful to these townsfolk." Mayer looked at me, head slightly tilted.

"How do you propose that this works?" Mayer said, interested. He didn't exactly seem all that keen about any of his other options.

"Well, it will take Rethi telling us the entire story first. But…"


When Rethi awoke, questions were asked and answered. Turns out it was the young boys of the family. Thinking back on it now, I don't remember being helped by anyone during doing the job. I don't even remember where the Father went in the end. I have a feeling, however, that those boys should have been helping me. Mayer definitely didn't look all too happy about it.

Me and Mayer talked about this, and we decided on how this would go down. It was a non-violent way of sorting things out, but it worked all the same. Well, at least I hoped that it would.

After Rethi had been thoroughly questioned, he requested to go home. He seemed somewhat apologetic, and we implored him to stay for at least a meal, but he left saying that his mother may need him. We gave him a loaf of bread to take home. Hopefully that should last them a day.

Soon enough, night fell over the town, and my plan was pit into action.

I walked into the well and truly abandoned streets of the town, lugging a massive pole of wood over my shoulder, not too dissimilar to the ones I had been pounding into the dirt these past few days. I walked with a large piece of paper in my hand, holding it gently.

I walked silently in the night, drawing as little attention to myself as possible, but I wasn't particularly afraid of being found either, it would ruin the magic of it though. At my pace I quickly got to the centre of town and found a small patch of loose soil, and placed down the wooden pole, lining it up with the desired spot. I then lifted the pole as high as reasonable, then slammed it down into the dirt with as much force as I could muster. The end of the pole went into the dirt by just enough that it stayed standing once I pulled away. After that, I gently placed the paper on the ground, and summoned my hammer into existence. I then used it to drive the pole further into the earth, which worked spectacularly.

After unsummoning the hammer, I grabbed a small symbolic dagger, placed the paper on the pole facing the middle of the clearing, and stabbed the dagger into the wood. I heard a splitting sound as the dagger was driven into the wood a little further than what I intended, but it worked all the same.

Now it was time to wait till morning, and to see what will come.
Chapter 17: The Response
Chapter 17: The Response

I let a few hours pass by. It was painful almost—the wait that is.

I was sure of my plan, certain that it was going to properly work as I intended it to, but even so, there was uncertainty burrowing deep into my gut. I didn't think I was all that nervous about this, but seems I was wrong.

I think it has something to do with this being my plan. Not Mayer's plan, mine and mine alone. Mayer had placed his trust in me, in form of his reputation itself. It was a pretty big deal, if you asked me. Mayer was clearly a powerful guy, at the very least physically. That commanded a certain respect all of its own. This was a first for me, utilising this sort of power and it was something that I desperately hoped went according to plan.

I stood up from the dark, wild grass that was growing just outside the window of my bedroom swaying gently in the breeze. Something that I would find calming in a lot of other situations, but right now, not much could calm me down. Mayer, on the other hand was reading a book in his chair. I don't think much could break that man from his calm, especially not something as minor as this.

I'm not entirely sure what time it is, but I would give it a guess and say about midday—maybe a touch earlier. I waded through the thick grass all the way up to the large window of my bedroom. I hadn't noticed this the first few days I was here, but the massive window actually was able to open on a large hinge. It totally didn't look right, not by the conventional rules of modern architecture from Earth, and I wasn't sure that it totally followed physics either, but it was just probably some crazy material used for the hinges, but the massive pane of glass was able to stay totally suspended at a ninety-degree angle without so much as a quiver under the frankly enormous weight of itself. Or maybe it was something possible on Earth and I'm just uneducated.

I walked into my room, swinging the massive pane of glass shut behind me. Not needing to do anything in my room, I walked out through the hallway to the living area.

"Morning, once again." said Mayer proactively. He was reading the same book as last night, markedly farther along this time though.

"Yeah, morning." I said somewhat distractedly. I was thinking about what to do next. Do I just walk into the centre of town? Do I bother to try and sneak around and see what the reactions are before I make any big movements for the day?

Mayer looked up at me, a grin on his face punctuated by a small chuckle. He nodded ever so slightly and returned to his book. I sighed and decided to not aimlessly stand around in the living room and go do something.

So, I moved out of the living room without saying goodbye and was out of the door, walking towards the centre of town in a heartbeat. I walked with a confidence that I didn't feel and a surety that I couldn't possibly have earned. But I tricked myself into portraying these attributes anyways. It was integral that I project that image. It was important that people believed that I was important, someone worthy enough to be related to the Master Mayer. I was most certainly not worthy of that, but I had to at least try to pretend I was.

My pace was fast, fast enough that I couldn't back away and hide, something that I wasn't truly considering, but what I wished I could do, nonetheless. But, step by step, as I drew closer to the source of my worries, I calmed down.

There was pressure that felt like a weight in my gut still, and I was sure that it would not go away, but all me extraneous nerves slowly floated away, leaving me with a clearer mind than I thought was really possible for me in this sort of situation.

It wasn't long before I started to see people on the streets. I looked at them, trying to ascertain what they thought about the note, or if they had seen it at all in the first place. Their reactions to me walking down the street, towards the middle of the town no less, made it readily obvious that the news had spread like wildfire. At least their initial reaction wasn't to be scared of me or anything, Mothers weren't pulling their children close to them as I walked by, but everyone I passed was definitely wary. It was an interesting experience actually. It was something that I hadn't ever even remotely experienced before, and initially the town had been quite welcoming of my existence—apparently, my position in their eyes have changed since the note.

I continued to walk, my strides unhindered, towards the centre of town.

There wasn't so much a crowd of people nearing the centre of town, but there were definitely more people than there would be normally. As soon as I was noticed, everyone's eyes snapped to me. It was actually quite intimidating, but I let their gazes flow over me like water. I wasn't concerned by their gazes, not really. They were mostly trying to size me up after reading the note.

I walked slower now, more deliberately. I walked over the dirt road, drawing closer to the patch of grass that had become the centrepiece of the town. As I drew closer, the density of people went up quite significantly. These people were most likely reading over the note, or gossiping amongst themselves, at least until I came along, and their attentions were drawn elsewhere. I looked at the people, who had clearly been arguing about the note since it was found. There were a few men in the centre of the group who seemed like they were the chief arguers.

I walked through the small group of people, walking directly towards the note itself. It was still immaculate, just like when I had pinned it to that log. I had almost assumed that someone would rip it or remove it, but it remained entirely untouched. I stared at it a moment, recalling how stupefied I had been when Mayer had written this and given it to me. I had been worried it wasn't going to be enough at the time, but in retrospect, I think he might've been right to write it like this.

I read it over again and then, without turning, spoke to those that stood behind me.

"Has everyone read this?" I said, making sure my tone was neutral and blunt. I felt the slight surprise in the air after I spoke. Were they not expecting to be addressed at all? I disregarded the surprise and waited quietly for a response.

"Yes sir. Though some of us aren't the best readers…" The voice of the man was gruff, but still timid. He was one of the chief arguers I'd singled out. I nodded without turning my head away from the note.

"Then I will read the note, for clarity." I said bluntly. I left a moment of silence before I spoke, raising anticipation. I turned and began to recite the note verbatim from heart.

"Recently a nephew of mine, Maximilian Avenforth, has been sent to train with me. In the process of that training, it has been brought to my attention that the partner of my nephew, Rethi Orsen, has been mistreated by the Jothian family whilst working on their fence. This is disappointing behaviour, and I will not be complicit in supporting this attitude towards him or others with silence. Signed—Mayer Renue." I spoke clearly and concisely, as closely to how I think Mayer himself would have spoken it.

The note itself was short and sweet. There was no punishment stated, there were no threats given, implied or otherwise. It was quite simple really, getting all the information across easily and succinctly. However, this note only poses the question, and the townsfolk are left to answer it themselves. Mayer, the de-facto 'head' of the town has expressed his distaste of an action that was taken against a 'partner' of his 'nephew' by a person of the town. It was their decision on how they rectify the situation.

As far as I understood, this was the first time that Mayer had made an announcement in this way. He had always simply acted silently, telling no-one of his motives or plans. Not that he specifically had any plans that involved the town itself. However, now they were posed with a question that they had thought would never come, and now they were at risk of losing favour of someone they looked towards in crises.

This was something quite defining to this town, and I was almost entirely certain that this would be carefully considered by the townsfolk. There were so many different ways that they had to look at this. They weren't entirely sure what Mayer wanted, so they had to carefully consider how to handle the Jothians. My hope is that they will quickly realise that the answer isn't to kill them, or anything as extreme as that. If that is what Mayer wanted, I'm pretty sure it would take him negative effort to do so. Even I could probably pull it off.

So, then the next best step is a punishment of other avenues. Hopefully this will be realised, and action will be taken along that vein. It is a gamble though, there could be a more extreme reaction than I thought, and people could end up very dead. Not really something I want to think about at night to be honest.

The people surrounding me had long started whispering, discussing the note, and I decided to leave them to it. I walked smoothly out the way that I came in and started walking back home. I walked home fairly fast, I had something else I wanted to accomplish today as well. The dirt road started to fly under my feet as I let my muscle memory I had built up over the past few days carry me back home to Mayer's house, and soon enough I was at the door.

I walked in, and all in one moment I was standing before Mayer.

"Hey, can I get paid for the work at the Jothians farm?" His eyes raised from his old book, looking at me quizzically.

"Asking for that money pretty quickly." He said nonchalantly. He quickly folded the page he was on and placed the book in his lap.

"I know, but hey I don't have any money at all, and I need to pay out some Workers Comp." I chucked at myself, but Mayer looked at me eyebrow raised. I sensed genuine inquisitiveness.

"Uh… Workers compensation, like when an employee gets hurt at work and stuff…" I trailed off, looking at Mayer's face. He was totally dumbfounded.

"Really? You guys don't have Workers Compensation? Like you don't pay out soldiers if they get injured or anything?"

"If they die, we pay the family an amount." He said. I shook my head, feeling myself get derailed.

"Anyways, on Earth we have Worker's Compensation, and I work by Earth rules. So, I pay people Worker's Compensation." I said, more indignantly than I really intended. Honestly I started to feel a little bit of a flush on my face, but Mayer looked at me dead in the eyes very seriously. He reached into his pocket and pulled out his purse it drooped heavily, packed with coin. He started to dig around in the purse while looking me dead in the eye.

"I see. It seems there are things that you hold dear to you from your homeland. It is important to take some things with you as you journey through the lands like you will one day. Honest values are some of the most important things in this world. Keep them safe." He was so incredibly serious the sound of his voice was almost deafening. The words beat against my mind like a hammer on a gong. It resounded against what felt like my very soul. It was a glorious and terrifying experience. Like I have seen something I shouldn't have. Not yet.

Mayer looked deep into my eyes and grinned, his smile hiding something that I couldn't quite grasp. He pulled four coins out of his wallet.

"Two for you, two for the boy. You will both get paid for the Jothian job at the end of the week, in a few days. These two are for the note that you helped with, and these are for the boy's 'Worker's Compensation' as you put it." I looked at the four coins in Mayer's hands. They were all iron smah. From as far as I've gathered, two of these coins are a decent wage per week for an adult man doing a hard labour job.

For Mayer this was obviously chump change. I would imagine he could throw around a few thousand of these coins with absolutely no qualms. There was no way that this was a large investment from his end at all.

But the reality was, that the sentiment was exactly the same. He didn't have to give me this money, he didn't even have to humour my Worker's Compensation. He could just as easily have laughed in my face and told me to get real, to adapt to the cutthroat world that I am sure that this place is.

I looked at him, and I couldn't help it. I grabbed the man in the biggest hug I could give. Emotions raced through my veins, I felt them burn through my throat as I sobbed into the older man. The hurt came to the surface all at once, something that I would have sworn I wasn't harbouring. I mourned the death of my old world, the world that I knew, and I loved. I mourned the death of the family and friends that I have been trying so hard to repress into oblivion. I cried for the kindness of an old man who had no reason to help me but did anyways. I cried for the crimes that I know this world will harbour, and that I will have to eventually face with no choice, no alternative.

Then I just cried. I cried for me.

A/N: And lo we are halfway through my prewritten stock! Hope you're all having a good one!
Chapter 18: Four Coins
Chapter 18: Four Coins

My feet trudged through the dirt roads that got rougher and less used the further you walked out of town. It was a fitful sort of walk, there was too much on my mind for it not to be. My mind was in absolute shambles.

Memories that I'd rather forget played through my mind like a video recording. They were pleasant memories, parts of my past that made me feel warm and happy. But now, those emotions were twisted and deformed by grief. The thought of my mother and my father sent my emotions into a flurry. Of that, birthed some of the most intensely sad moments I've ever experienced.

Logically, I understood that they weren't dead, that my world wasn't gone. I could even potentially rationalize all this as simply just an extended trip away from my world, my family.

But no, my emotions wouldn't be quelled. No matter what I said or how I rationalized it, there was a small part of my brain that slowly, goadingly repeated what I already knew.

You think you are going home? You are the cannon fodder of a God's death game for the elite. You are going to be the first to die.

And how was I going to argue with that? If all these people were so smart, so strong, how was I going to compete? Stopping my fevered walking, I looked down at my feet—peering at the end of my shoe, subtly hoping that I would find an answer to my problems there. Find a way back home.

My parents were good people, people that came from hard places in life and lived to give their children what they didn't have. I always respected that. I knew, as a beneficiary of their hard work that I had to take advantage of that as much as I could. Not out of guilt, or expectation, but because it only felt right to follow my own path.

But here I was, on a path I didn't even know existed, in a whole other universe for all I knew. Dreams that I had for my future are nothing but fantasies, dead at the hands of this reality.

"Ah, fuck it," I grumbled under my breath, "moaning and groaning about it isn't going to solve shit." I felt a heat in my chest, an undirected anger. Frustration was not an emotion that I liked, it was something that I rarely felt and something that I intentionally avoided—one that even quelled completely for a time.

But at this moment, where I had so many emotions assaulting my mind, the anger was like a numbing agent applied to a wound. I began to walk again, this time my stride was more powerful, more meaningful. I had lost my purpose, but it didn't mean that I couldn't walk forward meaningfully in hopes that I find one.

My legs took me down the road towards Rethi's home. I had no choice now, I had to be doubly as sure about myself, doubly as confident, otherwise I would crumble under the weight of my own grief.

I walked past many of the townsfolk, and they quickly averted their eyes from me as I walked by. I was now given a sort of pseudo respect as a 'nephew' of Mayer's. I took it in my stride and walked down to the forgotten parts of town, where houses became progressively more destroyed as you walked. I homed in on the front door to Rethi's house and prepared myself. I knocked quickly, not letting myself think further.

Then I waited. Time ticked by slowly, like molasses spreading where it had been dropped. At first, I thought that it might have just been me—but as the time ticked by, no one answered the door. It was a minute at first. Then two. Then three. I knocked again, but there was still no answer even after five long minutes.

The knocks were loud and sharp, there was effectively no way that someone didn't hear them. I suddenly grew worried. What if Rethi was more hurt than we thought? I knocked again and waited. Again, and again, there was nothing.

I stood at the door, at a loss for what to do. I could only feebly weigh up the options. There was a possibility that Rethi was more hurt than we had noticed. However, there was no way that his mother could possibly get help in her condition. I agonised over it a moment, but the answer was clear as day. I had to go into the house.

I took one deep breath in, preparing myself for what I could find inside. I slowly opened the door, holding my breath for just long enough to see Rethi's mother sitting at their table. I was almost relieved, until I saw her glare and tensed up.

"Good evening Master Maximilian." She stated with not a small amount of scorn attached to her words.

Uh oh.

"Good evening Ms. Orsen." I said, giving her a slight nod and letting absolutely no emotion show on my face.

She, however, was quite blunt about how she felt about me.

"Would you like to explain why my son is in the state he is in?" The scorn was palpable in her words. She was well and truly disgusted with me. I walked towards the table that she was sitting at and stayed standing, not daring to go so far as to take a seat myself. I looked her dead in the eyes and began to speak

"For the past few days, we have been working at the Jothian's farm on their fence. Whilst we did so, Rethi was 't properly fed and on the final day, was physically assaulted by at least one of the Jothian boys. This has occurred, at least in part, due to me being neglectful of my surroundings. As such, I have come to properly apologise for the incident and my lack of a response until today." I then bowed as deeply as I could without making myself look like an idiot.

I stayed that way for a good ten seconds before I raised myself eyes and looked into Shae Orsen's own. Emotions were flickering across her face. Anger, confusion, worry.

"The Jothians? Why?" She looked at me, her anger dimming to be replaced by mostly confusion.

"I cannot say." I said. I know exactly why they attacked Rethi, but there was no way that I was going to tell her this. It wasn't my place to do so. Her eyes narrowed at my answer, anger reappearing on her face with a vengeance.

"The Jothian boys are friends with Rethi! There was no way that they would do this to him." Her eyes flashed dangerously. I swear her gaze was hot enough to burn my skin. I took a deep breath in and looked to her with the most sincere, honest expression that I could muster.

"Ms. I cannot tell you why the Jothian boys attacked your son. Only that they did. I will not tell you why, no matter how you ask. It is not my place to tell you." I said this honestly, sincerely, and also sternly. She looked slightly taken aback by the sternness and looked about ready to fire back with an angrier remark before she caught herself. She glanced to the room on her right, the one that she had been sleeping in on the day that I had met her. I assumed that Rethi was in there, sleeping the pain and exhaustion away.

"Alright, why are you here at all then?" She said, a quiet venom in her voice. I nodded solemnly and I began to speak my part.

"I have tried my best to rectify the situation within town itself, and hopefully action will be taken in the next few days against the Jothians for their mistreatment of Rethi." I took a look at Shae's face, and she seemed to be following along so far, "However, it is unacceptable that this has happened under my direct supervision. It is a total failing of my ability as an employer. Rethi has been significantly, unduly injured due to my negligence. This means that he is eligible for Workers Compensation." I paused significantly after my spiel. I calmly observed her face, not letting anxiousness seep into my psyche, not letting it taint my understanding of the situation.

"What?" She said, dumbfoundedly, "Worker's Compensation? Money?" Her face was a strange mixture of emotions, but confusion mostly prevailed. She didn't seem to understand whether to be offended or not.

"Yes. Because of my negligence, Rethi is entitled to money to alleviate the situation—typically to aid him while he recovers." I summarised. There was a war on her face, but I could see anger boiling beneath it all, elevating her emotions to a peak.

"Mister Avenforth. I will not have you come into my house and insult us in this way. You dare come in here and offer money to me like you would a beggar? You dare violate me and my son's pride, as if it is worth nothing to you!" Her voice started to strain with anger, but breathiness began to intermingle with her words—her illness restricting her breathing. So, I paused a moment while she collected herself before continuing to speak.

"I understand that the giving of money is seen as an act of degradation in your culture?" I asked, mostly rhetorically. I decided to play the difference in culture angle. Her eyes still glowered with anger, but she nodded, albeit almost unwillingly. I took a deep breath in and decided to take a gamble. I looked deep into her eyes, looking for something that I couldn't quite put into words. After a moment I nodded to myself and began to speak.

"In my culture, those that were honest—were kind, compassionate and prideful—tended to be taken advantage of." I looked at her stonily, her eyebrows furrowed ever so slightly, but she didn't comment. "The weak and honest were the most taken advantage of. They worked for nothing, only desperately hoping to feed their family, and dreaming of a day where their children could experience everything else that life offered, that was stripped of their own lives. I was not born in such a situation, and I am quite thankful for that. But it is not hard to identify injustice. You can turn a blind eye to it, you can pretend as if it is not there, or kid yourself into believing that it is better than what it is. But there is a brutal reality to the situation." Her face screwed up, but she still didn't comment. I wasn't sure if she intended to just not respond, or if she was just incredibly gracious. I nodded and brought out the four coins that Mayer had given me not two hours earlier.

"These four coins are my acknowledgement of that reality." I placed those coins on the table, the soft light that leaked from the windows dancing across the intricate surface of the coins.

"I do not wish to perpetuate the wrongs of my own culture wherever I walk. I am, in a way, an Ambassador for my people. I will hold myself to that regard with all my might." I said, my voice climaxing towards a stern peak. I was no longer speaking uncertainly, or even trying to convince her. This was truly my own pride, a value that I clung to and hoped so dearly that I would never, ever, have to abandon. I looked at her, finally letting my face relax and feeling a sad smile grow with the sorrow and grief inside.

"Because it's all I have left of my home."

And then there was silence. I had spoken with incredible selfishness, but honestly, that's all I knew how to do. How was I going to appeal to an entirely different culture without bringing in elements of my own? It was a risk, something that could truly damage my reputation. I was playing with fire, as such. But I didn't have enough time to learn customs and eccentricities of their culture. I had to brute force it. I had to enforce my own stance, my own identity within their own—rather than play it by the book and timidly wait until I was told I was kosher.

I looked to Shae Orsen. She stared down at the four coins, her brows furrowed deeply and her eyes glaring perplexedly. I waited a moment, then two. I watched her form shift gently in her chair, her face struggling to regain a calmness. But in the end, she just hid her face in her chest.

She then gave me a slight bob of the head. I waited a moment, hoping to glean something else from her demeanour—besides a hidden shame—but nothing came.

And so, I left. Leaving four coins behind.
Chapter 19: Tea
Chapter 19: Tea

The walk back was slow. Maybe you could call it leisurely, but to me it was torturous.

It gave me time to think about things I didn't want to think about. Things that killed me inside. I had been doing so well up until now, you might have even believed me if I said that I had no past back on Earth. But now, all that was crumbling, and I was left with emotions that I had never had to handle in the past.

As I walked, the sky slowly shifted into darkness as Orisis eclipsed the sun—filling me with a distinct sense of being entirely, horrifically alone. Not something I had ever experienced so potently before. I felt cold, not from the pleasantly cool night air, but on the inside. The motivational self-talk from earlier had been a band-aid—covering the wound for just a moment of relief—but now it was starting to wear off, and it was becoming clear that this was going to be a bit of a process.

My legs were walking automatically towards Mayer's home while I looked up towards the sky, trying to keep my mind blank of thoughts. It obviously wasn't all that effective, but it helped ever so slightly, and that was enough of an incentive for me.

Before I knew it, my feet were trudging up the wooden steps to Mayer's home. Down the hallway and into the living room. And there he was, in his seat. Like a boulder in a river. Never shifting, never conforming to the flow of the water.

I stood in the doorway, lost.

Mayer looked up at me from his book, he smiled at me and closed it entirely—not folding a page or holding it open—he then stood and turned to face the bookcase behind him, where he slotted the book into its position.

He sat in his chair once again and looked up at me, quiet contemplation on his face. I stared at him aimlessly for a moment and he simply smiled and nodded towards the chair opposite him. I wandered over to the seat and sat down gently, as if I were made of porcelain or glass. I felt brittle, only an errant tap from breaking.

There was silence for a good, long moment. I stared down at my hands, looking at my fingers and how they held each other. It was almost surreal, to look at my body and seeing that it didn't outwardly exhibit how I felt on the inside. I let the moment pass and looked up.

Mayer was looking at me with an easy smile on his face, a strange ray of sun in the dark I was living in. It wasn't at all patronising, not even slightly. It was warm, allowing a tiny reprieve for the cold that seems to have found its way into my body. Like the warmth of the evening sun, even as the air grew colder.

"You've been dealt a poor hand, kid." I pursed my lips at that and bowed my head slightly.

"I know."

"And you have to do a lot with that hand as well." Mayer mused, then chuckled. I can't say that I found any humour in it.

"But you know, I've seen people pull off some truly amazing stuff." He looked at me pointedly. I looked at him, my eyes full of scepticism. Mayer laughed again, a surprisingly soft sound for such a normally gruff man.

"Maybe not anyone in such an extreme situation as yours." He crossed his legs and looked thoughtful for a moment. "What is it that you want to achieve here?" He asked finally, breaking me from dipping back into the dark pool of my own mind. I looked at him, eyebrow raised.

"I have no idea. Should I?" Mayer looked at me appraisingly.

"Maybe. Maybe not. But if I were to be honest, its something that has always helped me. To have a goal—however unattainable." I snorted slightly, before I truly considered his words. But silence followed, leaving me nothing but time to think.

"Hey… what happened the last time that the Champions were around?" The mood instantly grew dark. Mayer's smile was gone—the sunny, easy-going attitude had turned almost murderous in an instant. Then, just as quickly as it had come, it was gone as if it had never happened.

"Bad things happened. A war of a size we'd never seen before." Mayer smiled, but it seemed hollow even to me.

"Then how about I try to stop that from happening again?" His eyes glowed, staring into my being.

"What makes you think that you can stop it?"

"I don't." I replied honestly. Mayer looked at me, surprise drifted across his face and was quickly replaced by a smile.

"Well, I did say that it could be unattainable, so it qualifies." He chuckled to himself and then tapped his leg in thought.

"I guess that means that you will need proper training, other than just banging some wood into the ground." I nodded along. I had wanted to ask about real combat training for a while but decided that I would let Mayer do whatever he thought was right. Seems that now was the time.

"What do you have in mind?" I inquired.

"Well we have to make you're not useless with that massive hammer of yours. It isn't going to be an easy feat though." I furrowed my brow.

"Really? Wouldn't I just need to stack up my Might stat and I'll be good to go?" Mayer shook his head while scratching his chin.

"Soul Weapons are different. They grow with the user."

"Grow with the user?" Mayer nodded.

"In your case, 'stacking' Might will just increase the weight of the hammer proportional to your strength." I groaned. That was my whole idea of getting more Might, so that it would alleviate my issues with the unwieldiness of my hammer.

"Really? How am I going to handle the damn thing if it is always going to be the same weight for me?" Mayer stopped, placing his hands over his eyes for a minute, trying to think presumably. After a moment he lowered his hands.

"There aren't many options. I have only met a handful of people that have used oversized weapons that are even remotely as large as yours—but they only used them because they were obscenely strong, so they can't really be compared. There was one guy about your build that used a huge spear, not quite as big as yours but pretty heavy. I asked him about how he uses it, being so heavy and all."

"And?" I asked, expectantly.

"He told me that it was all about using its weight to your advantage and practicing all the time." Mayer shrugged "Unhelpful, but its something."

I scratched my head, feeling a little bit frustrated. The hammer was a massive bane to my existence, but I was stuck with it, so I had to learn how to use it properly.

"I can at least swing it, but only really under ideal conditions, in a consistent manner. I can hammer wood into the ground, but I can't really be any more dynamic than that, my body would just crumple under the weight of the thing." Mayer nodded at me.

"That was what I was trying to achieve by sending you out to do menial work like on the Jothian's farm. It at least taught you where your limits were. You might not be able to swing the thing around with reckless abandon, but at least you can swing it at all. It's a start."

"Well, there is one other thing that I could potentially use." Mayer hummed questioningly. "When I was first transported here, I came into contact with a wolf with leaves for its fur."

"Ah, forest wolves. Nasty buggers they are. Usually travel around in large packs." Mayer said.

"Yeah, so, one was spawned near me, most likely an initial culling. I ran from it at first before I remembered that I could summon a weapon, and I just took a swing while imagining that I had a sword in my hand." Mayer looked at me expectantly and I continued.

"When I swung, the hammer was able to form in my hand in the time that it took to get to the forest wolf. I basically ripped its head off with the force of the swig." I shuddered, remembering the sight of the poor wolf's head buried into the ground with its neck brutally ripped off.

"Interesting. I imagine that manoeuvre saved your life there." I nodded.

"I was wondering how useful that would be in combat. If I could effectively instantaneously summon and unsummon my hammer and swing it with a tonne of force while it summoned, I would be able to do some real damage." Mayer nodded and stood up, walking to his kitchen, and filled up a kettle at his tap.

"Good. This is exactly the kind of thinking you need to be able to succeed in these circumstances. Always look for the next option, and the next possibility when it comes to combat." Mayer seemed pleased with my thinking, which made me feel better about myself than it really should have.

"But all that can wait till tomorrow. I have a feeling that we won't have any visitors tomorrow, so we will have time to test out many things. Along with, of course, being taught the basics of combat. Footwork and the like." The sound of the water inside of the kettle boiling could soon be heard after Mayer had set the kettle on the stove. He pulled the kettle off the stove and then, after a second of letting the water rest, brought out two cups and filled them with water, then taking some tea leaves and placed them in the cups. He slowly stirred each one, the water slowly becoming a deep purple colour. He took each of the cups and walked back over to me, handing me one and then sitting in his seat as well.

I sipped the tea, somewhat curious of the taste. A strong fruity flavour but still managing to remain really smooth, so it wasn't overpowering. Not something that I would usually like all that much, but it was definitely an exception to the rule.

"You have a long road ahead of you, boy. A lot will happen to you in short succession, and it will always feel like you aren't equipped to handle it. But just know that in those sorts of situations, you are far more capable of handling it than you feel." He looked at me poignantly while taking a sip of his tea. I nodded, not really feeling that his words were true. Maybe that only proved his point.

"I'll try to remember that." Mayer laughed, and took another sip.

"Ryan was very different from you, you know." He said. "I had wondered if all of the people on Earth were the same. Seemingly endlessly driven, unable to be dissuaded by setbacks and confident in their own abilities and preparations." Mayer shook his head with a smile on his face. I laughed sardonically.

"I can tell you; those kinds of people are rare. They appear more in fairy tales than they do in real life." Mayer laughed as well.

"That's what I had thought as well. Though it was quite amusing to think of an entire race of people with all the same drive. It would be both mesmerising and horrifying at the same time."

"There are people like that, but they don't tend to be the best people. Morally I mean." I said. Mayer tapped the side of his teacup in thought.

"Yes, I guess Kings and Dictators would fall under that sort of category, wouldn't they?" Mayer hummed in thought, before abruptly stopping. "But the Champions were by far the worst." I stayed silent, not daring to ask a question, worried that it might change the conversation. After a long, drawn out pause, he begun again.

"The Champions were wonderous people at first. They advanced magical technology by decades within years. Brought technologies that some kingdoms still rely upon to sustain themselves. They commanded armies and brought peace to some areas of the world. But that didn't last forever." Mayer took a long sip of his tea.

"It was when the Champions started to meet each other. By that point, each of the Champions had aligned themselves in some fashion with a country or kingdom, or even other Champions. When they started to clash, it became a worldwide event. Before long, the entire world seemed to be at war. There were a few that abstained for their own reasons. Ryan was one of them at first, but after a while he decided that he had a duty to protect the world from the Champions. It wasn't long before we were just as drawn into the fight as anyone else." Mayer looked into the cup of tea he held in his hands. A quiet sorrow was written on his face.

"It was too late by the time we were trying to intervene. Everyone was seeking either power, or the end of the game. There were many who simply wanted to go home, and they were the most terrifying of opponents." Mayer closed his eyes and shuddered slightly. "They fought with total disregard for how it would affect the world after they didn't exist anymore. They used shifting techniques that destabilised the ecosystems of entire kingdoms, large portions of continents even. They made bustling metropolises into deserts." Mayer didn't speak for a while after that. Only lightly sipping his tea. The silence drew on for an age before I couldn't help it and asked a question.

"What happened? To the Champions I mean." Mayer remained silent but sighed deeply after a while.

"They disappeared. Gone without a trace. Ryan never told me where he went—or what his plan was—but left me a few things of his. But years passed and they never returned. Life continued, and the Champions were slowly forgotten. Orisis reforged into one true country—the reason why they united a distant memory." Mayer took a long deep swallow of the tea, before getting up and placing the cup on the kitchen table. He walked to the door and spoke without even looking at me.

"Tomorrow will be an early day. We are going outside the town."

Then he walked to his bedroom, leaving me alone to sip my tea.

A/N: Wow, so I've been trying to get some cover art done for my upcoming stories and Unwieldy—so my cover art looks nice and such—and I didn't think it's be so stressful. And expensive too, my god. I haven't got any replies on ideas I put forwards to a few artists, but we will see. Wish I was more experienced with this kinda thing.
Well this has been a thoroughly pleasing read so far. Consider it watched.
Chapter 20: The Sharah
Chapter 20: The Sharah

The morning started with Mayer knocking on my door.

I was awake of course, I didn't need to sleep and found more solace in doing a sort of faux meditation now. It was basically as close as I could get to sleep without actually sleeping. Instead of the sweet oblivion, I thought all night instead.

I walked out into the main living area and found Mayer making himself breakfast. He offered to make some for me with a look, and I declined with a shake of my head. I honestly didn't feel hungry at all now. I still enjoyed the smell of breakfast and tea, but I didn't have to actually eat, which seemed like it would come in handy a lot.

It was only a few minutes and Mayer had finished his meal. Quite remarkable really, seeing as it was a full serving of scrambled eggs. But it sounds like the man was ex-military of some description, so I wouldn't be surprised if this was a bit of an acquired trait.

Then we were out the door, walking away from the town centre. Something that I hadn't done from Mayer's home yet. We didn't go into the forest but walked further into the plains that stretched seemingly forever. It was almost entirely barren of trees but had lots of plant life in the form of shrubbery. A large mountain loomed in the distance, but other than that, it was relatively flat all things considered.

I don't think that Mayer really had any specific place that he was taking me, just that he was taking me far out of the way of the town itself. Less onlookers I would assume. We walked for about forty-five minutes or so, there was a small flat area that had basically no shrubbery at all. It was then that Mayer turned around and addressed me.

"Summon your hammer." So, I did.

It was still a marvel to me, to be quite frank. The look of it summoning reminded me of CGI demos for liquid, but just really, really good. The way that it formed into the shape of the hammer was crazy, being moulded against the air with the strange metal liquid that was leaking from my hand.

It was strange sensation too. The metal leaking from my hand didn't feel like anything, really. But the solidifying of the hammer itself felt like it was adding a strange strength to my will. It is called a Soul Weapon, so I assume that is why. It's basically a metal weapon version of my soul.

After the weapon completed its formation, I looked towards Mayer.

"Just under a second." I took me a second to realise what he was talking about, but when I realised he was talking about how long the summoning took, I spoke up.

"I think I can do it faster. There is no way that it took that long when I was fighting the wolf."

"Unsummon it then try again." So I did. The unsummoning was much faster than summoning, it only took a fifth of a second or something close. This time, as I summoned, I paid little to no attention to the visuals of the summoning itself, pretending that I was preparing to actually hit something with it. This time I felt the liquid fill in the shape of the hammer far quicker than before. But I could feel a small strain on what felt like my heart, but was more likely my soul being put under stress from having to form something on short notice.

"About half a second. Try do it faster. Again." Unsummoning was even a tiny bit faster this time. However, as I pushed myself to summon faster, I felt an even stronger strain on my 'soul'. I summoned it a fair bit faster this time, more equal to the time I had used it to brain that forest wolf. Mayer simply nodded, signalling for me to do it again.

I unsummoned the hammer and repeated the summoning process, urging my soul to form faster than before. It was complaining about it but did it faster than before again, but it felt like it was tearing itself out of me. It felt like I was leaking fire from my hands. I grimaced, trying to ignore the pain, but in the end I let out a small whimper. The hammer formed and looked perfect, but it was a very unpleasant experience.

"That was faster. About a third of a second." I nodded, a little breathless at the pain to be honest.

"Yeah, I don't think I can go faster than that. It felt like pure fire was leaking from my hand." Mayer looked at me curiously.

"Do you think it's trainable?" I thought on that for a moment.

"I'm not sure. It has a lot more to do with my soul, and I don't know how trainable that is really. Would raising my Mind actually help at all with my soul?" Mayer looked thoughtful, but shook his head.

"No, the soul isn't controlled that way. Usage of the soul is a dangerous game. Not many dare to mess with shifting with the soul, but there are a few that do. They are totally different from regular shifting. Soul shifting doesn't even necessarily use ether at all."

"Well I guess it wouldn't hurt to try and train it. Thought I'm not going to summon my hammer that fast again for a good while."

"How about you try unsummoning the hammer and try summon it while swinging at me."

"Uh." I looked at Mayer incredulously, but he stared back at me with a raised eyebrow. "You sure?" His gaze continued, and I shrugged. If the guy wanted to risk it, then I wasn't going to stop him.

I unsummoned the hammer and got into the stance I had been using while hammering in the wooden posts. I held my hands in an approximate position and swung. I summoned my hammer, the liquid pouring from my hand, and filling my hands with cold Soul Metal.

I swung hard, but the hammer did most of the work really, not much of the force I was exerting was adding to the acceleration of the hammer itself but was more being used to keep the hammer on track. The hammer arced downwards until it hit the floor with a hefty thud. I looked up to see Mayer glance down at the hammer head, which was stuck in the ground, back to my face.

"What?" I asked, confused. He definitely hadn't moved, and the hammer had arced right through where he was standing. There was basically no way that the hammer hadn't hit him.

"The hammer head hadn't formed by the time that it had reached me. You are lucky that hit the wolf, kid."

I honestly hadn't even considered that to be an option. I flushed slightly, getting ready to explain that the wolf was closer to the ground, so the hammer had formed by then, but Mayer didn't give me a chance and waved away my argument.

"Try hitting me with it summoned now." I raised an eyebrow but complied anyways. I hefted the hammer up to my waist, then slowly lifted it higher. I shifted my stance ever so slightly and swung with all my might. That was the problem with this thing, there was no holding back. If I was going to hit something, it was going to receive the full brunt of the force basically no matter what I did to soften the blow.

The hammer swung towards Mayer with a ridiculous amount of sheer force behind it. I looked at Mayer, wondering what he was going to do. Would he move out of the way at the last moment? Would he try to block or deflect it? But Mayer lifted up his hand and placed it in front of the path of the hammer head. I felt my eyes go wide as the hammer struck his fingers and stopped like a car hitting a solid concrete wall. The unexpected stop to the motion of the hammer made me collide with the handle, knocking the wind out of my lungs. I collapsed to the floor, breathless and gasping for air. My hammer fell beside me with a mighty thud.

"It's heavy, but beside that, it has nothing to it. Right now, the only strength that your hammer has is its weight. Other than that, its totally useless. If you have someone that can deflect or stop your hammer in any way, you're dead." I looked up to see Mayer look down at me with a small grin on his face.

"Holy. Shit. You are strong" I said between gasps. Mayer snorted.

"Not especially. There are many much stronger than I. It's true that I am much stronger than you are, but if you had even half of my strength, your hammer would be far heavier than what I could block like that." I grumbled as I stood up, dusting off my pants.

"So how am I going to even be able to use that thing," I pointed at the hammer, "In actual combat?" I was a little peeved, not going to lie. Couldn't I have got a damn sword or something?

"No idea. But everything has to start somewhere." Mayer said, before taking a stance. I looked at him oddly for a moment, then got the idea and mimicked his stance as best I could. He waited a moment until he was sure I was ready, then started to move.

The difference between us was immediately obvious. His movements flowed as if he were water itself, whilst I jolted about like a fool, stumbling over my own feet at every chance I could get. It was embarrassing, but Mayer made no mention of it. The movements were based solely on the feet, legs and waist. The movements didn't touch the arms at all. I was curious as to why, but it was too demanding to both concentrate on the movements and think at the same time, so I gave into the motions.

After ten minutes, I realised that the movement patterns weren't repeating. Each pattern was unique, but consisted of the same, or very similar movements. The patterns, however, didn't feel similar at all. There had to be hundreds of unique movements, all working different muscles in my legs, all predicated to serve a very specific function. But the patterns were different, so different that it was difficult to predict what it was that we were going to do next.

It took me thirty minutes to get a semblance of a feel for where the movements would go next, but even then I found myself halting and desperately rushing to catch back up to where Mayer had gone with the pattern.

After an hour, my muscles were burning like all hell. I had no idea that there were so many muscles to burn in a foot. Though I pushed through the pain to follow with Mayer. I was still shit in every sense of the word, but it was a fun sort of game, to try and keep up with the man.

The most interesting thing about these movements to me was that, in all reality, you barely needed any musculature to pull them off. I'm sure that being well built and fit was going to be a good help in performing them easily, but even a child could pull them off. All that was really holding you back was your skill.

Each movement was calculated and was made to be able to flow into tens of other movements. I had thought earlier that there might be hundreds of different movements, but now I started to realise that you could probably break it down into half a hundred moves, and then break the variants down within that main move. But either way, that still added up fast. There were probably more like thousands of specific moves that could be performed.

The movements were a lot like katas in karate or any similar martial art, but a lot more complicated and more free flowing. We had been going for a few hours at this point, but Mayer simply continued on without even a hiccup, continually pulling off new combinations that I hadn't even thought possible to make look graceful. His eyes were closed, his face looked serene, as if he were listening to a symphony that only he could hear.

I started to wish that I could hear that symphony too. But at the moment, I was only able to struggle along, and imitate the older man as he moved unbelievably smoothly.

After three hours, I started to stumble a lot less, finding a good neutral point where I could re-attempt basically any move from was a big help. It also made me look a whole lot less stupid.

After six hours, I was following most of his movements, albeit poorly. There was a massive discrepancy with how both the movement's looked. My movements were mostly jerky, but every now and then my brain would have an epiphany moment, and most times out of ten, it would lead me in the right direction.

After eight hours, I could mostly keep on tempo with Mayer. He didn't go particularly fast or anything, but it was exceptionally difficult to keep a consistent pace. Keeping a consistent tempo kind of implied that you were able to follow along properly, but I fudged it and made lots of safe bets and wide movements, so that I could pick up specific movements easier when I had the chance to examine further.

Unfortunately, the ninth hour was the last. Mayer's movements for about thirty minutes had been slowly drawing to a close. I wasn't sure why if felt that way yet, but I was sure that I would find that out at some point.

When Mayer finally stopped, he did a quick stretch, then looked to me.

"You did good for your first time. A solid basis is being built for what everything will be built around." He looked at me, giving a small smile, then started walking off back towards his home. I was somewhat dumbfounded by the sudden change. I was still stuck in the final position hat Mayer had performed.

"Wait!" I called after him. He stopped and looked over his shoulder questioningly. "What's it called?" Mayer looked out into the distance, seemingly questioning if he should tell me or not.

"It's called the Sharah." He said, rolling the 'r' ever so slightly, giving the word a distinctly foreign note. Mayer didn't bother to see my reaction, not that I had any special reaction to the name. I wouldn't have been surprised if it didn't have a name at all. I stood there for a moment, thinking about what I should do next. There wasn't anything that I needed to do today, and there wasn't anywhere I could go except Mayer's place, and maybe to the town bar. So I decided to stay here and fumble through half remembered movements, hoping that I would understand a little bit more of the strange movements that Mayer had performed for me not minutes before.

It was a whole lot harder without Mayer there to guide me, but I carried on, despite the difficulty.

It was a long day of struggle.
Chapter 21: Elation
Chapter 21: Elation

The Sharah, as I quickly found, was exceptionally difficult to learn by yourself. I assumed it was the nature of the movements being free-flowing, and without a specific structure like the more rigid katas that I had performed in karate classes when I was a kid.

I did get the impression from the movements themselves that they were more about the basis of movement than movement in combat specifically. I wouldn't even be surprised if Mayer know other movements that were more specific to combat.

I stumbled around in the dirt for a few hours in the dirt, trying to remember Mayer's precise movements, but when you do something for nine hours it all starts to blend together. One thing that it did achieve, was a clear feeling of wrongness in my movements.

It just felt like I was faking, that I was just blundering along and that I wasn't truly grasping the essence of it at all. It was like anything I guess, but having seen Mayer, whose skill in performing the Sharah was so clear—it was a night and day difference.

The only thing that I had to go off was the sense of wrongness that I had in my head. If I did something that felt even slightly less wrong, then I would continue to do that until I could substitute it with something slightly less wrong.

During the time that I was bumbling along with Mayer, I had felt so much more capable and questioned things less. But now that I was alone, left to my own devices, I felt almost totally incapable of doing anything that could improve my performance of the Sharah. But I continued to do it anyway. I didn't really have anything else to do, just this or some other training style stuff.

I could run, or do push-ups or something of a similar effect, but if I were to be perfectly honest, strength and endurance training was horrifically boring with my body. I knew that much from the time on the Jothian's farm. I could run at my theoretical max speed for days and days and never truly have to stop. I'm sure that I would receive and massive boost in my agility, and maybe I would slowly get better at running itself, but other than that?


However, this… the Sharah. It was skill, a complex and intricate performance that used every part of your legs, forcing you to train your body to move in the correct patterns and positions. If I thought about it, it was like relearning how to move, how to walk. It wasn't exactly the most physically strenuous task in the world. But it was about learning to make every other task more achievable and more efficient.

At least that was what I thought. I couldn't possible fully understand at this point in time, maybe in the future.

But as the sun slowly dipped below the horizon, I realised that I could be working on multiple things at once here. My hammer was still laying in the dirt a few meters away from the well won patch of dirt that I had been drawing circles in for the past fifteen or so hours. At the start of the training session, I had tried summoning that thing as fast as I could, but it ended up feeling like fire was leaking out of my hand. So, I was somewhat nervous about trying to train the summon and unsummon process.

First of all—out of pure curiosity—I tried to unsummon the hammer from a distance, and that didn't do anything at all. I thought as much. Being able to unsummon your Soul Weapon from afar would be incredibly useful. It would also mean that you could never lose your Soul Weapon, and it could never be taken hostage. Which was sad, all things considered. It meant that I was vulnerable, and also that a physical manifestation of my soul could potentially fall into the wrong hands.

I walked over to the hammer and unsummoned it. I walked back over to my little circle and started to do my best mimicry of the Sharah again. As I did so, I summoned the hammer, facing its head towards the ground beside me where it wouldn't impede on my next few movements. After I had done those movements, I then turned around and grabbed the hilt and started to unsummon it.

I immediately stumbled over myself and had to restart.

Thinking as well as trying to perform the Sharah was extremely difficult for me. Mayer could literally do the Sharah with his eyes closed, but I wasn't nearly so practiced.

I tried the same movement over and over again.

I had decided that there was effectively no way for me to imitate Mayer's performance of the Sharah in all its ever shifting and infinitely complex glory—so over the past few hours, I collected all the main movements that I could clearly remember and slotted them haphazardly into a kata of sorts. It looked and felt stupid, and even more unprofessional from the start, but it was the best I could do with my little experience.

What I was trying to do was fit the summoning and unsummoning into a 'cycle' of my Sharah kata. So, I decided that I would unsummon the hammer at the start of the cycle and summon it again at the end of the cycle, but I had to make it fit somehow.

It was really difficult, and sometimes even thinking, 'Okay so in three more steps I grab the handle…" would make me mess up badly enough that I felt better restarting.

It took me maybe thirty tries to unsummon correctly and have performed the Sharah well enough to move on to the next part of the cycle. It would only be in the middle of the third quarter of the kata that I was able to place it where I had unsummoned the hammer from.

The whole idea was to make it so I was able to repeat it—and on top of that, the more naturally and the faster I could unsummon and resummon the hammer, the smoother the Sharah would flow.

Killing two birds with one stone I would say, if I could actually pull it off in the first place.

As good as it is to have someone as obviously amazing as Mayer as reference, it sure makes you say 'Well, Mayer can do…' or 'Well, Mayer does…', only further making you feel inadequate. Maybe its also the other Champions. They are purportedly super intelligent and stuff. How long would it take for them to pick up this stuff? If they were anything like some of the main characters in stories I've read, they would pick it up so fast that even the seconds were meaningful lengths of times—shocking every man and their dog in the entire city, or something equally as ridiculous.

But I was only a regular dude, trying my best to do this weird dance thing while summoning and unsummoning a massive hammer made from my soul.

I've let that sort of thinking stop me from doing lots of things in my life. 'Well I could never be as good as this person.' It was an excuse in a way. Sure, sometimes I said that because I genuinely wasn't interested, but sometimes it was because I looked at those people and realised just how much work it would be to get that good at it.

But here? Here I had no choice. I couldn't give up like that anymore. If I did, then I forfeited the right to survive in this little competition that God had set up. I would never go home—I would never be anything other than a regular dude in the midst of all the geniuses.

So, I continued to try.

I didn't manage to summon the hammer again well enough, and I had to restart from the beginning again. It was another ten tries until I managed to unsummon the hammer well enough to continue, and I failed again.

Over the course of the next two hours, I managed to get my success rate with an unsummoning to one in three, but I still wasn't able to get it to summon quick enough and seamlessly enough to be able to continue to the next stage and then to the next cycle.

It was extremely slow going. I had repeated the same few steps leading up to the unsummoning possibly thousands of times now, and the steps leading up to the summoning at least a few hundred times.

Another hour went pass without being able to summon the hammer again. I had been close a handful of times, but it was so incredibly difficult.

The reason it was so difficult was because of the extra weight that I suddenly had to manage somehow, whilst still performing the steps of the kata. The weight didn't stay the same either, it grew until the head was completely formed, and only then were you able to place it down on the ground, because otherwise the hammer head hadn't formed fully, and the surface was uneven and would fall over onto the ground, making it impossible for you to circle back around and easily unsummon it.

So began the arduous process of trying it again and again until it worked.

I was confident in my ability to pull it off, but the weight of the hammer was so massive, that holding it up in the air while doing complex footwork for just over a second, which seemed to be about as fast at unsummoning as I could achieve while doing the Sharah.

It was painful, my legs burned, my feet burned, my arms burned almost every muscle burned. It was horrible, but It only made me more stubborn.

Stubborn was something that I had never really been. I don't know what it was exactly, but I had always viewed stubbornness as overtly bull-headed. I always saw examples of the 'I'll be right' mentality, and I grew to hate it. I paired it with irrationality. But this? This was exactly the situation for stubbornness. It was then and there that I performed my first true act of stubbornness.

I tried over again. I could do a few hundred tries in an hour now, and I was able to pull off the unsummoning seven out of eight tries, an extremely large improvement over when I was initially trying to first get the kata going.

I had quickly come to the realisation, however, that I would have to be able to perform the lead up to the summoning perfectly every time until I had a reasonable chance of successfully pulling off the summoning.

It was because, even though I was able to perform the movements leading up to the summoning most times out of ten, even if one thing were to put me even slightly off kilter, then I would basically be unable to bear the weight of the summoning. The weight was so huge that it required an extremely solid dispersion of weight between the feet, if it wasn't basically perfect, then I would immediately almost fall over, or drop the hammer because I can't hold it well enough.

So, hours and hours pass of me failing over and over. But I come to care less and less about actually achieving the goal and start to really try to make my movements flow like Mayer's did. It was a mixed bag at first, some movements were easier to pull off with the same floaty, almost ethereal flow that Mayer's every movement exuded, but the overwhelming majority were awkward.

Now that I was performing the movements in a set kata, I could repeat the movements as many times as I so pleased, so adding a new element, like the flow and the hammer, was much easier, because now you could think about your next step instead of haphazardly following along with someone else's movements.

My kata was clearly butchered in comparison to Mayer's performance. There weren't anywhere near as many moves, and not as many combinations, but I had to make it manageable for myself.

Implementing the flow set me back a few hours worth of work, making me fail the unsummoning one time out of four. It was a big blow to my confidence, but I pushed ahead, determined to get back to where I was before I added in the flow of the kata.

Over the next few hours, I felt the kata slowly evolve to more than what it was before. It was still obviously amateurishly made, but as I added in the flow, and changed some of the moves ever so slightly, the movements began to fell far more solid, more natural than they had been before. Whereas before, my movements were shaky, I was trying to keep up with a tempo that I had set myself, and I would rush some steps to make that possible.

This flow suddenly stressed the consistency of movement. While tempo is important, you can keep tempo and still move badly. But to both keep tempo, and to keep a consistent flow, you had to move properly and solidly, otherwise everything would crumble and you would be forced to start again.

It was the introduction of flow that made me fail more in regular sections of the kata. Beforehand I would stumble through them, but the flow was an unforgiving and cruel mistress.

Over and over and over I tried. I was deep into the night, maybe even in the early morning. I could almost assure you that everyone was asleep. It was freezing cold, but I didn't even notice it. My body was warm and buzzing with a strange energy that was totally detached from anything to do with my physical form. It cut through any tiredness that I had and made me forget that pain ever existed in the first place.

I was close.

I swear that I could feel it. My movements now felt seamless in comparison to what I was doing before, my movements all staccato and off kilter. Now I felt solid, and my movements felt meaningful.

More hours passed, and you could start to even see the licks of sunlight peek over the edge of Orisis. But I was absorbed. Time flew by me like a light breeze, almost undetectable. My mind turned off entirely, simply repeating the movements over and over. I wasn't trying anymore. I hadn't given up, but I wanted these movements to be so ingrained in me that I couldn't possibly fail or mess them up.

Time flowed as smoothly as my movements, surprising me in a way. There was a great deal of wrongness in comparison to Mayer, but as I felt myself move it felt so seamless and melodic. As if my joints themselves were singing to me, my body creating a resonating sound within itself, each muscle talking to another all singing a song of combined movement.

And it was there that it happened.

My steps against the ground were firmer than they had been before, it was as if the earth was hugging my feet, holding them and releasing them upon my every movement. Each movement flowed into another with a slow precision that I had been practicing for hours now. The unsummoning went easily, I barely even noticed as my hand moved out to grab the hilt, making the large hammer liquefy and return back into my body. Each step felt light and easily performed, and each planted foot felt as solid as stone.

Then came the summoning. My hand reached out, and the hammer started to slowly form from the liquid spilling from my hand. The weight grew greater and greater until a point into the kata where it was possible for me to angle my upper body so that I could use both arms to hold up the ever-increasing weight.

However, this is where the difficult part began. The section that had made me fail every single time. Doing the Sharah while the hammer head formed was like walking around with a water tank filled with liquid metal. But this time, my stance held, and despite the strange shifting of weight of the forming of the hammer head my movements remained unimpeded.

Then I performed the final steps, placing the hammer on the ground and then seamlessly doing the last minute or so of movements, that despite not having done them many times in comparison to the beginning section, I nailed. Then I returned to the beginning position of the kata.

Then I let the built-up elation soar across my body.
Chapter 22: Blasphemer
Chapter 22: Blasphemer

It was soon into my unadulterated happiness that I heard enthusiastic clapping from behind me. I quickly spun around to see Rethi wide eyed and clapping like a man possessed.

I was surprised, to say the least. I looked up at the sky and realised that it was almost midday. Meaning that I had spent a few hours more than a full day on just practicing the Sharah, including creating the abomination that is my kata.

I looked to Rethi seeing his face clearly, he looked a little rough around the edges—some bruises and cuts still obvious on his form—but he looked a whole lot better than only a day or so ago. I sighed with relief, forgetting my triumph in a moment.

"That was so cool Master Maximillian!" Rethi said, racing up to me with all the energy of a young boy.

"Well yes, but I've only managed to pull it off once so far." I wasn't ready to receive compliments on anything I had done quite yet. Rethi, however, had moved his interest to something else. My hammer. I looked at him oddly as he was intently staring at it—scouring the light silver with his eyes in awe. To be perfectly honest, I was a little amused. He didn't seem to be aware of me staring right at him, so I lightly coughed to pull his attention. His head whipped up to look at me, and embarrassment crept up onto his face—as clear as day.

"Oh! I'm sorry, I… well I couldn't help but look." The boy said, shuffling awkwardly in the dirt. I laughed and looked quizzically at the massive hammer that was head down in the dirt.

"What do you think of it?" I asked. I hadn't really discussed the hammer with anyone but Mayer, I didn't know what just a common person thought of the thing. Rethi looked at the hammer, and then back at me.

"Well… it's beautiful. It might be all one colour, but the detail to it is strange. I haven't seen anything even remotely like it before. I've seen a few of the weapons that mercenaries or warriors wear when they walk through town. The one or two times I've seen it happen, anyway." Rethi shook his head emphatically, "But they look nothing like this. The craftsmanship that went into something of this size, and with this much detail? It's incredible. I would more expect it to be a showpiece on some rich man's mantle than be used as an actual weapon."

And there it was. If I were to be perfectly honest, I didn't really think about the hammer all that hard since I had been handed the thing. I just used it and got on with life, a tool of necessity. But Rethi saw it entirely different. I knew what it truly was, but to Rethi it was a mystical weapon that could be summoned and unsummoned. I nodded to myself slightly before turning to the boy and patting him on the back.

"It's a decent hammer if I do say so myself. It does the job, and I am forced to try and handle it properly." I laughed and walked over and unsummoned the thing by lightly grabbing it by the hilt. Rethi watched in wonder as the hammer rapidly melted into liquid and was absorbed into my hand. It wasn't really any faster than it was before at unsummoning, but it felt slightly smoother somehow, if that made any sense at all.

"Are we going back?" I asked Rethi, who was still gawking ever so slightly. I don't know how well he had caught me summoning and unsummoning the hammer beforehand, but he seemed engrossed this time around. Seeing it unsummoning up close must be different than from afar—the metal leaking into my hand where I touched it. Rethi nodded sharply, waking himself from his stupor and then started to walk quickly in the direction of Mayer's house.

I walked in the same direction, but a great deal slower. I wasn't about to run all the way to Mayer's home, too high energy for me right now—even if I technically always had the energy. Rethi quickly picked up on it and slowed his pace to match mine perfectly.

It took a while to reach Mayer's little house, but the walk was worth it. I needed to let myself rest, even if it was totally superfluous. It helped me readjust from being in a mode where I was crazily repeating the same actions over and over again, with no concept of time at all—into suddenly being a normal human again and having to deal with social encounters. Massive difference.

I barged on in through Mayer's artfully crafted wooden door and took a turn into the living room.

"Morning." I said, not really referring to time all too strictly, and plonked myself down in the seat that has been claimed by me. Mayer took a sip, eyebrows raised amusedly with eyes that peaked over the cup and wrinkled ever so slightly at the sides. Rethi quickly sat down in another spare chair that had been set out what must have been only recently.

"Good afternoon boys." He said half into his cup. "You've been out for a while Rethi. Did you run some errands before you went and fetched Max here?" I looked pointedly towards Rethi.

"N-no sir. I found him out there doing a strange dance. I didn't think I should have interrupted him at the time, so I just waited." The young boy shifted uncomfortably in his seat under the pressure of the combined gazes of me and Mayer.

"How long did you wait, Rethi?" I asked lightly.

"Three hours." Mayer answered for him. I looked at Rethi and sighed, the boy himself looked down at his hands, fiddling with his fingers nervously.

"You were right that I was in the middle of something, but next time just call out to me." The young boy nodded sharply—his much cleaner sandy blonde hair bobbing with the motion. Rethi turned his gaze away from me and I moved my attention away in kind. It wouldn't help to put any weight on the boy, it wasn't like he did anything wrong. Personally, however, I would appreciate it if someone would alert me when Mayer called on me—he was someone that I would stop even the most important of things to go meet, just on the odd chance of something serious arising.

"It's fine, I will tell the boy when something is urgent or not. In this case, there is no real urgency. Otherwise, I would have gone and fetched you myself, after a short while." Mayer chuckled as he saw a small flash of relief in Rethi's face but continued. "It seems that your little plan went pretty well." Mayer said, looking at me. I tiled my head to the side slightly, an unspoken 'How so?'

"My mother was sent a letter of written apology by the Jothians." Rethi said, happily but with a tinge of sadness in the fringes of his words. I raised my eyebrow, waiting for the 'but'. Rethi took a deep breath and sighed it out.

"But my mother found out about it. About me being a beggar." His eyes dropped to his hands again. I could hear the tears simply from that emotional, strangled sound in his voice. I had feared that this would happen. It was almost inevitable that Rethi would be found out at some point, whether it was now or in the future was almost irrelevant.

"What happened?" I asked. It wasn't really a question; I know what happened. Rethi didn't speak for a while, before managing to squeeze out a few words.

"I don't think I am welcome home for the time being. Or maybe ever." He said solemnly. I nodded, looking back to Mayer and gesturing towards the room that I had slept in for a few nights, offering it to the boy instead. He nodded back affirmatively, though I could tell it was already a given in his mind. I didn't need the room at all, really. I could just as easily sit where I was all night and do nothing here, it wouldn't change anything.

I got up and beckoned for Rethi to follow and showed him to the room. After that I showed him around the place; a quick tour of all the amenities, the bathroom right across the hall, and a quick warning to not touch anything hanging on the walls in the hallway—and then I left him alone in the room for a bit. The kid probably needed some time himself, at the very least to process the rapid change in his life.

I walked out into the living room and sat opposite Mayer again and sighed.

"Knew that one was coming?" He asked, and I nodded lazily.

"His mum is pretty hardcore. She was unhappy about me giving them money for perfectly legitimate reasons, I can't imagine the fit that she had when she found out her son was a beggar himself." I could just about hear the hurtful words of a deeply wounded woman being screamed from here. Mayer nodded.

"She is apparently quite the bull-headed young lady." I could just about feel my ears prick up at that.

"You know her?" He nodded, but didn't elaborate, so I didn't pry—even if I was curious. He took a long sip of his cup, slowly drinking the tea with his eyes closed. He waited a moment before opening his eyes again.

"She has never allowed herself to take any of the support I tried to give her over the years. I've tried many different things from small to large, but nothing ever worked. I haven't tried in a few years now." He said, tapping the side of his cup, making the ceramic ring ever so slightly. "I'm somewhat surprised that you managed to convince her to take that money in the first place. I hadn't so much as been able to make her take firewood for a particularly nasty cold season."

"I think it was all about timing, it was more about her son that it was about her. And I was also pretty forceful about it, with all the grace and subtlety of my hammer" Mayer exhaled softly and nodded but waved his hand as if clearing the air of a dirty smell.

"Anyway, enough of this depressing conversation. What about your training. Rethi seemed impressed." He said, eyebrow raised amusedly. I laughed awkwardly.

"Well, after you left I couldn't really do the whole dance the way that you did, so I decided to break it into a smaller set of steps that I could repeat easier." Mayer's eyes widened behind his teacup and he quickly swallowed, holding down a choked surprise. His eyes went from shock, then horror, then overwhelming amusement.

"You abridged the Sharah? How blasphemous of you! I guess that's my fault for not telling you that you shouldn't." He said, delight emblazoned across his face. Between the somewhat ominous wording and the delighted way he said them, I was left with a confused smile. Mayer got up and started making himself another cup of tea while practically giggling to himself as he did so. He offered to make me one, and I agreed—still thoroughly confused.

He delicately handed the teacup to me and laughed delightedly as he sat back in his seat and took a sip.

"Why are you so happy about this?" I asked carefully. I honestly wasn't really sure that I wanted to know. Mayer looked at me and grinned.

"The Sharah is a very sacred thing to the Sharah'hin." He paused a moment and thought about something then just said "Sharah'hin just means People of the Sharah. Anyways, they really hate it when you do abridge or change the Sharah in any way. Big sore spot to them." Mayer giggled to himself, a joke I probably couldn't possibly understand.

"Well, now you are both a Champion and a Blasphemer. The Sharah'hin would really hate you now." Then Mayer gave a great big belly laugh, so hard that he almost spilt his tea.


A/N: Another day, some more content. How are your day's going? Working hard or hardly working?
Chapter 23: Search
Chapter 23: Search

The Sharah'hin? I hadn't heard anything of them yet. Mayer seemed to smell the question on me as he pre-emptively answered.

"The Sharah'hin are an old race that are quite secretive and closed off from outsiders. It is rare to encounter a Sharah'hin away from home when you are not directly engaging in a war with them." Mayer chuckled and took a sip of tea.

"So, the Sharah is their big thing?" Mayer laughed at that.

"Definitely. They teach it to all of the Sharah'hin, but very, very few outsiders. I just so happen to be one of those outsiders." Mayer shrugged.

"So why am I so blasphemous then?" Changing around some of the moves can't be that bad right?

"The Sharah is effectively their religion, though they hate it being referred to as that. They like to say it is a way of life, or the only correct way of living and such, so I just count it as a religion. If you change around the moves to the Sharah, you are obstructing the correct pattern that it is to be performed in, and thus obstructing the proper course of life." Mayer shifted in his seat and took a sip of tea, "Always thought they were full of it, but just complied with them."

"You don't believe in all that?"

"No not really, I went along with it because they wouldn't teach me otherwise. But I don't know if they care all too much if you actually believe, and more if you practice the Sharah in a way that they approve of." He looked thoughtful for a moment, sipping his tea, "It's not like they are spewing bullshit, they have their own wisdom that they usually try to communicate through the Sharah, but I don't really subscribe to it being the optimal way to life or anything."

"So then why do they hate Champions?" I asked. Mayer just looked at me, eyebrows raised.

"Everyone hates Champions." He scoffed slightly, then quickly amended, "Anyone old enough to remember hates them." I nodded slowly.

I was about to ask further, but there was a sound from the hallway, and a few plodding steps. I turned to see Rethi standing there, his eyes a bit red but doing better than I would have thought. I was expecting to not see the kid for a few hours at least.

"What's up?" I asked. Rethi looked awkward for a moment but seemed to find something within himself and stood up straight addressed me head on.

"I need to go get someone to take care of my mother. I can't be gone for a long period of time again." I nodded, suddenly aware that I had kept him from his mother for three odd days when he had been helping me work on the Jothian's farm.

"Are you going to go hire someone?" I asked. Rethi nodded, but with a little unsurety.

"I'm not quite sure where I should even go, really. What do I even look for?"

"I guess being a nurse wouldn't exactly be a common profession around here would it?" I said, looking towards Mayer, and he raised an eyebrow with an amused look on his face, electing not to answer.

"Well, how about we go see Master Gram and see if he can help you out?" I said placatingly, and Rethi thought on that for a moment. I couldn't really guess what he was thinking. In the end he nodded, and I laughed slightly, relieved that the boy would let me help him with this at least. I was slightly afraid that he might try and clam up on me, but it seems my worry was unfounded.

"Alright then! Let's get this show on the road!" I said, raising myself from my seat, but Mayer stopped me. He brought out his pouch of coins and started digging around in it, a slight clinking of coins rubbing against each other as his fingers pushed them around within the small, corded bag.

"I owe you boys two smah each for the work on the Jothian's farm." I saw Rethi wanting to argue, but Mayer give him a glare that stopped him dead. He shut his mouth with a slight click, and the coins were given to us without any argument. He sent us on our way shortly after, returning to his comfortable chair and tea.

That was something that I had grown to respect about Mayer. He might seem like it, but he wasn't always no nonsense. We have had our share of emotional or semantical conversations over the past days, in quiet moments between anything important happening. But when he decided that he didn't care for an argument, then he was quick to let you know.

So, we were walking through town head held high. Everyone that we passed gave us a wide berth, not out of fear, but maybe because they were uncomfortable—unsure about our exact spot in the little town's social hierarchy. I wasn't too concerned about it, but Rethi might feel different.

We made quick work of the distance between Mayer's home and Master Gram's shop. I was getting pretty good at walking long distances now, which was handy because before this would have left me puffing, but now I still felt fine.

We approached the windowed storefront of Master Gram's medicine and surgery shop, and I brazenly walked up the steps and swung open the door.

A little bell jingled and Rethi quickly walked in behind me as I strode through the open doorway.

"Good day! I'll be with you in just a moment!" I heard Gram's distinctive nasally voice from behind the door into his surgery room. There was a minute or so of mad shuffling until he bustled through the door, being extra careful to not reveal the contents of the room to us.

"Oh! I haven't seen you boys in what, a week?" Gram laughed jovially, and quickly came out from behind the counter, grabbing a hold of my shoulders, "You seem to have gotten a bit of a name for yourself around here all of a sudden! Mayer's nephew is a big title to receive around town." Gram took note of Rethi as well, "And you too, young man. You've really gotten up there with the big players haven't you!" He walked over to the young boy and patted him roughly on the shoulders. Rethi was adorned with a massive grin, a confirmation of Gram's earlier statement. I guess I felt pretty lucky to have met Mayer as well, let alone be associated with him.

"So! What can I do for you two today? Got some issues you want fixing?" He said, putting on a bit of a salesman voice, almost in jest. I laughed, playing along.

"In a way, Master Gram." Gram's eyebrows flickered up slightly, "Rethi is currently busy working for me, and because of that he is unable to properly take care of his Mother."

"I see." Gram said thoughtfully, "So you wish to find a person who can take care of her?" Rethi nodded enthusiastically, it seems that Rethi was about to launch into a spiel of some sort, but Gram held up a hand.

"I'm sorry lad, but I don't really have the time to be running around. I can't really be away from the store that long, too many flesh wounds to mend or infections to take care of." Rethi looked a little defeated, but I quickly cut in. I wasn't about to just give up that easily.

"Do you think there would be anyone in town that was capable of taking care of Rethi's mother? We are in dire need of a carer at the moment. They don't necessarily need to be learned in the medical sphere, just capable of taking care of a sick woman." The doctor looked just about ready to say no when he paused—just for a moment. I jumped on the chance.

"You know someone?" I asked, not letting him weasel out of telling us. Gram was still for a moment, then scrunched up his face in an expression of distaste before sighing.

"Alright, alright. I know a person that could probably help you take care of your mother," he said looking towards Rethi, "But she's not all that active nowadays. I wouldn't want to disturb her more than she already has been. Plus, I can't say that I like actively driving business away from my own store." Master Gram sighed heavily. But that tune quickly changed when I started digging around in my pocket. I pulled out one of the iron smah that Mayer had given me not ten minutes ago.

"You can have this iron smah if you tell me the name and place." I said plainly.

"Well then, how gracious of you. The name is Arren Smithe. She lives not too far from here. I'd imagine that Rethi would know her house, actually." I looked to Rethi and saw his face fall slightly.

"Thank you very much, Master Gram. We better get going." I took the man's hand and placed the iron smah into his palm and walked out the door with Rethi in tow.

Rethi started automatically walking, presumably in the direction of this Arren Smithe, but he looked markedly more dejected now.

"Rethi?" I prompted, but I was met with silence for a long while. I could see the boy mulling the thoughts over in his brain, and I was desperate to know what it was that he was thinking. But I left it.

It took two whole minutes for the boy to speak again.

"Mrs Smithe's husband died from the same thing that my mother is sick with. Rhy disease." Rethi looked down at the dirt under her feet. "They say that she is so heartbroken that her soul died along with him, leaving her body as a soulless husk." I raised an eyebrow but didn't comment. Rethi didn't continue to speak, just walking in the direction of this person's home.

It wasn't long before we were there.

It was obvious which one it was. It was a total mess of a home. One of those houses that you would walk by on the streets, its large size and structure made from what were once nice materials indicating that it was a good house. Now though, it was shabby, dirty, and just downright falling apart. It was similar to a few houses next to it, though those houses were well taken care of, giving just a hit as to how the house ahead of us used to look.

"This is it?" I asked, knowing the answer.

"Well. It's our best bet." I said. Rethi nodded dejectedly, but I ignored him. I walked towards the door, head held high and standing straight. I rapped on the door and waited.

The sound of my knock seemed to echo throughout the house, signifying the complete emptiness inside. For some reason it sounded like it would be cold inside the house, despite it being relatively warm outside.

It was a few minutes before anything showed a sign of coming to answer the door, but I held steadfast. My knock was easily hearable, and even a person sleeping lightly would be able to hear it. I didn't look back at Rethi, imagining him to be either waiting nervously or totally unenthusiastically.

But after those minutes had passed I heard a slight shuffle against the wood flooring and before I knew it, the door swung open almost violently, revealing a young woman who looked like she hadn't slept in a year. She was tall, probably around six foot, but looked malnourished and extremely, extremely depressed. You could just about feel it radiating off of her in waves. That could possibly be her smell as well. It seemed that bathing wasn't necessarily in the list of her priorities.

Her hair was long and on the verge of being matted, unruly and unwashed, bright blue eyes striking against her darker brown hair. Her hair framed her long face, which only seemed to be made longer by the sunken cheeks and sallow features.

She looked up at me, eyes squinted and then lazily moved her gaze to Rethi.

She stood still for a moment, her eyes looking Rethi and I up and down, over and over again.

"Hello, I-" I began, but she turned around, and abruptly banged the door behind her, leaving me and Rethi standing outside like fools.

A/N: Hey there! Some exciting news, as of today I 'technically' finished stocking my backlog chapters for my other stories and the new ones of Unwieldy. That means that it's really only going to be a little while before I get to start showing off the other stories I've been working on and such, which is pretty exciting for me!

I hope you are all having a good day!
Chapter 24: Talks
Chapter 24: Talks

I looked to Rethi, eyebrow raised but he could only shrug—disappointment practically etched upon his features. It seems like he knew what was going to happen, or at the least had a good idea that it wound. I waited a moment, thinking the course of action I should take.

She made it obvious that she wasn't too pleased with having visitors, no matter what their purpose was. But we also needed this carer, really badly. There was no time for me to spend on playing games like this, not only would I be jeopardising the mental health of someone I was directly responsible for, but also putting his mother in physical danger. So, I sucked in a deep breath and knocked on the door loudly once again.

This time it took Arren Smithe about half the time to get to the door. The ruddy wooden panel swung open violently, revealing a scathing gaze directly pointed at me. I was given a death glare, rivalled only by Shae herself. We locked gazes for a moment, her eyes boring into my soul—trying desperately to wound me with her eyes alone. But, despite the raw anger in her eyes, I felt nothing.

This was one of those times that I definitely knew that something was different about me. Now that I had been transported here, anyway. This was beyond the simple, 'I can stay awake for an indefinite time period'. That was far more tangible. But this… I was staring an infuriated person right in the face—usually you would feel the heat climb up your neck, your body automatically preparing itself for aggression or incoming physical harm.

But here I was, cool as a cucumber, as tacky as it sounded. It was strange, I was acutely aware of this, yet those emotions and the physical response I expected never came.

"Good afternoon, Mrs Smithe." I said calmly. Her death glare increased in intensity, somehow. She looked about ready to spit on me but she seemed to think better of it. She then tried to slam the door.

But as the door closed, I stuck out my foot, catching the door. The door wasn't heavy, and my shoe and relative bodily resilience stopped it from hurting. But as my foot abruptly stopped the door, Arren's body was harshly flung in my direction.

I would have easily been able to catch her in a hug, but that sounded like a poor idea. I can't imagine she would take too kindly to that. So instead of a hug, I stuck out one hand that quickly collided with her shoulder. I firmly grabbed a hold of the woman's extremely bony frame and easily stopped her from falling any farther towards me, or towards the ground.

She was very unsteady, the only anchoring point that she had keeping her upright was my onw grip on her shoulder. Turns out that I was really damn strong, and I could basically hold most of her bodyweight with one hand at an awkward angle. One of the most surprising and also most stark displays of my newfound physical prowess.

Problem; she didn't like being held. Not that I blamed her, but the moment that I let go I could tell that she was going to fall over. So, I did the only thing I could think of and I held her there awkwardly like you would hold a cat by the scruff of their neck—hoping desperately that they'd get the clue and calm down and not go mad and scratch up my hands.

The moment that she had found adequate footing, I let go immediately. She looked up at me, scowl on her face. She didn't need to say anything, the look told me everything I needed to know. I powered on anyways.

"Mrs Smithe. We have a situation that is quite important, and it seems that you are the only person that is qualified to help us." I said, playing it general. She retreated back into her doorway but didn't immediately slam her door on us. That was a good sign, I think.

"Find someone else." She said, scorn dripping from her voice like poison on a razor-sharp blade.

"There isn't anyone else that can help us. The only other person that could possibly help has the rest of the town to attend to." She looked at me quizzically, scorn still present but curiosity winning out in the end.

"We have a lady that needs to be cared for quite heavily. At the moment, the person who normally takes care of her is unable to do so due to his work requiring his presence. This means that she is going largely unattended at the moment, which also means that she's dangerously alone and without support." I looked at her deep in the eyes, trying to examine what she was feeling. I could sense more inquiry within her but let her manifest it before I pushed further.

"Taking care of someone? I'm hardly qualified. Go talk with Master Gram." She said shortly. She seemed about ready to close the door on us again, so I quickly interjected.

"He told us to come to you." I said, stopping her in her tracks. I could almost see her ears prick up as she turned towards us, eyes sceptical. "I have been led to believe that your late husband had the same disease that this lady has. That is the only qualification that we need."

The woman stopped cold—I had hit a nerve obviously. It was basically impossible to not hit one, so I wasn't surprised when I did. There was silence for a moment while her face whirred with minute expressions. Not a word was spoken between all of us, but I didn't dare look away from the woman in fear that she might just decide to disappear into her house. I managed to glimpse Rethi out of the corner of my eye, looking extremely worried—his body language fraught with anxiety. He was wringing his hands nervously and silently shifting from foot to foot. He didn't seem nearly as dejected anymore, but now I had his hopes up.

"Why would I help you?" The silence was broken. Her voice was raspy now, devoid of emotion. It was cold and callous. I imagine that this was because I mentioned her husband. But I only shook my head.

"It isn't me that you are helping. It's him." I waved my arm in the direction of Rethi, who was suddenly put on the spot. His eyes went wide as the woman's attention was suddenly turned to him. He didn't know what to do with himself. He looked to me, as if he were begging me to save him from her attention, but I simple smiled. It took him a moment to realise that I was asking him to tell her about his mother. He looked down to his hands, not confident enough to meet her eyes.

"My mother… Shae Orsen. She got Rhy disease a few years ago. It wasn't so bad at the start, but it got worse and worse, now… she can't even eat properly anymore. Even if she does, it's like it does nothing" He paused heavily, implying that there was a whole lot more than just eating that she had difficulty doing. He soon picked up again, his voice rough with emotion, but almost a little hopeful, "I finally managed to get a job that will allow me to support her, maybe even be able to buy treatment if there is any that Master Gram can get. But I can't take care of her and work at the same time, I need someone to help me." He slowly began to look up from his hands, a slowly began to meet the gaze of Arren Smithe.

There it was. The real kicker. Crying beggar boy asking desperately for help. I don't mean to make it seem like I was forcing Rethi into this uncomfortable encounter to scam some lady into helping his mother, but damned if it wasn't a good marketing tactic.

"Please?" He asked with all the sincerity that the world had to offer.

"I-I…" The woman was extremely flustered. It seemed that her emotions had come back full force, forcing her to battle with both the situation at hand and the emotional tornado inside. Crying beggar boys tended to have that sort of effect I assumed.

But what I wasn't expecting was for her to say, "I'm sorry!" And to then close the door on us, right in our faces.

The reaction was almost immediate. Rethi's mood instantly spiralled into deep sadness. I was a little dumbfounded, but I was still basically emotionally untouched, if a little perplexed. I wrapped an arm around the boy and started to direct him away from the door.

I felt terrible, but there wasn't much that I could really do. The only way to find someone was to do this and the unfortunate consequence of being rejected was this. Tears and sorrow. But the real problem was that there were no more options. There was no other person to turn to. I couldn't cheer him up by saying that the next one could be it, because there was no next one.

"Master Max…" He said, practically sobbing. I pulled the kid closer to me as we reached the road in front of the house. With his head resting against my chest, he sobbed. The pain in each of those terrible, wracking sobs was almost immeasurable. I could feel the helplessness exuding from him. He had no choice. He couldn't stand by and watch his mother die from neglect, but he couldn't take care of her and also work at the same time. Not to mention that it was likely that Rethi's mother wouldn't take kindly to Rethi showing back up and trying to help again.

"I– I think that I might have to quit, Master Max." He said, his voice muffled by my shirt. I waited for a moment but ended up merely nodding. There was nothing that I could say, and nothing that I could do. This is what they meant by being stuck between a rock and a hard place, I guess.

We stood like that for a while. Rethi's sobs slowly became nothing more than mere whimpers. It was heartbreaking. But I had big things that I needed to do, and I won't be able to help Rethi more than I already am. Something that I deeply regretted.

I peeled the kid away from me and grabbed a hold of his shoulders. Looking him deep into the eyes, I could only smile. He was a smart kid, smarter than most. He didn't have many ways to show it, but you could see it in his eyes. Just that little glint of intelligence that you can't find in everyone. I wanted more than anything to see that glint turn into a raging inferno, just like I know it would.

"Alright, kid. Let's get moving. No use hanging around here." I said, pushing gently against his back. We moved down the road towards Mayer's home once again. This time there was a distinct air of melancholy. I guess even Champions had to have bad luck every now and then otherwise-

"Wait!" I heard a loud bang of a door slamming open and then the distinct sound of someone running on the gravel road behind me. I turned my head, momentarily surprised. But when I did, I couldn't help it. I felt it rise up from my stomach and into my throat. It burst out of me with more force than I've ever experience before.

I laughed. I laughed a delighted, gleeful laugh.

A/N: Posting in the middle of the day because I'm tired and wanna sleep at a good time tonight. Just taking a good old chill day to rest. Hope this chapter finds you all well!
Chapter 25: A Boy's Musings
Chapter 25: A Boy's Musings

Rethi had let all those words, all the feelings, flow out of him in that moment. They felt far away now, despite being only a few hours ago at best.

But there he lay, in a comfortable bed that he was still unsure if it was truly his to sleep in, looking towards the wooden ceiling. He didn't have anything left in him anymore. He had said all of his words, and it all came cleanly to an end. Mrs. Smithe had agreed to take care of his Mother for two iron smah a week. It was expensive really, but it was a hard job, so he happily agreed. It seems that she knew where Rethi's home was, which was almost surprising seeing as no-one had been there in at least a few years now, especially since monsters had raided that part of town. She had asked a few questions before nodding and leaving towards his home. He didn't know how that was going, if his mother was accepting help or not, but he could only hope.

Rethi felt hollow now. Not unpleasantly though. But in the sort of way that your mind doesn't really care if you stare at the ceiling for a few hours. His mind barely created coherent through after the day he'd had, except for one thing. One person.

Master Maximilian.

He was a strange man; Rethi knew that from the moment that he'd met him. At the time he was standing almost too straight and looking like he didn't have a single clue about where to go. Rethi thought that he might be just a wanderer, but I had heard the news from the town folk whispering that Mayer had brought in a boy a night or two before.

Rethi remembers looking at the man and thinking 'He looks very un-boy-like.' He stood tall, much taller than most he'd have ever met, only a few truly freakish people were taller than him around here. Rethi had wondered if he were a mixblood of some sort at first. He looked too different from Rethi, in his own opinion. Too clean, too pale. Master Max ended up offering money to Rethi. Only to guide him around the town.

He offered far too much for simply being shown around town. Rethi had been suspicious at first but fell to temptation anyway. That money could buy him a decent amount of food for himself and his mother for at least a week.

And then he was thrown into the deep end. Suddenly he was working for Master Mayer and Master Max, he was assaulted by the Jothian boys, Mayer sent out a letter, his mother learned of my begging and he got kicked out. Now he was here.

It was strange. You'd swear that life couldn't change that fast, but it just continues to prove him wrong every step of the way.

But one thing stayed constant for all of it. Master Max's unwavering support.

Honestly, Rethi couldn't see what Master Max saw in him. He couldn't understand what he really wanted from him either. Rethi used to think he might be a mixed-blood of some sort, but his stamina is endless, and he can summon and unsummon a hammer from thin air. He'd never heard of a race that can do that before. He surely couldn't be human.

What would someone capable of all that need from Rethi, the beggar boy?

Master Max is strange. He carries an air of mystery with him, but he doesn't even seem to notice it. If he does then he ignores it so completely that you'd swear he was unaware. He carries himself in a weird way. He felt stiff when Rethi first met him. But over the course of only a few hours at a time, he seemed to evolve into an entirely different person.

He went from being stiff like a mannequin at the start of that day, to being able to convince Rethi's mother of allowing him to be his employee. Signing bonus included. All in one, single day.

Maybe Master Maximilian truly is Master Mayer's nephew, and is a noble of some description. It would explain why he was giving away money like candy, and why he is such a good speaker. But Rethi was starting to find it doubtful. He has suspicions, but everything is so wishy washy that he wouldn't be able to tell either way.

Ever so slowly, Rethi had come to realise that he respected him. Not false respect. Not respect for your seniors or superiors. Real respect, admiration even.

It was easy to say why. He was charming in a way that Rethi had never encountered before. Sometimes you could swear that he looked past your façade and right into your true emotions, into your soul. Sometimes all it takes is a little look from him, and suddenly your feel as if your thoughts are open to him. It feels like he can read you like a book sometimes. But it was never scary. It was never unpleasant. It wasn't violating.

It was… liberating, in a way. It was as if the words that I really wanted to say were heard by him whether or not you said them. Rethi didn't think that Master Max knows that this is how it feels to talk to him. It's like baring your soul, making yourself vulnerable.

That's why Mrs. Smithe came running after us. I could see it in her eyes, it was like they had become windows into her soul. He had blown the way so wide open that she was forced to take his words in, regardless of if she wanted to hear them or not. His words were strong, direct and coated with silver.

But before she had come running, Rethi had believed it was all over. He believed that he had missed the one chance that he had been given to make something of himself. He felt it all crashing down around him, and Master Max just held him.

It was then that Rethi felt like a little boy. He felt like he knew nothing and would amount to nothing. How could he even begin to compare to someone like Master Max. Even Master Gram was so much smarter than He. Rethi am only a babe, fresh off his mother's teat in comparison.

And then Master Maximilian looked at Rethi in the eyes.

Maybe it was then that Rethi realised why it was that Master Maximilian's words were so effective. Maybe it was then, when Rethi stared into his eyes and he saw myself, potential fully realised.

In that moment Rethi was a Doctor, healing the sick of the world, one patient at a time. He was a Mage of unparalleled intelligence, protecting the world from threats unseen. He was a Warrior, fighting for the people who'd lost hope.

Rethi was everything and anything he could ever want to be.

It was then that he realised that the reason that Master Maximilian could speak to someone's soul, was because he was speaking from his, baring it to anyone who would listen.

So there Rethi lay, looking at the wooden ceiling in a comfortable bed, remembering a smile of a man whose eyes shone with his belief in him.

A/N: This is more of a short interlude chapter, created to serve the purpose of revealing more about Rethi and how he feels. It's hard to convey this sort of stuff without hearing them think themselves or whatever else, so I thought I'd but something here. It's short, but at the time I wrote this, I was relatively proud of it.
Chapter 26: Growth for a Young Mind
Chapter 26: Growth for a Young Mind

After managing to sort out Mrs. Smithe—the woman who was capable of being a nurse for Rethi's mother—the next few days were rather demure, all things told. I mostly spent my time training in my bastardisation of the Sharah. Every day, Mayer would invite me to train with him in his genuine practice of the Sharah, and I would do my best to follow along and correct my self-teaching. My own katas were progressively becoming more fluid and increasingly difficult to perform as I added more and corrected past mistakes in my form and foot placement. As well as adding extra points to my kata where I summon of unsummon my Hammer. Something that I both hated and loved for different reasons, both calming and secretly infuriating. Though I have to say, it was becoming easier for me to incorporate movements and ideas, even if it was more technically difficult than ever.

It was quite a process and, before I knew it, it had been well over a week.

That was an issue, I found. Now that I was capable of staying awake indefinitely, I had become great at burning time practicing, and otherwise studying the Sharah. It was a point of interest to me all of a sudden. Of course, the allure of learning how to efficiently move was compelling, but not compelling enough to spend well over forty-eight hours straight at one point simply repeating the same motions over and over.

No, what was truly capturing my intrigue was that I had yet to receive an achievement for it. I could feel myself improving so definitely, so you would think I would have received an achievement at least for Agility, maybe even Might, with all the stress and weight I was putting on the muscles in my legs and arms from constantly summoning and unsummoning my hammer and doing complex movements in general.

So why was there no achievement?

I had consulted Mayer on this, and he had told me—helpfully—that he wasn't sure. He could see that I was improving steeply, and that I was well on my way to being able to be considered at the level of a novice practitioner of the Sharah. But not having received an achievement for it was odd. I distinctly remember asking what Ryan had done with the Sharah, and Mayer told me that at the time, he didn't even know the Sharah or the Sharah'hin existed.

This could mean any number of things really. It could mean that the Sharah was outside of the purview of the 'system' that the Champions can take advantage of, or maybe the conditionals are locked behind being a Sharah'hin or being accepted by them. It wasn't something that was useful to ponder right now, but it did manage to convince me that I needed to work on more than simply the Sharah. I wasn't getting any increases in raw ability from it, so I moved to other forms of exercise at first, trying to find where the best results came from. Even if I so deeply wished that I could do the Sharah and naturally increase my physicality buy just doing that, but woe is me with my sort-of broken system.

I had some help from Mayer and Rethi—who was surprisingly astute at finding ways to make training more effective—three heads seemed to be better than one, of course. It seemed that the best course of action was to make simple and repeatable exercises more difficult. So, running became running covered in weights through a field with odd terrain and trying to accurately, and safely, navigate through it without falling over or injuring myself.

It seemed to work really well, even if it sucked and was about as anti-fun as you could get.

Strength was also pretty simple to train, simply doing hardcore farm work did wonders. Farm work had a lot of the things that is effectively weightlifting just with objects that are hard to grip and are almost always on weird angles and in weird situation. Putting up fences, commandeering livestock, working primitive farm machinery like ploughing instead of using a horse or a bull, grinding large amount of grain and other similar processes. I even tried my hand at butchering livestock when it came time to do so, and I managed a half decent job—even if the butcher was incredibly nice and attentive to make it work. I found the experience was good from a skills perspective, but I didn't really use my body all too much—even if it was pretty physical work—but it was definitely using my brain more than usual.

Though the simple farm work was losing its effectiveness and quickly, the simple achievements being completed. The screen really didn't like repetitive actions, valuing new and strange processes over traditional training. It forced you to ignore actually building skills and instead just try a wide array of things to potentially gain an achievement out of it. Which made no sense in my opinion, just putting a hard cap in how useful it'd be to become a true master of any one skill other than actually having the skill itself.

That made me realise that I wasn't really working on my Mind stat. It was an easy thing to forget after being confronted with the dire need for physical prowess, but after a long night of training in the Sharah without any additions to my stats, I realised that I needed to go with a holistic approach for now.

To put things simply, I had a tonne of problems without answers. One of the most pressing was that my hammer was the least useful part of my arsenal at the moment, despite being the only thing that allows me to be competitive with my Champion peers. It was something that I could barely lift, and even if I got really good at managing its weight in comparison to my strength, which according to Mayer would remain roughly the same, it was still effectively useless. It might be good at smashing something into the ground in one hit, but that's if I can hit it at all—and that was seemingly becoming more and more unlikely with just using my raw physical strength. Maybe if I were taller, it would allow me to take more advantage of leverage and some other trickery, but even if I were taller the hammer would likely be taller, staying at its current height proportional to me.

I didn't have an answer for this right now. I didn't have any reasonable solution in sight. So, as the morning sun shone over the nice field that I had spent the night performing the Sharah, I decided that I needed to find an effective way of increasing my Mind stat.

After a few more hours of the Sharah, I went to Mayer's home. I walked into the lounge room to see both Mayer and Rethi sitting in their chairs, both drinking tea and relaxing. It seemed that Mayer had really warmed to the kid, and he seemed to teach the kid a lot about the practical world that surrounded him. Rethi had stopped coming outside during the nights to take care of me, after quite an argument. The boy didn't seem to care too much for regular working hours and simply wanted to wait on me day and night. It was almost infuriating really. He was too polite, and too willing to do more than I asked. I had gotten used to it by now, allowing him to try his best to imitate servants and butlers that he had no doubt heard stories of—those that waited on some of the most powerful men and women in the city, country or even world. Mayer actually encouraged him, teaching the boy proper manners and speech, how to set a table and proper decorum. Surprising, coming from Mayer himself.

The boy worked tirelessly to make sure that he properly served me, and that he learned all that he could from Mayer. Many times, I have considered asking the boy to stop it, and just act normally. To stop calling me Master Maximilian, and just treat me like an equal, but even as I entertained those frustrated thoughts I knew that it was simply a farce.

What would happen if I asked the boy to act normally? To let me make my own cup of tea—like the boy was quickly getting up to do right now—to stop dressing the best that he possibly could at all times, even with the poor clothing options that he did have, he made sure that he was immaculately washed and hair was cut and styled correctly. The answer to that question was simple.

The boy would feel useless, that he wasn't valued and that he couldn't provide adequate services for the coin that he was being paid. And he would be right too, he was already being paid far more than what he was worth, and he was trying to desperately make up for it in any way that he could think of.

I sat down in my seat, sitting right across from Mayer himself. He watched Rethi as he made tea and told him off for ten things he did that apparently weren't good enough. It was surprising, Mayer never really seemed like the man who would know all of this, especially not at this level of detail. He was lecturing Rethi on the incorrectness of his hand movements when he caught my look of mild amusement and blew me off with a half sneer.

I chuckled lightly, but only a minute or so later, after Rethi was done being chewed out, I managed to get a nice cup of tea and I thanked Rethi with a smile, which seemed to please him.

I sipped the tea delicately before Mayer spoke to me.

"So, what brings in our ever-training Champion? We haven't had you for morning tea for what seems like weeks now." Almost two weeks actually. I nodded at this and took a moment to swallow the tea and think on my response.

"Well, I have been working towards training my Agility and Might quite effectively recently, I have a total of thirty-eight Might and twenty-seven Agility. A considerable increase in my raw ability." Mayer nodded, "But, my Mind has only increased minutely since I arrived here, and I'm beginning to think that it is possible that answers could lay there for me." Mayer shrugged, he was rather non-committal when it came to finding a way to make use of my Hammer, he just gave me options and it was my choice whether I took them or not.

"I was thinking," I started, "that you could teach me some shifting and that-" I was cut off by Mayer shaking his head.

"No, that won't work." He said. I was confused for a second.

"What won't work, you teaching me to shift?" I said, somewhat worried. Shifting being totally off the table would be really disappointing in all honesty.

"No, you are perfectly capable of learning how to shift ether, but it won't help you with your Mind stat, not as well as you would think anyway." Well, that was a relief.

"Why not, isn't shifting all about using your mind to control ether, or whatever, to become what you want?" Mayer closed his eyes, scratching the side of his aged face. Before sighing and opening his eyes again.

"Another of Ryan's pet peeves with the screen and stats. Frankly, as you have started to discover, your physical statistics are stagnating. Even with you practicing the Sharah almost endlessly, you aren't seeing the increases of strength that you'd be seeing if it gradually effected your strength. In short, even though you have gotten far more powerful over the past weeks, if you were able to progress through physical exercise you wouldn't see this stagnation."

"Why would it be made like that? It seems counter intuitive and having to go around trying different things to only potentially get an achievement is infuriating." I grumbled, thought Mayer chuckled.

"Either way. Ryan found that, much like with the Sharah you practice, shifting gives little to no rewards, aside from something he called 'breakpoint' rewards." I quirked an eyebrow questioningly.

"A breakpoint reward is something that, 'the screen gives you to try make you not hate it as much'," he said in monotone, "at least that's how Ryan would put it anyway. He had this issue with shifting, and he'd receive big rewards when he hit a breakpoint, but they'd never scale well—always giving you a big hit early on but really lacking when you hit the next one"

"Wait, what was his Mind stat anyway?" I asked.

"Ryan's Mind stat began at thirty-six, it was difficult to understand the differences between his absurd natural state and the increase in proficiency due to his Mind stat."

"Thirty-six? Really? God damn." I hung my head in mock shame. There was a little bit of disappointment at that number, to be perfectly honest. I had worked pretty hard for a few weeks now just to be able to reach similar stats in my Might, but he had that brain back on Earth. It was almost monstrous, having that level of intellect on Earth.

"Don't think about it too much, boy. They are freaks of nature. But I'll tell you what," Mayer grinned a toothy grin with a conspiratorial glint in his eye, "Ryan never really stopped sleeping, he would sleep at least 6 hours every other day. So, you have him beat there. You have your own upsides." I grinned as well, feeling just a bit better about knowing that the other Champions were likely to be nearly four times more intelligent than me at base.

"Even so, I need to raise my Mind stat, I can't neglect it and stay as dumb as I am if I really want to be able to compete with the other Champions in any way, shape or form." Mayer nodded, but then also shrugged.

"But I also don't really have all that good a way to teach you to raise your Mind stat. It was the one stat that Ryan had under control completely. He gained Mind stat from reading really complex stuff and storing it in that crazy brain of his. But you and me both know that you can't do that." Mayer said, chuckling into his tea as he surely remembered something that would probably always stay private to him.

"Master Maximilian, if I may?" Rethi said. He had been standing by my side for the duration of the conversation, standing straight and holding a dishcloth, ready to clean any mishaps made. I looked to him, eyebrow raised with interest.

"If you are interested in learning, I would go ask Master Gram. He is likely the most intelligent person in the village, and I would suggest asking him for tutelage perhaps?" He spoke with forced elegance. It was definitely better than what it was the first few days that he tried, but now it was starting to actually fit the boy. It was actually a bit shocking, but I knew that it wouldn't be long, especially under Mayer's direct tutelage, before he was going to be qualified to be a proper servant of high-class nobility. It had only been two weeks since abject poverty and now you would easily mistake him for a middle-class child.

I considered his proposal and found merit in it. Master Gram had been one of the first men I had met in the village, and he ran an Apothecary. It also seemed that he was capable of surgery, and from what I remembered, his surgery room behind the main business area seemed relatively modern to my world, in the grand scheme of things anyways it was basically a surgery room from 200 years ago on earth. But the man was clearly learned in medicine, and if there was anything that got you thinking, it was medicine.

I nodded to him. "I think that's a pretty good idea, I also need to learn magi- err shifting sooner or later. It could be something that I find great use in. For now, though, I will have enough on my plate learning the Sharah to a decent extent and also possibly working under Master Gram to some degree." Mayer nodded in agreement himself.

"Learning to properly shift is an involved process. Much like how the Sharah is for you currently." I took a large gulp from the tea and swallowed in quick succession and managed to down the tea very quickly.

"Rethi, what is the time?"

"About seven hours into the morning, Master Maximillian." He responded almost instantly.

"What time does Master Gram open for business, or would he be comfortable having visitors at this time?" Rethi nodded at me.

"Both, Master Maximilian." I got up, and was about to pace out the door, but paused for a moment.

"You don't have to call me Master Maximilian every time, Rethi. You can just address me as sir or something similar." But Rethi shook his head.

"No, Master Maximilian. Sir is used for people whose status you are unaware of or are simply older men of around your father's age. Master is used for those who are high born, of a similar status or are accomplished." I sighed and flapped my hand in Rethi's direction.

"Alright, alright. I get your point. Thanks, Mayer. I'll see you later to learn more of the Sharah." Mayer nodded, an amused glint in his eyes.

I walked out the door with Rethi following behind, quickly and quietly shadowing me at the polite distance that a servant holds between him and his Master. Infuriating, but in a way, I was almost proud.


I opened the door with a jingle, walking into a smallish room with lots of glass cases holding many different herbs and medicines. I had no real way to tell if any of them were legitimate or not. Maybe this world had magical herbs and stuff. If all went to plan, then I would probably find that out.

Rethi walked in behind me, making the bells half jingle before the door shut properly. He then assumed his position, his pose carefully manufactured to be respectful and ready to deal with any possible problems that could arise.

I walked up to the counter and stood there for a while. Waiting for Master Gram to get ready if he needed to. But after a half minute or so, it became obvious he hadn't heard me.

I called out once, and then for the second time after a similar amount of time, but there continued to be no response.

"I'm going to have a quick check to see if he's in that back room there, if not we can just go." Rethi nodded and started to move forward to open the counter's flap for me, but I just gave him a look that stopped him in his tracks.

"I can open this myself, as you well know." I moved behind the counter, lifting the hefty piece of wood that was the openable extension to the counter with effectively no effort.

I moved just up the small hallway and saw the door. It was closed tight this time, no small crack to see through, so I knocked.

"Master Gram? It's Maximilian. I'm wondering if you'd entertain a short talk?" There was a moment of dead silence. But it was the sort of silence that you could feel something odd in. It was just ever so slightly too silent. Then I heard a crash behind the door.

Before I knew it, my hand was on the knob of the door, swiftly opening it, and I heard Rethi make his way to my flank in a moment.

What I saw was… interesting. There was Master Gram, dressed in what I could only assume was a facsimile of scrubs, a fallen wooden table with an assortment of metal tools scattered on the floor, hands covered in grime, and with eyes that looked like a deer caught in the headlights. The reason for this look of pure terror written on his face?

The dead body lying on the table next to him.

Now, I might not be the sharpest tool in the shed, but one thing that I do know is that people in this sort of era of medical understanding aren't a massive fan of the whole 'cut open a dead body' thing. And if the look on Master Gram's face, the grime on the body and Master Gram's hands said anything to me, then I have a little bit of a hunch that the body wasn't exactly given willingly.

I felt Rethi at my side strain to get a look into the room. He hadn't seen anything yet. I pushed the boy away gently, not allowing him to see into the room and begun to talk.

"Ah! Master Gram, I hope that I didn't interrupt while you were doing anything important, would it be too much of a hassle if you and I could speak for just a moment?" I said, putting a great deal of gravity on the word 'important'. Master Gram couldn't speak, so he quickly began to nod, and I pasted a friendly smile onto my face. I turned to Rethi.

"Rethi, would you please man the store for Master Gram. If you are unable to help with any requests of the customer just advise them that Master Gram will be occupied with important business and has been asked to not be disturbed for a while. I will come fetch you when we are done."

Rethi's face flashed a worried expression before quickly regaining himself and did a neat half bow and wordlessly moved out of the hallway and into the storefront.

I turned to Master Gram who was still exactly as shocked as he was beforehand, and I walked into the room, gracefully closing the door and grabbing a stool that was right near the door. I pulled the stool out and sat on it, quickly crossing my legs and making myself look as much of a proper noble as I knew how.

"Now, Master Gram. Would you be so inclined to explain yourself?" A smile growing on my lips.

This was going to be fun.
Chapter 27: Causa Mortis
Chapter 27: Causa Mortis

My eyes locked with the bespectacled doctor. He looked as if he were a guilty child, about to be whipped bloody.

"What is it that you are doing here, Master Gram?" I said with a voice that a stereotypical noble would use. The sort of voice that conveyed friendliness but spoke of cloaks and daggers.

"I-" Master Gram stammered, but I cut him off before he could continue.

"And don't try to fool me, Master Gram. I may not be from around here, but I'm not an idiot." This line wasn't really all that necessary, but it did do a good job of making the man's face drain of blood and become a sickly looking grey. In this sort of conversation, dominance was everything.

"Well, I…" He began before sighing, his body slackening, "I am a man of medicine, Master Maximilian. It is a difficult profession, especially around these areas. There are so many injuries to fix, diseases to cure, most of them that I've never even seen before nor my father. I have five generations of comprehensive medical knowledge and notes, and none of it even references some of the illnesses that people are coming to me with!" His voice began to raise in frustration, his smock waving emphatically with arms. I watched on in amusement when the man finally got to the end of his sentence and he realised he had been yelling. His eyes went wide, and he seemed about to apologise but I waved it off.

"Go on." I said, face still a mask of friendliness. He hesitated for a moment but nodded and continued.

"There are many different ways that you can learn about an illness, and study it, but one of the more useful ways that I can learn about something is a… direct examination." The final words came tentatively.

"The direct examination of someone's corpse. A post-mortem." I said plainly. His eyes widened in shock, and a little excitement.

"You know of it?"

"Not quite, but I am aware of a few pertinent procedures." I answered truthfully.

"Then you must understand the necessity of a post-mortem! You must see why I am doing this!" I dropped the friendly façade.

"Understanding is very different than agreement when it comes to an argument of ethics, Doctor," I could see the chill run through the man as I gazed deep into his eyes, "I am an outsider. The way I view the world is vastly different than the townsfolk that live here, and even yourself. However, nothing that I know can properly excuse your actions, not ethically."

The man visibly began to panic. I could see the words rushing through his brain, trying desperately to find the golden words that would make this mess go away. He wouldn't find those words, of course. Things like this aren't easily brushed under the rug for too longy. Someone always fucked up, and someone's head always ends up on a pike. I paused to let the man panic for a while before I spoke, letting the man sweat for a bit.

"Are you a moral man, Master Gram?" I steepled my fingers on the legs that I had crossed, back straight. To a man like Master Gram, I must be the one of the most intimidating men he's has probably ever had to face, at least in this moment. Which is sad in a way, because I am a small fry when it comes to intimidating people. Mayer could have probably made the man wet himself by now.

"I– I believe so, Master Maximilian."

"Then you are wrong, Master Gram." I said stonily. The middle-aged man's face contorted in fear for a split second before I continued.

"You are a grave robber and a corpse thief. A moral man will never even think of doing such a depraved thing. Exhuming a corpse that has been laid to rest in the comfort of the soils?" Words sprouted from my mouth while I stared into the man's eyes. They were words that spoke directly to the man's guilty conscience. It was so obvious, in fact, that I swear that I could feel his guilt myself. "So, I ask again, Master Gram. Are you a moral man?"

I let the words hang in the air as I stared into the man's eyes. I saw more panic, which quickly became what I almost suspected was anger. I don't know whether it was at himself, me or maybe even the corpse that laid on that table. But it soon quelled into resignation and sadness.

"No, I am not Master Maximilian." He spoke the words in almost a whisper.

"Good. Then at least you understand that much. However, Master Gram, do you believe yourself just?" The man's eyes flickered up to mine, and without a second's thought, he spoke.

"Yes, yes I do." I smiled.

"I am of a similar mind to you, in that fashion. I am aware of the heights that medical understanding and technologies, and possibly even shifting, can take us. Within a mere lifetime I've seen wonderous developments begin in the most unlikely of places, or possibly even with the darkest of depravities." I stared into his eyes, trying to convey the gravity of what I meant by the 'darkest of depravities'.

What I meant of course, was the human experimentation done by Nazi doctors during the Second World War. While the information gained from the torture—that Nazis wrote down in books and called science—may be questionable, the data there was pertinent enough to at least have a moral argument about using it after the fact. Historically and scientifically disputed as it may be, it found its way home in Master Gram's heart. As Master Gram looked me in the eyes, I knew that he had something come to mind as I talked about atrocities.

Good to know that there are downright terrible people everywhere. Very homely.

"Now, let's speak of what we shall do about this." I stood up, lightly brushing myself off for effect, and moving over to the body that lay on the table, quickly examining it. It was the corpse of a young man, probably not even thirty—although death seems to have an aging effect. The body was somewhat damaged, probably from being buried for a few days, but was in otherwise reasonable condition. The doctor hadn't actually started a procedure yet but was likely in the process of cleaning the body as best as he could.

"Why have you taken this specific body, Master Gram?" The man paced up to the other side of the table and stood across from me.

"Derno was his name. He became ill quite suddenly and before long, he died. I cannot tell what it was that he had contracted or developed, but he started getting many sores that wouldn't heal on his back." Master Gram rolled the body onto its side displaying gaping wounds that had been filled with dirt and other grime. For some reason, I didn't feel any revulsion at all. I know that I would have when I was back on earth, but right now I was starting right into those dirt filled holes without a hint of a gag or thought of looking away.

"Quite nasty," Not letting emotion into my voice, "Did you try to convince the family to give you the body for your testing?" The ensuing silence was answer enough.

"Have you ever tried to convince someone of this idea before?" The man nodded, but with a grim look on his face.

"It was a bad idea. I think if they hadn't told me to leave and never come back that day, I could have been thrown out of the town for it. It's an extremely touchy subject, Master Maximilian." I nodded, understanding but with an eyebrow raised.

"This wouldn't have happened to be right after the person had died, would it, Doctor?" His face went through a few emotions before he nodded ashamedly.

"Not the best at bedside manners, it seems. They may be extremely resistant to the idea in the first place Doctor, don't get me wrong. But they are also capable of changing their ideas and opinions like anyone else. However, right after a loved one has died is not when they are going to do so. You and I think of this process in a very different light than they think of this. They think of this as a sort of sacrilege, where you brutally chop up their loved one's body and defile their remains. You have to convince them that this is not the case, and that there is merit to what you are doing. Something that this," I gestured to the body lying on the table, "does nothing but hurt. The moment that this is found out, they will have your head." I walked back over to the stool that I had pulled out and sat on it again, assuming my earlier pose.

"I think it is possible that I could help you in this regard, Doctor." Master Gram's eye opened wide with shock, but then narrowed with trepidation.

"Why would you possibly choose to do that? Your reputation could be irreversibly harmed through doing something like this, and you are currently the town's bona fide Lord. Or at least the nephew of the Lord." I laughed but kept it short.

"Maybe so, but I came here today for something and while it might not be what I wanted, I think I got an alternative that was possibly better." I grinned a wide, devilish grin. The man across from me gave a nervous one in return, I laughed deeply and got up and patted the man on the shoulder in a friendly way before I gripped onto his shoulder firmly and let my joviality drop away to seriousness.

"I advise you, Michael, to get rid of that body as soon as you are done with it. It would serve you well to never do this again. Clear?" If the usage of his first name bothered him, he definitely didn't let it show. He nodded tersely and I nodded back without further fuss.

"I'll leave you to your devices, Gram. I will be back later today to speak with you more about acquiring bodies for proper post-mortems." I didn't state explicitly that I was setting somewhat of a deadline, but I think it was made pretty obvious anyways.

"Good day, Gram."

"Good day, Master Maximilian."

I turned, opened the door and walked out without a hitch in my stride. I was, however, careful to move through the doorway in such a way to block the view of the insides and closed the door immediately after exiting, which turned out to be an idea that I was extremely grateful for.

"Hello." A small voice said from the hallway beside me. I casually turned, not frightened by the voice like I swear that I should have been. There was a small girl, standing there. Black hair that was likely the same colour as her father's, before his had well and truly become various shades of grey. Her frame was extremely slight, so much so that you'd think that she was maybe only ten or so years old, but with one look into her eyes, you could tell that she was older. Maybe Rethi's age, maybe even a bit older than that.

"Good morning. My name is Maximilian." I said, regarding her professionally. I sensed that it was the best way to address her.

"I know who you are, your name is the talk of the town Maximilian. My name is Alena." She smiled gently, but also didn't use the title. An issue with authority it is then. That is when a thought hit my mind.

"Do you happen to know Rethi all that well? I believe he mentioned you at one point." Her face lit up with recognition.

"I do, he is here quite often looking for treatments for his mother. How do you know him?" And I laughed, politely of course.

"Seems that you aren't entirely informed then. He is currently employed under me." Her eyes shot up in surprise, it looked a little comical on her small face, but I saw the apprehension set in on her features.

"He is just in the other room, if you'd like to come talk with him?" I asked, pretending to not see the mix of emotions of the young girl's face. Maybe hearing that a friend was someone's servant wasn't exactly a pleasant thought.

I strode out to the storefront area to see Rethi standing diligently behind the counter, awaiting any customer that might come in.

"Rethi!" Alena said loudly. Not quite a shout, but also not a normal tone of voice. She rushed past me, quickly pulling on Rethi, who looked shocked, but seemed compliant enough to her will. I chuckled to myself quietly. Seems like this little girl might be a bit of a storm in a bottle.

I strode past the two who had huddled themselves in the corner, quietly whispering to each other, Alena with a look of worry and anger on her face and Rethi with a look of utter bewilderment.

I opened the flap at the side of the counter and made my way to the door, and as I opened the door the bells jingled. I saw Rethi's gaze move to me and I smiled impishly and mouthed, "Good luck." He scowled and I laughed a little too loudly, causing Alena's gaze being turned to focus on me. I grinned at her, probably infuriating her all the more and left the storefront and into the street, walking slowly down the path to Mayer's home.

It took probably 10 minutes for the boy to finally catch up to me, with a slightly depressed and bewildered look on his face, but I left him alone. I had a sneaking suspicion that at least one of the two had romantic inclinations towards the other. This wasn't really something I wanted to chime in on all that much, especially without the express request from Rethi himself.

Ah, young love.
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