« Kian † Willow »
A breeze of warm air kissed my cheek. It smelled of a fresh summer morning. The warmth of it filled me, and my mind felt sharper. My back didn’t burn and I could breathe without my muscles protesting. For a moment, I closed my eyes to savor the warmness – it was just that kind of feeling that brought a smile to me. It was an odd sensation that caused me to open my eyes immediately afterward.
Why did it make me feel that way?
The hammering of metal returned. The birds overhead circled once before they flew off along the cliff’s edge. The waves rose and crashed once again. The sudden continuation of life around me made me question what I just experienced. Had it all been some weird hallucination, caused by whatever cocktail of drugs they gave me? It couldn’t have. It’d been-
I felt something weighing down on my lap. Slowly, I glanced down. Vindication came in the form of Cyril’s gift. My OTAD and an empty bottle of coke.
The black object, a large armbrace with an integrated screen that was about the size of a large cellphone. The OTAD differed from my brothers. His was slightly bulkier all around, and sand color. It’d also had several ports to link up the various military electronics. Mine, however, had no exposed ports. Thus, it was slime with a streamlined appearance that made the screen flush against my forearm.
It was a piece of hardware on the cutting edge of all hardware. It was… My last gift from my family.
My hands caressed the device with longing. Touching it felt right. It felt like a form of normalcy in this sea of strangeness. And this normalcy was still caked with dried blood – dark green and brown. Goblin and human.
“Now, where’d you get that?” Doc’s voice ripped me from my thoughts, and I clutched the OTAD like it was the holy grail. “Easy now. I’m not going to take it.”
He held up his hands while taking a step back. He gave me a reassuring smile as he did so.
“I wasn’t the one that confiscated your items,” He said. “That was Mrs. Erhn, the Fourth Division’s Vice-Captain’s idea. She said it was just until you were proven not to be a threat. However, I see you got one of your things back, or they missed it?”
His left eyebrow raised, and it seemed to indicate that he was waiting for a response. I entertained the thought of leaving him in suspense. That, however, didn’t seem like the right way to treat someone who took care of you. So I honored him with a response.
“It was gifted back to me by a good friend,” I smiled
“You have a friend here?” Doc asked.
“Mhm,” I nodded slowly as I opened the OTAD’s brace up, then wrapped it around my left forearm. And I secured it. This time, I found the little security feature that latched it in a way that they couldn’t take it off. “A very, very good friend.”
“What’s their name?” He asked.
“Cyril,” I said.
“Cyril,” He repeated the name. “We don’t have anyone by that name here.”
“She was just here,” I said truthfully. “You just missed her. Real pretty girl. White hair and nice body.”
Doc paused for a moment. He looked over me. I don’t know what he was going to find. However, I just wanted him to leave now. I wanted to tinker with the OTAD, at the very least to pass the time. But I didn’t want to do it where he could see. As thankful as I am for him helping me, I didn’t trust him.
“I see…”Doc said. “Well, if your friend comes around again – invite her in for some food and drink.”
« † »
Doc had helped me back to the room I woke up in. He helped me to the bed and helped me lay down. It was unnecessary though. My muscles felt better than when I woke up. It wasn’t 100%, but it what looked to be juice.
“Here’s some wine to help dull the pain,” Doc smiled. “It’ll help you sleep as well. Eat slow. Your stomach will need to acclimate to the food.
And it wasn’t juice as I thought. I thanked him as he closed the door behind him. I listened to his footsteps on the floorboards fade away. I waited a few moments after I could no longer hear him, then I turned on the OTAD. The screen lit up and greeted me with a very interesting background. A golden cat paw over a black background. I eyed the rather nice screen. It was sleek and the gold seemed to pop out at me quite nicely.
I’d been expecting the “Military Grade” hardware my brother had. Aside from its streamlined appearance, the other OTAD he had was bulky and rigid. It had several ports to hook into different kinds of tech. Ethernet port? Check. X-USB? Check. C-USB? Check as well. Micro and Macro cards? Check and check. Honestly, with the number of ports it had, I’m surprised the thing didn’t have a DVD drive. That would have been overkill. Then again, a lot of 3rd World countries never advanced in their tech.
Sudden movement on the screen caught my attention. I looked down and saw three application tiles had loaded themselves onto the screen. Each downloaded within a second and installing one after another.
“Uh…?” I muttered, dumbfounded.
The apps were labeled “Inventory”, “Manazon”, “PawPawGang”, and “BattleNet” respectively from left to right. Each tile had white backgrounds, but a different logo. Inventory was branded with an outlined backpack; Manazon had a blue shopping cart logo; PawPawGang had just had a black paw; BattleNet had the outline of a planet.
Before I could even question it, the screen darkened and a grey prompt appeared.
[ Tutorial mode activated – PawPawGang CORP ALL RIGHTS SUSPENDED
Below the prompt, a new button appeared. It was green with “OKAY” in large black bold letters. I clicked on it as instructed. The prompt blinked out of existence, but the screen remained dim. The screen brightened around the inventory app and a white arrow pointed to it with a new prompt.
[>System: Inventory application will automatically sort stored items. To store items, you must have them in your possession. The next step is to wave the ambient mana into a spatial spell. Target the item you wish to store, then wrap the spell around the item.]
“Wait, wait!” I hissed in a low voice so I don’t attract Doc’s attention. “What the hell does that even mean!”
The prompt changed afterward.
[> Cyril: It means – get good scrub.>]
I took a mighty breath in as I felt my blood boil at that statement.
[>Cyril: Joking. Just place the item in your hand and will it into your inventory. I’m not going to make things easy, but I’m not going to just redundantly make it hard. Now, I’m letting the program take back over. Play nice~>]
I had no comment for… This.
[< System: Program altered. One moment. \\\…. The system is back online. Inventory space will hold all items purchased from Manazon without limits. However, items not purchased through Manazon, or granted from the Creator, will have a set limit of 5x per stack. They will be separated into “Main Page” and “Limited Section”. >]
Afterward, those stray prompts never returned and the tutorial continued onward. It made me click on the main page and the other section. The main page had been organized into several different sections.
[ Weapons |Ammo | Consumables | Clothing | Armor| Misc. ]
[>System: All categories are self-explanatory, aside from Misc. From the previously mentioned rule, there are several exemptions from this rule. Namely, keys. Keys will be grouped into a “Key Ring” file in Misc, and will all unlimited keys within it. >]
The System cycled through the empty sections to show me. While I had a sort of understanding, I was beginning to think this started to look like some strange mobile game. As I thought this, the System closed the inventory and switched to Manazon.
[>System: Manazon is your marketplace to purchase unlocked goods with Cat-Points or shortened as CP. CP is earned via mana stones earned from eliminating monsters and harvesting their stones. Manastone prices are as follows:
Small Mana Stone – 5cp
Medium Mana Stone – 10cp
Large Mana Stone – 50cp
There are more stones out there in the world, some that will be listed after being submitted into the system. Some are unlistable and their amount will be determined after submission into the system.>]
There were also different categories and they all went as follows:
[ Medical & Food | Armory |Armor & Clothing |Vehicles |OTAD Upgrades | Specials ]
Those were the options in the drop-down menu when the system showed it, but then it closed it. It moved back onto the main page and to the feed.
[> System: This will show you current deals. Please tap on it.]
The current deal it highlighted was a “Sorry Starter Pack.” and it’s listed as free. I tapped the deal and it opened up. I looked over the page and felt the urge to call a copy-right lawyer.
“Seriously,” I huffed. “Couldn’t she have not copied someone else’s app?”
[>Cyril: Easy for the one who doesn’t have to conjure it all up in an hour. Complain again, I’ll make you secure all your items without my help.]
I kept my mouth shut after that.
Listed in the deal were a Glock 19 Compact, three 15-rd magazines, and a crappy Blackhawk thigh holster along with a single 50-rd 9mm steel-cased FMJ ammo box. Also included was a grey cotton shirt, blue denim skinny jeans with a leather belt. Brown steel-toed boots were also listed with two pairs of black socks and underwear.
“No armor?” I asked. I remembered those little shitty green monsters. If I hadn’t been wearing that high-end vest, I would have been dead seven times over.
[>System: Armor is not included as not to make you incompetent. You still need to develop the skills to survive in this world. The starter box has been included to give you an edge since you lack any considerable skills that would help you here. At least, nothing that will prevent anything from killing you.]
“Then what do you call having a literal system that could itemize all my stuff?
[>System: Perks of being the Creator’s Champion.]
“Fair enough,” I relented. It was a rather fair point to make though.
[> System: Also, please keep your annoying quips to your self until the tutorial is done. Please tap the One-Tap purchase button.]
Now that was just a low-blow there. I followed the system’s instructions and tapped the button. Then a prompt that said “Items delivered to inventory” and that was that. I wanted to take out the new gear, but the system hadn’t yet finished its obnoxiously slow tutorial. The app closed and slid over to the PawPawGang app. As ridiculously named as it was, I was curious to what was in it.
[>System: As stupid as the name is, PawPawGang serves a critical role; it tracks your status and your faction.]
Well, color me intrigued. The system then highlighted the first entry.
[Asset Level: Grey
Monster Kills: 0
Human Kills: 0
Enemy Bases destroyed: 0
Enemy Factions destroyed: 0 ]
[>System: Asset levels are color code, and the color system follows the rarity color system. Grey is Common, Green is Uncommon, Purple is Rare, Orange is Legendary, and Gold is Heavenly. The asset level accesses your overall usefulness. Grey means you’re as useful as an average person. Which is to be expected.
This is not to slight or offend you in any way. It’s simply an objective outlook. Should you just take the peaceful route and just live in this new world, you will stay at this level. But you also will not gain anything. However, if you choose to be a Champion, you’ll gain much.]
“And what is this Faction part?” I asked.
[>System: You can recruit people to assist you]
“Like getting physically stronger?” I asked.
[>System: No. All enhancements strictly allow you to grow. Humans and Demi-humans have their ways of growing stronger, but the system will by-pass restrictions for a cost.]
“So I can’t grow wings?” I joked.
[>System: Possibly. I am not in control of what gets added. But on with the tutorial. The listed stats on this application are small for now, but more will be added when it’s deemed necessary. PawPawGang can be used to track your progress, but its use will change with time.]
“I see, then does this tie into the last app?” I asked.
In response, the application closed and Battlenet popped up. The menu was different and brought up a screen that read “OFFLINE.” The system then dragged itself over to the “Milestones” option before it opened it.
[>System: Here are your milestones. More will be added with time. As of the current moment, these are your current milestones.
Survive a month – 1 Lootbox.
Kill 10 monsters – 1 Lootbox.
Gain Control of Settlement 3 – 1 Gold Squad Summon Card. ]
I took one look at the top reward and lost interest. I felt the sudden urge to rant to this thing about the ethics of a damn loot box. But I restrained myself because, why bother?
“That it?” I asked, looking up to the door, but I couldn’t hear anything still.
[>System: Yes. The tutorial will now end. Assistance will still be available for when you inevitably fail.]
“You’re instilling the utmost confidence in me,” I quipped and tapped on large x on the corner of the screen – exiting the application before moving over to the inventory to change into my new stuff.
« Cassius † Smith »
I felt the cool wave of water wash down my hot body. I let out a satisfied grunt before I tossed the bucket back into the trough. My upper body was bare for all to see as I leaned against the rim of the trough – Doc across from me.
“Talk,” I said softly.
“Kian is awake,” Doc said with that smile he always had. “I thought you’d like to know.”
“Who?” I asked.
“The person you carried from the cliff a few nights ago,” Doc said. “I thought you’d like to see them once they woke up.”
Now that Doc mentioned it, that was something that happened. I’d been focused on finishing the last of the swords for the Fourth Division, I almost forgot. Now that I wasn’t though, I remember that small pretty face. Kian… Was that her name? It didn’t sound too pretty or girly. But she did kill a Hobgoblin, so she must be strong. The Fourth Division’s leader had called me out that night to look over that thing on the cliff.
I couldn’t figure out a darn thing about it. However, since I was heading back, Doc had me carry the pretty girl back with me and him. She’d been awfully pretty in the moonlight. Kinda like a fairy. Fairys were pretty.
I nodded with a gruff.
“Lead the way,” I said as I pushed off the trough.
“Cassius, it’s impolite to go around shirtless,” Doc sighed.
“All the shirts stink,” I said as I walked past him.
Doc only sighed and shook his head. He followed after me as we left my smithy and went up the road to where his cottage was. Doc mentioned as we opened the door that he’d just taken her lunch and it’d be fine to visit for a moment. He led me through the cottage and through the corridor.
Doc’s was the second-largest cottage in the settlement; he housed the wounded and all the medical supplies in the village. Because of this, I wasn’t allowed to walk freely through it. Doc said I was like a “bull in a pottery shop” when I walked through his house. So, I followed him as he led me to the very last room at the end. Which I only knew off as the “Prisoner Room”. I didn’t know why though.
Doc didn’t bother to knock and just opened the door before stepping in. I followed suit and prepared to see the pretty girl eating. But that was not what I got.
When I stepped in, I came face to face with the pretty girl named Kian, dressed in strange pants and midway to putting her shirt on. Her chest was covered as she had the shirt around her arms. We both looked at each other for a moment. And I felt my face turn hotter than my forge could have ever made it.