Tuesday, June 11, 2019

LitRPG/Wuxia - World 99 by Dan Sugralinov

World 99
Blood of Fate
by Dan Sugralinov

Release - September 9, 2019

Chapter 1. Last Day in the Life of Luca Dezisimu

Luca’s day was turning out average. They’d caught his sister at the market again, trying to steal a couple of soused apples from a merchant. The fruit cost a copper a basket, but to pay the girl’s bail, her mother would have to wash other people’s clothes non-stop for a week. At least an old friend of hers, another washerwoman, had gotten sick and passed her clients on.
That was why it had been two days since Luca last ate when his mother, herself barely staying upright, fed him some hastily cooked broth of potato skins. Nemania Kovachar, the owner of the only inn in the entire district, sold potato skins and similar leavings on the side.
To help his mother collect the bail money, Luca climbed into his wheelchair with her help and slowly rolled out of the hovel they lived in, heading toward the temple. The porch there was always full of professional beggars, but if he made as if he was just rolling by, he might get a few coins.
His mother didn’t even want to discuss allowing him to join the beggars’ guild. She had been and always remained the proud wife of a gladiator. They might live in a hovel on the edge of town now, since his father’s death, but there had been a time when they had a good house almost in the center of the capital, and apart from babysitters, Luca had had a nanny that taught him his letters and various sciences.

His father had been called North. He fell in the Arena three years prior. Only his earnings as a professional gladiator had allowed them to buy a wheelchair for Luca in those better times.
Ignatious the Furious had killed North, becoming a six-time Arena champion. It was whispered that not all had been clean in that battle, but Luca did not have the power to bring back his father, no matter what people said. North’s bones now decayed in a tomb, and Ignatious, rumor had it, headed up the capital’s criminal underworld.
Slowly, slower than a swamp turtle, Luca wheeled himself across the small plot in front of his home and onto the street. It took him almost ten minutes to go just fifteen feet. Luca had been paralyzed from birth, or maybe even while still in his mother’s womb. Those muscles he had allowed him to move his hands; not good enough to hold anything heavy, but enough to roll the wheelchair. His legs had never moved as far as Luca could remember.
“Look, it’s the cripple again!” shouted one of a group of guys whose appearance made Luca turn around at once to run.
Although the words ‘at once’ and ‘run’ had nothing to do with it. Usually they quickly caught him and then bullied him for some time, taking advantage of his helplessness. Karim, the son of the innkeeper Nemania, was particularly cruel in his abuse.
Luca span his wheels as fast as he could, retreating homewards. He even managed to get a few feet from the yard... But he wasn’t fast enough.
Splash! A cobblestone landed in a fetid puddle nearby, throwing up a fountain of dirty water. It soaked Luca through. The boy clenched his teeth and tried to move faster. The worst of it was his mother’s wasted labor. She always tried to give him clean clothes before he went out.
He pushed the wheelchair onward. Karim and his gang stayed at a distance, kept having fun throwing stones. The same huge deep puddle blocked their path, spreading from sidewalk to sidewalk. Multitude showers had flooded the roads, and people walked at the edge of the sidewalks, where it was shallow enough to keep the water below the knees.
The stones flew one after the other, throwing up dirty water and mud, breaking spokes in the wheelchair and generously peppering Luca in cuts and bruises. The boys hollered and cackled, shouted abuse at him and got even more excited, congratulating each other on particularly good hits or insults.
One of the stones hit Luca in the shoulder. The flash of pain stopped his retreat: it was if his right arm was dead. His eyes began to sting, but not from pain; from resentment. How he hated how helpless he was! How he dreamed of standing! Even crawling! He would have crawled up to each of them and bitten them!
Luca aimed his fury at the gods, if they existed, at the injustice of the world, at his parents... His father had spent so much money trying to make his son stand, but no matter how many wise women he saw, or rare shamans specially brought in from the planes, or professional physicians from the healers’ guild, none could do anything to fix his ailment.
One fortune teller said that the sins of the parents had fallen on the son. She was probably making it up, but for some reason Luca remembered her in particular. Most likely because it was easiest to blame his parents for it all. They were close by...
They had been close by. His father was gone, his mother faded with each passing year, and his sister Kora would end her journey in a brothel. Luca was sure of that. She was light-footed, curvaceous for her fifteen years, carefree and entirely without moral principles. Her knees were always cut-up, too. Kora took everything that wasn’t nailed down, and wasn’t afraid to get into a fight with much older boys, and as for where and how she got certain expensive luxuries like makeup, jewelry, new dresses... Luca didn’t even want to know. He loved his sister and she loved him, and that was enough.
“Hey, cripple!”
Luca turned around unwillingly. In the last second of his life, he saw a huge cobblestone flying toward him, blotting out the sun.

Chapter 2. Interdimensional Universal Traveler

Esk’Onegut, one of the interdimensional universal travelers, ended his life on Earth in the twenty-first century in the body of a Russian student whose name sounded far more exotic than his nickname — Craster. Ilya Pashutin, a student in his final year of a journalism course, had little interest in journalism and studied at the university only at his parents’ insistence. More specifically at his father’s, a former soldier who had given his son an ultimatum: army or university. Ilya chose the second one, along with... games.
Esk’Onegut found the world of computer games so gripping that he’d spent almost all his waking hours from the age of ten sat at a computer. For Esk, this was his ninety eighth reincarnation, and, like every traveler, he got stronger from life to life as he earned Tsoui, which meant, in a long-dead language, ‘balance of deeds’, something that determined one’s influence on the harmony of the universe. Tsoui points could be spent to turn the Wheel.
You could spend Tsoui points to turn the Wheel as many times as you liked, as long as you paid. Millions of sectors were marked on it. Many were empty or unfavorable, but there were also very powerful ones that gave the current body supernatural abilities: incredible strength, ludicrous speed, deadly combat skills, magical or creative abilities...
The talents spread across the Wheel were split into four levels: from common to peerless, the best in the world. Esk vaguely remembered winning the skill of becoming invisible on the Wheel in a previous life. That had been a good one! That world probably still had legends about the thief whose body he’d inhabited for almost six years.
On Earth, the concept that Esk had found closest to Tsoui was karma. Only he was certain that karma was a blasphemous fiction, because it took into account actions measured by the scales of individuals themselves and those around them. In Tsoui, the traveler’s deeds were weighed by their influence on universal harmony. After all, every action, every word, caused ripples in the past and the future of the entire universe.
Esk had ended up in Ilya’s body when the latter reached the age of four. While his mother wasn’t watching him, the young boy fell under a rapidly moving metal seesaw in the small park outside his house. His innocent spirit was moved to the universal archive to await its next revival, if it had one. And Esk’Onegut set up shop in little Ilya’s body. It just so happened that at that very moment, he’d died in the last one.
In his life before Earth, he had reigned as emperor on a peripheral planet in the Galaxy, enjoying total power and his very own cult of personality. The finest women, the best intoxicants and narcotics, delicious meals, the fulfilment of all his whims, from the simple pleasures to the most perverted...
In truth, he had become the worst emperor in the history of that planet, whose name he could not recall due to the effect of the Waning. It was no wonder he’d been poisoned.
The Waning was the curse of every traveler. The effect wiped memories from previous lives, but the knowledge of their existence remained, along with the memories of the last minutes before death. And the shorter the time between lives, the more Esk remembered. Before his imperial reign, he had been a great musician and singer who had wrote his own songs. He knew that, but, lightning strike him down, he could not remember a single line of what he had written.
His memory of his years as an emperor, his ninety eighth life, remained with Esk in Ilya’s body. He was so sick of power and authority that on twenty-first century Earth, he wanted nothing to do with it. With the taste of all those accessible and inaccessible joys of life still fresh in his memory, Esk discovered the world of computer games on Earth. Realizing that virtual worlds were basically the same as what he did, only on a smaller scale and with the ability to switch between worlds and virtual bodies at any moment, Esk fell headlong into them.
By the end of his earthly journey in the body of twenty-year-old Ilya Pashutin, Esk had earned minus Tsoui thanks to his idleness and indifference to the world around him. Not only had he spent his entire life on Earth without using the Wheel, Esk’s luck also seemed to have turned negative.
And when Fortune turns her back on you, it’s pointless to make stupid jokes. Esk’Onegut, or Ilya Pashutin to everyone else, died before his time, hit by a car while rushing to a lecture after a sleepless night at his computer.
God, anything but that! Esk thought, with an entirely earthly god in mind; he still considered himself an earthly student. There’s a guild raid tomorrow! I’m going to miss it... Vanka will be pissed.
In the next moment, he moved to another world and another body. Here it was — his ninety ninth rebirth. His ninety ninth world.
Twenty five again! He sighed inwardly. He’d have to learn a new body, study a new world... He was sick of it.
Esk opened his eyes and tried to move his limbs. His legs weren’t listening. That sometimes happened when the new body functioned differently from the previous one, but the genome was clearly identical — human. It seemed there was something wrong with the body.
Deciding to deal with it later, Esk immersed himself in the input data.

Esk’Onegut, life ninety nine.
Influence level: 9.
Tsoui points: -971 (negative value).
Orion Arm, Milky Way, Solar System, Planet Earth.
Universe variation: #ES-252210-0273-4707.

So he was still on Earth, but in a parallel universe. That was good, he wouldn’t have to relearn too much. Not like when he’d revived in the body of an eight-armed reptile. But the fact that his Tsoui points were in the red — that was very, very bad. Why were they so far in the negative? He hadn’t done anything bad, he’d just played computer games!

Reincarnation unavailable. Tsoui point balance must be above zero.
Right to reincarnation with negative balance: exhausted.
One-time Wheel spin privilege: available.

Esk swore internally, mentioning all the gods he’d known from previous lives. As an emperor, he had gone into minus points for the first time in all his incarnations, but he was sure he would earn the Tsoui back in Ilya’s body. He’d decided to simply not do anything that could negatively affect his balance. As it turned out, doing nothing carried a harsher Tsoui penalty than all the deadly sins performed in the emperor’s body...
After landing in the body of the future Russian student Ilya, Esk had used his one-time spin of the Wheel, but an empty sector came up. Good that it wasn’t negative, at least. He could have gotten some curse like an incurable illness or limited mental abilities. He didn’t have enough Tsoui points for more, he’d wasted too much as emperor. Wasted and lost.
Having decided that since he had no right to reincarnate again, then he had to start living as soon as possible, he returned to the real world and realized that he was lying in a deep, stinking puddle. The smell was nightmarish. Esk grimaced and tried to stand, but couldn’t.
The water covered his face, went into his eyes, nose, mouth and one ear. It was extremely unpleasant.
Making an effort, Esk’s mighty spirit absorbed the personality of this new body, including all its skills and memories, and corrected the body’s damage and defects on the cellular level.
Then, stumbling, he lurched to his feet and looked at the new world around him.
Some grimy youths stood at the edge of the puddle, their mouths wide open in amazement. One of them — Esk-Luca realized that it was Karim — shouted, wide-eyed.
“What the hell, cripple, you can walk now?!”
The memory of Luca Dezisimu, crippled seventeen-year-old son of the dead gladiator North, finally settled and structured itself in Esk’Onegut’s mind. The cripple’s personality boiled with such fury that Esk recoiled, as it were, retreating before the primal anger of the helpless pariah. He felt uncomfortable.
Damn! He was tired of living. Life wasn’t just pleasure, but also sadness, grief, pain, hunger, the loss of loved ones, the need to strive and achieve... Centuries, no, millennia of ceaseless living had wearied the universal traveler.
The traveler mentally whispered: Damn it, live then. I’ll watch. And then he handed to the former cripple the reins over the body, the Tsoui system and the mind.
Luca, incredulously clapping himself on the sides, on his arms and legs, realized that he was absolutely healthy.
He raised his head and cast a baleful gaze on Karim.

Chapter 3. Magical Healing

“Karim healed the cripple!” Fat Pete shouted suddenly. “With a magic stone!”
The joke didn’t land. After the last hit, Luca fell from the wheelchair and lay for quite some time in the puddle. They’d decided that he might have died and were about to run away before a guard appeared. Unlikely as that was. But the cripple rose!
Unable to believe their eyes, the boys continued to gawk at Luca. He himself wasted no time. Whether his recovery was real or not, he had no idea when it might end. The boy wiped his face with his sleeve, climbed out of the puddle, chose a couple of likely stones nearby and, waving his arm inexpertly, threw one.
The stone flew three feet and splashed straight into the puddle. The hooligans were shocked, then broke into laughter.
Without delay, Luca threw the second, and it fell into the mud nearby. Angry with himself, Luca kept picking up and throwing stones at the boys, who continued to mock him even now that he had control over his body, but he couldn’t throw a stone even to the middle of the puddle. The ruffians stood on the opposite side, dying of laughter.
Karim even started choking, grabbing at his stomach, and the other boys laughed with him. Fat Pete, Karim’s right-hand man, laughed louder than anyone. He supported his leader with subservience in all his endeavors; the innkeeper’s son generously shared any uneaten leftovers from customers’ plates with him and the other boys, and in this district of the capital, food was the most valuable resource.
Luca had dreamed so many times of being able to pick up and return a stone thrown at him! And here he finally was... But he’d spent his whole life bedridden, he’d never learned to throw stones. If only his father were here... Or at least Kora, she could have taught him easily! But his sister was somewhere in a city watch jail cell while his mother saved up for her bail.
Luca looked around, but there were no more stones nearby.
“Hey, cripple!” Catch!” Fat Pete shouted, throwing another stone at him.
Out of habit, Luca watched motionlessly as the stone flew. But then he suddenly heard thoughts in his head. As if his own, but also... not. Move! Sorry, but I can’t just sit here and watch! Then his body began to move by itself, turned and leaned, dodging. The stone flew past him, nearly hitting him.
“Wow! Come on guys, let’s make him dance!”
The target was moving now, and that provoked the bullies. They got to work grabbing whatever was to hand and throwing it at Luca. But the boy even found a certain pleasure in not letting them hit him. Moving only as much as he needed to, he easily dodged all that came his way.
I’m bored, Luca-Esk thought. It’s my turn now. With confident, accurate throws, he put Natus out of action, the son of a fish merchant, then Jamal, a grubby halfwit without so much as a single glimmer of intellect. Then it was Fat Pete’s turn — the stone hit him right in his jelly-like belly, knocking all the air out of his lungs. Pete doubled over and fell face-first into the puddle.
Luca tossed another stone in his hand, considering which part of Karim’s body to throw it at. Karim hesitated, not knowing whether to run or to help his friends. In the end, he hid behind Fat Pete, pulling him out of the water like a hippo out of a swamp.
Luca aimed. Karim’s shoulder stuck out from behind Fat Pete’s back, so Luca aimed at it. The stone was small, around the size of a quail egg, but that just made the throw even more accurate. The cocky and bold-faced seventeen-year-old innkeeper’s son wailed like a girl. His crew groaned at the sight, exchanged glances and... ran off!
“Wait for me!” Karim wailed before staggering after the others.
He turned as he fled and shouted in faltering tones:
“You’re dead, cripple! You’re dead!”
Luca watched as he went. He felt an unfamiliar feeling in his chest. It was satisfaction. He liked how well his body responded, how quickly the blood flowed through his veins, liked the crackle of his pent-up anger finally bursting forth. Before, he could only cry himself to sleep in silence so as not to wake his mother and sister, or grind his teeth and roll his eyes. He never allowed himself to express it, not wanting to appear weaker than he was, so his anger built and built, long since reaching the point of no return.
Now he’d let his feelings loose, and a quiet, peaceful satisfaction replaced his all-encompassing anger. The incident amused Esk, but he also felt the same as Luca.
They shared the same body, after all.
A body which now began to hurt terribly. Its atrophied muscles had apparently gone into shock from such excessive use. Luca’s legs bent, but he managed not to fall. Staggering, the boy reached his wheelchair, stood it upright and fought through the pain to pull it out of the puddle. No sooner had he done this than he fell into the seat, got into a comfortable position and rolled toward the house.
He walked into the hovel on his own two feet. His mother didn’t notice him coming in and kept scrubbing some laundry on her washboard. Sweat fell off her in streams, but she kept furiously scrubbing the clothes as if her children’s lives depended on it. And they did.
Horvacius take me, where am I? Esk thought, and the same thought appeared in Luca’s mind. The boy looked at the place where he’d lived for the last few years with fresh eyes. And from a new height, to put it plainly — his height.
One room for everyone. One half of the poorly lit room housed all the beds, a small dining table, a chest full of old junk. The other half was the laundry area, strewn with clothes and sheets, with an ironing board and an old black iron sheltering by the wall. His mother scrubbed in the corner opposite. The washing water in the basin and buckets was already black from dirt, and soon his mother would have to venture across the neighborhood to the local well. There were no lakes, rivers or other natural bodies of water in the capital, and for the residents of the slums, the only source of clean water was the community well.
She squeezed the water out of the sheet she was scrubbing, put away the basin and stood up. Luca began to hobble toward her.
Prisca raised her head, saw her son standing before her and fainted, started to fall, but Luca rushed toward her and held her up.
No strength at all, Esk noticed as he failed to hold his mother up and fell to the wet floor.
Gently holding the woman, he sat down and stroked her head. Prisca had been very beautiful when she married his father, but recent years had been far from kind to her. Her face had become lean, bags swelled under her eyes, her hair had thinned, her breasts had hung low since Kora’s birth. But she was still attractive, even if it was hard to notice right away.
“Mom, mom...” Luca whispered quietly. “Mom, wake up!”
He touched his lips to her forehead. Prisca opened her eyes. Luca stood himself up and helped his mother stand.
“It’s not a dream! It’s not a dream!” His mother’s eyes filled with tears. “Luca! My son!”
“Yes, mom...”
“But how?!” the woman cried.
Luca told her everything, leaving out only the fact that he’d thrown stones back. In his version of the events, the hooligans ran off as soon as he stood up.
“It’s a miracle! A miracle!” Prisca kept repeating, kissing and hugging her son.
Tears fell from her eyes, she was wet from the washing and sweat, and Luca had only just climbed out of a puddle. They stood in embrace for a long time. Luca held his mother to his chest and looked down on her from above for the first time. Now he saw how many grey hairs she had.
“Mom, I’m going to go get water. Rest in the meantime.”
“Are you sure you can?” Prisca looked her son up and down sceptically.
“I’ll try. I’ll carry just one bucket at a time, don’t worry. Rest, mom.”
Luca led her to the bed and sat her down, then grabbed a full bucket. Gritting his teeth and taking tiny steps, he carried it out of the house to pour the dirty water into the gutter and bring back clean water.
Watching this, Esk thought the boy would break in half from the strain.
Time to spin the Wheel.

Chapter 4. One-Time Wheel Spin

Luca stopped by the fence and set the bucket on the ground. His fingers burned, his shoulder felt leaden. Swapping hands would help, but a bell rang insistently in his head, demanding attention.
The hidden Esk smirked inwardly. Come on, dude, get on with it!
Luca wiped his eyes, grimaced and shrank back from a block of text that suddenly appeared in the very air in front of him. The boy stretched an arm toward the letters, but felt nothing. They hung before his eyes and moved as his eyes moved. The text stayed at the center of Luca’s vision!
What a dope! Esk sighed, but let Luca stay at the helm. The balance of two minds sharing a single body was incredibly fragile. The boy didn’t have enough spirit to recognize the impossible and preserve his mind if Esk intervened directly.
Pressed into the back of his consciousness, his personality would rot quicker than Esk could say “Horvacius take you!” Horvacius’Onegut was an old friend of his, and had managed to become a divinity in a world where Esk had trudged along as a priest of the local Veridic until he changed his faith. In that war, sacred for half the planet’s population, Horvacius had been cast down, but he and Esk encountered each other again in other worlds and remained friends. And tales of Horvacius remained.
While Esk reminisced, Luca had gotten a grip on himself and read the text several times, unwillingly whispering it aloud.
“Luca Dezisimu, of the essence Esk’Onegut... Tsoui points: minus nine hundred and seventy one... Activated privilege for one-time Wheel spin. Use? Yes... No...”
Luca’s mother poked her head out of their little window.
“What happened, son? Are you feeling alright?”
“Everything’s fine, mom. I stopped for a breather, my arms hurt.”
“Let me take it...” Prisca began, but the son interrupted her.
“No, mom. I can do it!”
Spoken with surety and confidence. The mother shook her head, but a flash of a smile told the true story; she was not only happy, she was proud! Her head disappeared from the window, and Luca returned to the strange text.
Thinking for a couple of seconds, he jabbed his finger at “Yes.”
The world around him froze and fell silent. The text disappeared, and a gigantic wheel took up his entire view. It looked entirely real, but was as much a mirage as the text before it. The surface of the wheel spread to either side of Luca, blotting out his surroundings. In height it stretched far into the sky, so that Luca could only see one segment of it, the one facing him. That segment was green, and on it was writ in huge letters: Start!
Esk planted some knowledge in the boy’s mind, and Luca realized that the divisions of the wheels were in different colors.
There was only one green sector, the starting sector. If it appeared again after the spin, he’d be able to make three more spins for free.
The red sectors gave the player illnesses, injuries, reduced stats or negative talents. For example, the talent of smelling like a cesspit. There weren’t many such talents, but each red segment was several times larger than the others.
The empty white spaces gave nothing to the player, just wasted the spin. They amounted to over three fourths of the total number.
The blue ones were very rare. They awarded useful talents, and the deeper the color—from pale blue to ultramarine—the higher the gift level. The ultramarine sector gave the player a highly demanded talent in their local community and turned them into an unparalleled master of the field, the best in the entire history of the world.
But the most desirable, and Luca felt it intensely, sensing the payoff, was the gold sector. The golden section of superpowers, gleaming as it reflected the sun’s golden rays. Each of those powers could violate the laws of physics and magic and act in opposition to all. Full invulnerability with no magic shields or armor, teleportation to any point on the planet, perfect invisibility, incredible strength and power that could bring down mountains with a single touch...
The chance of getting a sector like that was close to zero no matter how many times you span the Wheel. Every traveler lucky enough to get that coveted sector reached incredible heights in the world where they got it.
There was also a purple sector, the only one on the entire Wheel. At least, so said the rumors among the travelers. Esk had never seen it, though he’d tried his luck many times.
Glimmer by glimmer, idea by idea, step by step; that was how Esk slowly revealed the truth of the world to the boy, let him come to realize what had happened to come, so that sooner or later, they could achieve a full meld and live as a single individual.
Luca took a deep breath and touched the Start button.
Slowly, almost screeching into motion, the Wheel started to build up speed. The starting sector rolled past Luca, after which came a run of white sectors, then the flash of a gold sector, another group of whites, then red, white, white, more red, white, white, white, blueish...
The Wheel span faster and faster, building up to such a speed that the colors of the sectors merged into a single rainbow blur before Luca. He saw nothing, and both Luca and Esk lost control over their body. As the Wheel span, time stopped across the entire Universe, and only the consciousness of the player spinning it remained active, so that they might see the outcome with their own eyes.
Luca lost track of time when the mottled blur finally became clearer, then even clearer, finally reforming into the colors of sectors as they raced past.
A row of white... blue... white...
The Wheel slowed its pace...

Chapter 5. The Birth of a New Traveler

Luca watched with disappointment as the Wheel slowed its pace. The speed slowed down so much that a broad red sector took up his entire field of view for several seconds.
Both the boy and Esk’Onegut, the traveler in his head, prayed to the Wheel to move beyond the cursed red zone. Luca no longer even thought of superpowers or talents. He wanted just one thing: to remain healthy. With any other segment, he had a chance of over ninety seven percent to remain as he was. But the red segment could bring him something worse than paralysis.
The traveler himself grinned with irony; this was how Tsoui worked. If the carrier’s body was cursed, then the recent healing would turn into something similar — red. The sector was too wide. Any other would have already passed by.
The edge of the sector hove into view somewhere at the edge of vision. Come on, come on, Luca begged. Please! Curse you in the name of all the gods! Esk growled inwardly, furious at the possibility of spending his final reincarnation in the body of a twice cursed boy. How could it be otherwise, if he was born a cripple and would become one again now?
The border between the sectors almost stopped in front of Luca’s face. The next sector after the red one was purple, and this was the first time the traveler had seen that color in all his ninety nine lives.
“Impossible! Seriously? Are you serious, gods?” The irony of the situation drove Esk, and Luca with him, to hysterics. The results hadn’t yet been declared, which meant the Wheel was still turning.
Esk began to personally address every god with whom he’d aligned himself in his previous lives.
“Cruel Horvacius, Timeless Akatosh, Faceless Veridic, Almighty God, K’Tun the Defiler...”
He had time to address them all and start from the beginning again before the Wheel stopped. It seemed to Luca as if the line between the sectors was precisely between his eyes, but Esk’Onegut exulted. The difference must have been in microns, but the Wheel had stopped in the purple sector!

One-time Wheel spin token used.
Spin outcome: purple sector.
Rewards: Reminiscent title.
Esk’Onegut is freed from the effect of the Waning, and shall keep all the accumulated experience of his mortal years, beginning with the current reincarnation;
Esl’Onegut shall keep all positive talents, superpowers and effects, beginning with the current reincarnation;
if the purple sector falls again, Esk’Onegut gains the right to choose one lost superpower from a previous reincarnation.

The noise of the street descended on Luca. He was back in control of his body, and the world came alive. The boy frowned, reading the strange text again and again.
The traveler burst into laughter through his mouth. The Wheel had settled on the purple sector—the mythical purple sector!—at the very time when none of its rewards could have any effect on him. Even the weakest talent would have been better, even the skill of playing any musical instrument! At least he could have made a living in the inns that way.
Esk’Onegut found himself in the position of a billionaire whose entire fortune was being kept safe and sound away from him right up until the day the final nail was hammered into his coffin. What was the point of removing his Waning if this was his last life? Among other things, it was impossible to earn back his almost a thousand minus Tsoui points in the body of a beggar boy. In his best reincarnations, Esk had managed to earn several hundred, but never more than five hundred.
That meant there was no point in even thinking about any new talents that might stay with him in future lives if he got the purple sector again. Because he would have no future lives, and he had no Tsoui points with which to spin the Wheel again. All he needed was ten measly points—the cost of a single spin—and he didn’t have them!
While Esk was busy going insane, Luca enjoyed scratching the back of his head—not out of habit, but because his dirty hair was greasy—then picked up the bucket, tightened his grip on it and carried it to a nearby drain. Although really, the entire road had turned into a drain. It flowed not only with the recent floods and spring rains, but also the day-to-day refuse of the people of their entire destitute district.
The boy added the dirty water to the flow, then took his bearings and wandered toward the local well.
In the meantime, Esk thought over his options, calculated probabilities, decided what to do. Nothing he came up with gave him even the smallest chance. The weight of his sins in the life before his last pulled him down into a chasm. In that life he had burned everything he had and gone into minus points, and in the one following, his idleness only sent his balance deeper into the red.
He was doomed to eke out an existence in an unfriendly and underdeveloped world, and with no talents or abilities to speak of. At the end of that woeful journey of life, the traveler’s existence would end once and for all. His would. But what about Luca?
Understanding began to dawn in his consciousness, burning stronger and stronger, giving Esk—no, not hope, but a sense of the right path. The already unfortunate boy wasn’t guilty of his — Esk’Onegut’s! — past sins. And that meant...
He had to decide now, before it got too scary! And then a particle of his soul would go on to live many, he hoped, new lives. As long as the boy lived up to his expectations and didn’t let him down.
Esk sighed deeply and reflexively closed his eyes. Through the beating of his heart, he activated the Exodus.

Esk’Onegut, life ninety nine.
Reminiscent (immune to effect of the Waning).
Influence level: 9.
Tsoui points: -971 (negative value).
Excarnation selected with subsequent merging with individual Luca Dezisimu (life one), resident of zone Orion Arm, Milky Way, Solar System, Planet Earth. Universe variation: #ES-252210-0273-4707.
Luca Dezisimu will receive Esk’Onegut’s positive legacy.

The eyes that Esk had closed led to Luca tripping, losing his balance and falling. He tried to pick himself up, but fell again into the mud. A sharp pain pierced his head, then immediately disappeared, only to reappear in another part of his skull. The flashes of pain bounced around his head for several minutes, and just when Luca finally thought he’d rather die than continue the hellish punishment, it all stopped.
The boy’s hands dropped from his head. He cringed in anticipation of more pain, but none came. He sat down haltingly and saw a block of text before him. The text repeated in his head in his own clear thoughts, the whisper of his own voice.

Luca Dezisimu, from this day forth, you are a traveler.
Live a life worthy of Tsoui, observe the balance and harmony of life, and after death you will revive in another world of the infinite universe.

Luca’Onegut, life one.
Reminiscent (immune to effect of the Waning). Successor to Esk’Onegut.
Influence level: 0.
Tsoui points: 0.
Orion Arm, Milky Way, Solar System, Planet Earth.
Universe variation: #ES-252210-0273-4707.
Reincarnation: available.
One-time Wheel spin privilege: available.

The inheritance from Esk, including the rewards of the purple sector, became Luca’s personal experience and knowledge, so this time he didn’t need to reread the text to understand it.
Luca smiled. Now he would bring his mother water, then get Kora out of jail, and then...
Then he would spin the Wheel again.

Chapter 6. Nemania Kovachar’s Offer

Whistling something playful and melodic that floated up from Esk’s memory, Luca returned home with a full bucket of clean water. Nobody had been at the well. Apparently, many still had stocks of rainwater collected during the recent downpours.
The boy swapped the full bucket of water in his hands more than once as he walked home, but didn’t stop to rest. He took pleasure even in the painful sensations in the muscles of his tired arms, back, and everywhere else; the pain meant that he could feel. He was alive!
With his inherited knowledge as a traveler, Luca realized that Karim had killed him, had split his skull with a large rock with sharp edges. Esk’Onegut’s inhabitation of his body had allowed him to survive, and the traveler’s boredom, laziness and self-pity had allowed him to keep his individuality. The initial restoration as the traveler had settled into his body had instantly healed all his cuts and bruises. It was a good thing that Luca had thought to wash the blood off his body with water from the barrel in the yard before he went in to see his mother. That water was no good for laundry, but it was fine for day-to-day needs.
He stopped by the door. He heard a hushed conversation from within. Since his healing, Luca’s hearing had become perfect. He could pick out every word.
“Admit it, Prisca, you don’t have a chance of paying the wergild,” said an oily male voice in even tones. “Do you want your son sent to the mines?”
“You speak nonsense, Nemania,” his mother spoke in tired and quiet tones. “Everyone knows Luca has been a cripple since birth. How could he have maimed your son?”
“You mean to say that Karim is lying to me, woman? My son is no liar! That monster of yours broke his collar bone! You’ll pay for the treatment and compensate for his suffering.”
“How much?”
Luca heard the resignation in his mother’s voice. She still hadn’t collected the seventy five silver she needed for Kora...
“Seven gold. Without delay. Pay today, right now..!” Nemania fell silent, chuckled and added: “Or come see me after midnight. Pay it off that way!”
Luca’s mother fell silent, and Karim’s father took on a comforting tone, still just as oily.
“Prisca, listen to me... If you are diligent and obedient, perhaps I will reduce your debt. What do you say?”
Luca didn’t hear whether his mother said anything in response, but he knew for certain why the innkeeper had invited her over. He was old enough. He himself had only dreamed of such things in restless and sweaty dreams. But his mother and Nemania in the same bed? It was a shame his father wasn’t here to...
But he was here! Angry with himself, he rushed into the house just as Prisca was about to agree to the innkeeper’s terms. Nemania’s hand was already snaking its way under her skirt.
Luca’s eyes widened in fury. Breathing heavily and clenching his fists, he shouted.
“Get away from my mom, creature! Get your filthy hands off her!”
“Feisty boy.” The innkeeper chuckled, but removed his hands. “But what does she herself have to say? What do you say, Prisca?”
“She says: get out of our house! Mom won’t come to you, don’t even think about it! Your son and his friends threw stones at me and nearly killed me! They split my skull!”
“Wow,” Nemania breathed in shock. “It’s true, he walks. I thought that brat of mine was lying, making it all up. But here it is... Well, where are your bruises? Got anything to back up your words?”
Luca reached for his temple to move his hair aside and show his wound, but then froze, remembering that it had disappeared.
“They... healed,” he said falteringly. “I’m telling the truth...”
“I thought as much.” Nemania’s gaze switched to Prisca. “What have you decided?”
Prisca cast a sidelong glance at her son, and her tired indifference to the whims of fate, the submissiveness with which she had been ready to accept her impending degradation, her shame at that willingness — it all disappeared, replaced with pride.
For the first time in her long years, she saw her son’s resemblance to her husband, North Dezisimu, saw the same bravery and nobility that he had poured into his sword to achieve standing in society and to capture her heart.
“My son has answered for me. No!”
“Well, no means no,” Nemania agreed readily.
Roughly elbowing his way past the boy, he walked to the door, but then stopped, thought for a moment and turned back.
“But still... this...” The innkeeper frowned, looked Luca up and down. “How? You just up and started walking? No temples, no healers, just you? All it took to heal a cripple was a good knock on the head? Really? I should patent that idea!” He laughed. “Alright, boy. Live your life. For now. Prisca, if you don’t bring me the money by the evening, I’ll send your bastard to the mines. You know that the word of a Kovachar is stronger than oak!”
He slammed the door hard as he left.
At that moment, a line appeared before Luca:

Tsoui points: +1. Current balance: 1.

Connecting this information with what had happened up to now, Luca realized that the two events were interlinked. Nodding to himself, he approached his mother and put down the bucket of clean water he’d been holding all this time. He wiped the tears from her cheeks with the back of his hand and hugged her. He held her close, realizing that they were the same height His mother sobbed as she spoke.
“What’s going to happen, son? What now?”
“Nobody will believe him, mom. Look at my arms; they’re thinner than canes. How could I break his collar bone? Sir Judge is a sensible man, he won’t believe their tales.”
“Yes, of course, he’s fair...” she agreed with some doubt in her voice.
Prisca calmed down completely once Luca reminded her about her unfinished laundry and Kora, who was still languishing in jail. She had no fear of ending up in the mines, but if they didn’t pay her bail in time, the girl risked being sent to an orphanage. The deadline was the next day. Stumbling, Prisca rushed to the basin.
“Mom, let me help you. I’ll hang the laundry.”
“I can do it, son. We need to boil the pot, bring clean water...”
The day passed in these labors. Luca carried water back and forth, brought wood from the yard, hung and took down laundry, gave it to his mother to iron, helped to fold it. His muscles burned as if bathed in acid, but the boy bore the pain, remembering that his mother had done all this on her own.
At dusk, they put the newly clean laundry into baskets, each of which belonged to a separate house for which his mother worked.
Prisca never tired of praising all the gods for her son, and when Luca got ready to go with her to deliver the laundry, she took it as a given. There was a man of the house again!
And so she felt her anguish even more harshly when the city guards forced their way into the hovel, led by a small and angry constable distracted from his dinner.
“Luca Dezisimu! You are accused of attempting to murder Karim Kovachar! Take him, boys!”

Chapter 7. Polluted Gene Pool

The guard gave him a last kick in the behind. Luca fell over the threshold of the cell and slid on his belly along the slimy floor. The guard closed the door, snapped the lock shut and hurried back to finish off his cold dinner.
“What’re you in for, sonny?” a low and hoarse voice said from the darkness.
Luca strained his eyes, trying to make out his surroundings, but he saw nothing. The moonlight shining through the tiny barred window lit up only a small section of the floor.
The boy considered it best not to ignore the man that called him sonny, and answered.
“I threw a stone at an innkeeper’s son and broke his collar bone. Or so they say.”
“What really happened?”
“I was throwing stones in self-defense. He ran off. I don’t know if I really broke anything. But I hope I did. He’s a scumbag.”
His unseen interlocutor laughed. His laugh was deep and guttural. It seemed as if the bars of the cell shook from the sound alone. The prisoner calmed down and moved into the light. He lifted Luca’s chin with a finger and looked him in the face. The whites of his eyes shined in the darkness. He spoke softly.
“What’s your name, little one?”
“Luca Dezisimu. Yours?”
“Terant was what they called me in my homeland. Here I have no name, but that’s another story. How old are you, ten?”
“I’m seventeen.”
“What? Two-horns take me... Seventeen! Incredible. Gods, how polluted is the gene pool in the Empire?”
“Mom says it’s bad to curse,” Luca answered simply, to continue a conversation barely above water. “Mentioning the gods in vain is bad. Mentioning Two-horns...”
“Is bad! I know, boy. But I swear on the perfect genes of the shining Taira, I’ve never seen such an emaciated teenager in all my life! You look weaker than my daughter, and she’s just seven!”
“You have a daughter?”
“Have... Had... It doesn’t matter! How do your legs hold you up, Luca Dezisimu? I can see all your bones!”
“My father said that you have to always stand up, even if your legs are cut off. And I have legs,” the boy answered and collapsed to the floor.
He could withstand hunger for as long as he wanted, but everyone needed to refuel at least sometimes.
When Luca came to, it turned out he was lying on some kind of cot, and there was something soft under his head. His cell mate held the back of his head with his large and meaty hand.
Luca blinked in response, without the strength to even open his mouth.
“Then hold on.”
The whites of Terant’s eyes darkened.
He placed the palm of his free hand on Luca’s forehead. Then he squeezed the boy’s head as if trying to crack it like a nut.
The boy tried to cry out, but not a single sound emerged from his throat. Terant also was silent. Luca tried to escape, but his body wouldn’t listen.
A strong heat came off Terant’s palms in waves. It pulsed, spread into his head and from there throughout his entire body.

External influence detected!
Forced energy supplementation recorded. Transformed for further use: 64%... 66%... 68%...

At eighty percent, Terant fell back and breathed heavily, hoarsely.
A few heartbeats later, Luca also started gasping greedily for air. He thrilled in every breath of the stuffy, moist gloom of the dungeon.
Opening his eyes, the boy wondered at how clearly and brightly he now saw things. He actually felt overwhelmed with strength, lots of strength. He wanted to run, jump, do something. And the sensation of hunger was gone. Completely gone.
Terant lay a few feet away. His skin looked completely black as if absorbing light, but the gleams from the droplets of sweat covering it made the man visible. A similar image appeared in Luca’s head along with the word ‘ke-har’... His father had fought people like Terant in the Arena. Apparently this was a ke-har.
“Yes, boy. Feeling better?”
“I’ve never felt so good in my life! How did you do that?”
“Oh... Let me catch my breath...” Terant sat up and wiped his brow. It seemed to Luca as if the man was thinner. “What do you know about the world, sonny?”
“Um... I didn’t go to school, but I know that we live in the capital of the Empire. Emperor Ma Ju Ro the Fourth rules the land.”
“Hmm... Alright, let’s say that. Do you know who rules the world? Who the racants, khhars and olaks are?
“I don’t know those words...” Luka thought a moment. “Wait, khhar, that’s it! Are you a khhar? My father fought a khhar, and he was like you!”
“And do you know what lies beyond the Empire’s borders?”
“Nothing. Just water, and beyond that is the edge of the world and the great nothing, where the streams of the world ocean cascade down. That’s what nanna taught me.”
“Son, the world is far larger than that. Do you know what percentages are?”
“Parts of a whole. One percent means one part of a whole split into a hundred parts.”
“Within your Empire lives less than one percent of all the people of the world.”
“Horseshit!” Luca burst out. “Everyone knows that the Great Empire spans the entire world!”
“The Great Empire, son, is a reservation,” Terant pronounced a word Luca didn’t know, but still understood. “Listen.”
The kkhor coughed, cleared his throat and raising his forefinger, began to speak.
“The first family was the Ra’Ta’Kant family. I’ll explain genetics to you later, but for now, remember: the First Family had perfect genes. Flawless. The benchmark for the human race. One-hundred percent perfect!”
“They’re ideal?”
“Oh yes, son! They’re ideal. Those that do not quite reach perfection, but strive toward it at all costs — they are the racants. There are very few of them, but they own everything. The racant families rule the entire world, but each has their own part. Each family is responsible to the First Family for its territory. They also divide segments of the economy between them...”
“The economy?” This time Luca understood the word, but had time to ask before the understanding came.
“Remember all the words you don’t understand, I’ll explain them later. There’s more to hear. Most people are olaks. Those are ordinary citizens, specialists in their fields: scientists, lawyers, craftspeople, merchants, servants... They are all united by the imperfection of their genes. They are at least ten percent away from the benchmark.”
“And who are you? A khhar?”
“Yes. Our species was created artificially. The army, combat and security organizations, guards and warriors, athletes and bodyguards — that’s us.”
“Our guards don’t look like you at all.”
“Your guards aren’t khhars. They, you and all the people of the Empire are s’yari.”
“Forgive me, boy. That which I am about to say... it is not my words. I am merely quoting what has been repeated thousands of times.” Terant coughed again and spoke harshly, enunciating every word. “In all the world, you are the genetic pollutants. Outcasts. Pariahs. The recants maintain that all human life is sacred, but they do not allow the s’yari rights to any of the planet’s natural resources or the achievements if modern civilization. To avoid polluting humanity’s gene pool, the only place available to the s’yari is the so-called Empire.”
“Why doesn’t the Empire just attack these racants of yours? Its strength and power...”
“Son, all your strength and power are sticks and stones made out of shit. You have nothing. And you live on an island two thousand miles from the nearest civilization, across a treacherous ocean. You are condemned.”
Luca fell silent for a long time, breaking down the old foundation of his world view and erecting a new one. He believed Terant unconditionally, intuitively, and the intuition he had inherited from Esk was sublime. He had only one question left to ask.
“So how did you get here, Terant?”
“Oh, did I not say? Criminals have no place in the glorious and blessed land of the racants.”

Chapter 8. Prizes of the Wheel

The measured breath of sleep had been emanating from Terant’s cot for a while, but Luca couldn’t sleep. Esk’Onegut’s legacy — the traveler’s knowledge and experience — hid in the dark alleyways of his consciousness and came to the fore only when he needed them, and only in tiny doses. Like with those new words the boy had heard from the khhar.
That was why what Terant had told him had stunned Luca, and he’d been trying for quite some time to imagine a world without hungry and sick people. Self-moving carts, the gleaming skin of the racants of whom the khhar had described in vivid detail. All this seemed far less incredible than the absence of hunger and disease.
“You s’yari live in a cesspool of humanity,” Terant had said. “And all the good things that the powerful and noble people have — it’s all just contraband garbage smuggled in from our trash heaps.”
What a long day! Luca thought. And so much happened! This morning I was a paralyzed cripple dreaming of bread crusts. Then I died, resurrected and started walking! And now I’m in a cage with an alien khhar and I’ve learned more about the world than I ever knew! And in the morning I’m going to be tried for breaking Karim’s collar bone! Amazing!
He didn’t bother worrying about what would happen after the trial. Whatever happened to him from then on, it couldn’t be worse than what he’d been through already.
He tried to fall asleep again, tossing and turning, enjoying every movement of his newly healthy body. He felt a joyous amazement just at the ability to scratch himself by merely stretching out a hand.
The young blood and energy transferred from Terant bubbled within him. Luca stood up and started pacing back and forth in the cell. He’d missed something, but what?
The Wheel!
As soon as he remembered the Wheel, some text appeared before him again and he heard it read out in his own voice in his head.

Luca’Onegut, life one.
Reminiscent. Successor to Esk’Onegut.
Influence level: 0.
Tsoui points: 1.
One-time Wheel spin privilege activated.

Luca froze, reading it again and again. Then he confidently pressed ‘Yes.’
This time, the Wheel looked different: maybe because he was in a dark prison cell, or maybe because it was the first time he’d spun it as a traveler. The huge wheel withb its thousands upon thousands of sectors stretching into the starry sky had disappeared, replaced by a small one about the size of a tray.
It appeared to hover in the air a few feet from the boy, and each of its segments was lit from within. Most of the Wheel was lit in pure lily-white, but there were also narrow multicolored segments. Luca couldn’t see a purple one among them, nor any red or gold segments. It was pure white almost everywhere, with hints of blue melding with the dominant color.
He gained some understanding from Esk’s trove of knowledge: the Wheel’s leveled up with every use, increasing its abilities to change the traveler. At first this saddened Luca, but then he calmed down. At least there were no red sectors! In one of his lives, Esk had gotten an incurable disease. He’d become patient zero of a pandemic that had destroyed a civilization. The infected became extremely aggressive, and could only be killed by destroying their brains, which was quite difficult in a world without ranged weapons. Such as were in Esk’s penultimate life, for example.
Luca looked over his shoulder. Terant continued to sleep, his breath still as sedate as before. In spite of the Wheel’s light, the cell remained dark. The light existed only in the boy’s head. When he realized that, he calmed down, took a deep breath, and set the spin in motion.
The starting green sector was replaced by a series of white, then a flash of pale blue, then it got too fast to tell them apart. The Wheel built up speed.
Not exactly convenient, he thought. I can’t make anything out. If only I could make it bigger...
The Wheel reacted sensitively, and its size multiplied by ten. Now Luca could make out colors other than white in the blur of sectors. Was that a flash of gold?
The boy grew bored as he watched the monotony of melding sectors and heard only the thrum of the Wheel, as if a bumblebee had gotten into the cell and was beating against the walls in search of freedom, but just as it seemed that both the bee and Luca himself would languish together forever in the dark of the cell, the spinning began to slow.
Passing over a range of white sectors, one deep blue sector and a couple of blueish ones — all talents of various power — the indicator stopped.
Luca stared at the thin sector gleaming in gold. He couldn’t believe his eyes. Text appeared in front of his eyes and made him believe, but it was far from what he was expecting.

One-time Wheel spin token used.
Spin result: gold sector.
Luca’Onegut receives the superpower (applied to current body and world of existence): Metamorphosis.

Metamorphosis? Luca Dezisimu had hoped that he’d get a talent for some rare profession, some skill that could help him pay his way in the Empire, but this?
At the same time, Luca’Onegut rubbed his hands in glee. He remembered some kind of association from his earthly life — a piano? A music box? It didn’t matter.
Esk had never managed to get this superpower, but he’d seen it in action. The ability to control all the processes in his body with the power of thought; just like beauty, this was a terrifying power! He’d known one clawed traveler that had covered his skeleton, all his bones, in a rare alloy...

Ability level one.
This ability allows you to control your body on a basic level: temperature, energy expenditure, immune system, metabolic activity, rapid healing, tissue and organ regeneration, sharpened senses.

Impulsively, Luca closed his hand into a fist and struck the stone cell wall. Inwardly recoiling in expectation of the coming pain, he willed his fist to become stronger than stone. Iron was stronger than stone!

Transformation impossible. Not enough iron in body!

The dull thud of the little fist on the stone turned into an agonizing wail, which woke up Terant.

Release - September 9, 2019

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