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.

Release - September 9, 2019

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