Wednesday, November 25, 2020

In the System-2: City of the Undead by Petr Zhgulyov

In the System, Book II

City of the Undead

by Petr Zhgulyov



Pre-order on Amazon -

Release -  April 12, 2021 




Chapter 1. The Trojan Horse



The victory, oddly enough, now put our Alliance at risk. The huge number of wounded bound us hand and foot. We couldn't leave them, as it would be a terrible blow to morale, and we couldn't drag them along with us. Even if yesterday's city folk agreed to carry all those not long for this world on their backs, it would be pointless. Thus weighed down, it would only be a matter of time before the goblins caught up to us. As soon as the flush of victory subsided, everyone else would become aware of the situation. What would they do? It was a rhetorical question.

The choice was simple, really, either we captured the fortress or we had to abandon most of the wounded. We could also finish them off, which was more rational. And that was likely to be the beginning of the end. All that effort spent on uniting players would be wasted in one fell swoop. The Alliance would break up into small bands and disperse, no longer posing any danger to the goblins. What then? Flee further into the city? Hunt the undead? I may have been able to delude myself before, but the encounter with the Bone Horror clearly showed that the undead were much more dangerous than the goblins in some instances.

Capturing the fortress gave us a chance to avoid this depressing scenario and hold out until the end of the time limit set by the System. Of course, a few hundred players couldn't defend the walls, but the divine weapons received by the high priests had one typical feature — the ability to set up a beacon. Although its power wasn't enough to forcibly attract players, future waves would have a choice between landing in a random spot or in a specific area. By installing a beacon in the fortress, we'd be able to receive fresh reinforcements every day, and holding the fortress would no longer be a problem. Of course, the goblin army would come after us, but what could they really do? The goblins were intending to hunt down scattered players, not lay siege to their own fortress. Even if they built a battering ram and scaling ladders, it would take time.

This would also solve the supply issue. The fortress was bound to have a decent store of food, water, and everything else. If it was meant to serve hundreds of goblins for many months, it would be enough for the players to last eight days until the deadline. Naturally, there was the matter of experience, but I could think about that later, if we were successful. As selfish as it sounded, we could definitely last my three remaining days there, and it was too early to look further ahead.

Right now, we were separated from this enticing future by the high walls of the same fortress and the remains of the garrison. Although we had wiped out most of the goblins, some had managed to escape and had likely returned to the stronghold. In addition to the warriors, the fortress was bound to contain low-level servants who might take up arms in this instance. There may be up to a hundred defenders in total, a decent number if we had decided to storm the fort. In the end, we were going to find ourselves in much the same situation as the goblins, if we managed to capture the fortress.

Naturally, no one suggested storming the walls directly, which would be suicide. More political than literal suicide, since the players were likely to just tell us to get stuffed. No, the only chance of success was a ruse de guerre. We needed to do everything quickly, before the players realized the gravity of our situation. Before the goblin army reached the fortress. And most importantly, before the second player wave arrived. In other words, the plan’s key feature was speed, and time was running out.

For this reason, only an 'elite' squad, consisting of several dozen players, had moved out in the direction the fortress. The main force would arrive later.






Just an hour of jogging, sometimes switching to a fast walk, made me to appreciate how sensible it had been to raise my Stamina to ten. A pace that would have exhausted me yesterday now made me feel like I could run like this forever. Until it got dark, at least...

I hence gave up on the idea of learning horse-riding. What was the point if I was my own horse? Instead, I invested the points I had gained into Minor magical ability, increasing it to Level 2 (6/120). It meant +1 to Wisdom, after all. The Skald card looked pretty useless, but it didn't require any points, so I didn't see a reason in discarding it.


Would you like to learn the Skald skill?



I confirmed my choice and was plunged into the rich world of local folklore. I could summarize goblin poetry as simply ‘describe what you see’. As in skaldic poetry, there was no place for make believe, with poems serving as a way to report things the skald had witnessed. The verse content wasn't chosen but was dictated by reality. Artistic meaning was theoretically absent, since it equated to a lie, but... The truth, as always, was in the eye of the beholder. Any event could be described in a way that was favorable to you, and in this regard, the goblins' attempts to denigrate their opponents appeared quite naive.

Out of curiosity, I tried to follow tradition and immediately composed a vísa to reflect my new reality.


Brave warriors heading to the evil goblins’ fortress,

To perform a mighty deed or else prove worthless.

Only the horse is bound to survive,

Unless I kill it myself.


"What a load of garbage," I said with some satisfaction. Hmm... It seemed that I had awakened my inner literary critic rather than a skald. The card hadn't actually bestowed me with poetic talent — perhaps you couldn't awaken something that never existed in the first place? Unless we were talking about corpses and necromancy, of course. Well, back to today's agenda.

"How long before you'd come back to life as a ghoul after you were killed, Chuchuk[1]?"

The horse trotting beside me aimed its teeth in my direction, and I gave the reins a warning tug. Chuchuk had taken an immediate dislike to me and showed it in every possible way, constantly trying to kick, bite or just 'accidentally' bump into me. I returned in kind, smacking him in response, and had even come up with a new name in a fit of inspiration. It was perfect.

"Perhaps my poetic gift isn't so bad after all?"

The horse, unsurprisingly, didn't reply. Despite all the horses we had captured, we still didn't have a cavalry. Some of the players could ride, but the goblin horses simply ignored the usual commands. Without the skills or knowledge, they could only be used as pack animals, or as walking canned food. Some of the animals were calmer, but I had no choice in this instance. Chuchuk carried his master on his back, and I doubted the goblins would believe the upcoming performance if the corpse was to return to the fortress on a different horse. It hadn't been easy to recreate the horse + rider + his possessions ensemble.

Seriously, the Skald skill was useful after all. I now had knowledge not only of the rules of versification, but also of goblin culture, history, customs, mythology, and heaven knows what else. Strangely, it was all very unstructured, fragmented, and required reflection — the complete opposite of basic cards. I had a suspicion that the System had created the card right on the spot, due to the action of the Duelist skill. All this knowledge would be very useful if I was planning to infiltrate the goblin society as a spy.

"We've never seen a black man in these parts!" I chuckled, remembering an old joke about an American secret agent abandoned in the USSR. It wasn't very politically correct by today's standards. Should I tell it to Bill? However, while I could afford to have some fun, most had much lower Stamina, and many were already gasping for air. At least a dozen volunteers had completely fallen behind... Not right now, perhaps.

I looked around me, monitoring the situation as I ran. Even the fragmented knowledge allowed me to see the surrounding ruins in a different light. It wasn’t like I hadn't seen it all before, and yet... The size really blew my mind. Not so long ago by historical standards, the Celestial City of Sar was the capital of a huge and powerful Empire, easily comparable to Rome at its peak. Millions of goblins had lived in the city only a few decades ago. To appreciate the scale of the disaster, one simply had to remember that the army coming for us only had about ten thousand soldiers. The garrison in the sole fortress did not exceed three hundred soldiers. Even though, as pretentious as it sounded, the fate of the world was being decided right here.

I was less concerned with the disaster itself than with a much more practical question. What had happened to the townspeople? The fragments popping up in my head spoke of a "great battle", "rivers of blood", and "mountains of corpses", which was far from encouraging. The streets were generally clear of bones, which suggested that the townspeople had left. While most of the undead had headed to the center of the city. How many Bone Horrors might be lurking there? Could we come across even more dangerous creatures? In contrast, our problems with the goblins might be nothing more than child's play.

How dangerous was the city center? The goblins had repeatedly sent missions to the temple, but they had all returned empty-handed, after suffering heavy losses. More often than not, they didn't come back at all. I suspected that even the natives themselves didn't know what was going on in the seventh circle.

I looked to my right, at the wall. Another question that kept nagging me was why the capital of a powerful Empire needed so many walls. Rome, for example, had built a single wall closer to their fall, and even then, just the one. Sar had seven(!) such circles and, judging by the size and solidity, the goblins took them more than seriously. According to the legends, the gods themselves had had a hand in creating these walls, but only in the sense of laying the first stone and giving the workers their blessing to continue. No one would expend so much effort “just in case”. Even the fact that the city was ultimately stormed didn't provide an answer. It was unlikely that the walls had originally been created against invasions from other worlds.

"We're almost there," Dmitry broke the silence as a gap suddenly appeared in the wall. It wasn't easy for him, either. "Did they use howitzer here or something?"

"Magic, more likely," I said, inspecting the aftermath of an ancient battle. I had to admit, it looked quite... impressive. Almost nothing remained of the gate marked on the map. A section of the wall, several dozen meters long, looked like it had been demolished by a blow from a huge fist, seemingly coming from inside the city. The stone blocks had flown hundreds of meters into the air, leaving massive holes in the surrounding house walls or demolishing them completely. There wasn’t a single undamaged house nearby.

"We better hurry. The sun is already high," Michigan said and glanced up, as if he didn't have a System timer.

"It's too late to hurry," I shook my head. "There are ten minutes to go. We're not going to make it."

"We will," Michigan disagreed. "Quel promised to hold back the next wave of players a little. But his power is limited, so we have about an hour."

I said nothing, but took note of both the negotiations and the fact that the gods could interfere in the System. Shift the deadline, at least... another headache, given their ‘friendly’ attitude to me. It left me wondering whether the deceased Jack had shared information about me with his patron. I certainly hoped not.

"We shall wait here. We cannot go any further as we may be spotted by the goblins," Qin Long said, showing no signs of fatigue. "If you do not return in half an hour, we will assume that you have successfully gotten inside and will take up position to attack. We will launch an attack as soon as you open the gates. If the gates do not open in two hours, we will assume you are dead and proceed with the backup plan."

There won't even be anyone to blame. We had discussed numerous ideas during the brainstorming session, but none of them could guarantee success. So, it fell to me to choose the 'suicide' option, as one who would be directly involved. Now, it remained to be seen whether the many hours we'd spent playing computer games would pay off. Where else could I have gotten the idea of infiltrating guarded facilities? Pity you couldn't press Save in the real world. You couldn't, right? System?


Error 404 (51%)! Ability not found. Please check the Server connection and try again.



I took the horse's reins again and slipped into Invisibility. I was essentially alone from this moment on. The Swordsman was moving somewhere nearby, but we couldn't see each other anymore. I certainly couldn't spot any traces of him, no matter how hard I tried. His ability wasn't the classic invisibility, but rather a way to divert attention, which worked even better in this situation.

Although it was said that the fortress protected the gaps in the wall, it was located slightly to the side, so we had to walk for about ten minutes. However, there was no chance of getting lost. Clouds of smoke rose above the keep, and the wind carried the specific smells of manure, food, smoke, and the goblins themselves... Unlike the dead city, the fortress still held the spark of life.

Hard to say what the function of the fortress would have been in the center of the city. A shelter? A monastery? A storage facility? Or simply a prison? In any case, the attackers hadn't been very interested in it, so the fortress had sustained little damage. The goblins had later used this to their advantage, occupying the convenient defense post.

The fortress had a classic rectangular shape and looked quite impressive, with high stone walls, four flat-roofed towers at each corner with ballistae, a gate tower, a wide moat and iron-bound gates. The fortifications looked very promising, so that we had a real chance of holding it, no matter how many goblins gathered beneath the walls.

The goblins hadn't destroyed the bridge, likely because they hadn't believed a siege was possible and to avoid the hassle of rebuilding it later. It may seem silly, but it was worth remembering that their army would be approaching in a few hours. What could a few hundred players do against the fortress walls? They had clearly underestimated us, and this increased our chances. Or did I just need to believe that?

The mana crystal in my palm crumbled to dust, which I then poured into a pouch. The paved road allowed me to move without leaving any tracks, and the sound of my footsteps was muffled by the rags I had wrapped around my boots. Nevertheless, I had already developed a peculiar habit to watch every step I took: don't land in the mud, don't trample the flower poking out between the stones, don't kick any pebbles... There were goblins on the battlements, and I was assuming they had perfect eyesight and already knew about invisibility. This was the weak point in our plan. One of many, frankly.

The gates grew closer and closer. A familiar chill ran down my spine. Why was I here? I'd never been one for mindless heroism, so why had I taken such a risk in the first place? My presence, by and large, wasn't mandatory, since one 'saboteur' would have been enough according to our plan. No one knew that I had a second beacon.

Was it for selfish reasons? That was just an excuse. Of course, I was counting on getting experience and loot, but none of the possible bonuses justified the considerable risk of losing my own life. I wasn't that greedy. I thought it was more about responsibility. Too much depended on the outcome of our plan. If we failed to capture the fortress, most of the players would die. Why did I care about a few thousand strangers? If I stuck to logic and pragmatism, their survival had to concern me only in relation to my own survival, nothing more. And yet, here I was. It was too late to back out, the die had been cast.

The goblins noticed the approaching horse almost immediately. A trumpet sounded, raising the alarm. The horse whinnied in response, and I let go of the reins, allowing it to move ahead on its own. No longer needing to be prodded, the animal trotted briskly toward the familiar gate. The horse's arrival should not arouse any suspicion, for there were many cases when horses had found their way home after losing their rider. So what if one managed to escape from the battlefield? Especially when a bloodied goblin lay on its back, clutching the reins.

"Hey, are you okay?" a sentry shouted, peering over the wall. "Identify yourself!"

The corpse in the saddle didn't answer but swayed and fell off the horse. It rolled down into the moat, just as silently. I automatically squeezed my eyes shut, waiting for the thud. Carefully, trying not to leave any footprints, I walked to the edge of the bridge. There were no stakes or water inside. A simple pit, but it was six meters deep, so if the rider hadn't been dead already...

"Friend?" the lookout repeated uncertainly. "Are you alive down there?"

The goblin didn't seem to believe it himself. However, to our mutual surprise, the corpse moved and then tried to get up. The System helpfully confirmed my suspicions.


Undead. Level 5.


Great. Our carefully laid plan was going to hell. What would we have done if the goblin had risen a little earlier and one half of the bait had eaten the other? Even I, considering the creature's level, could have suffered the same fate.

Perhaps it was better this way. Now, all I could do was wait and hope our plan worked. After all, if there was a method that would force the goblins to open the gates, I didn't know it. We had thought of using prisoners to get in, say, by sending them back with a message, but even if we hadn't been so quick to execute everyone, I doubted the goblins would open the gate. They’d drop down a rope instead.

Which is exactly what they did, lowering three goblins into the moat at once. Judging by their level, these were the surviving riders, with two Level 5’s and one Level 6.

I looked thoughtfully at the ropes dangling a meter from the bridge. I could jump, but it was too risky. Foolish to hope that the goblins wouldn't notice a rope twitching for no reason. All I could do was pour the dust from the current crystal into the pouch, and clutch the next one in my fist. To stand, watch, wait, and hope.

The undead was instantly interested in its former kin, but it moved rather hesitantly and the goblins easily dispatched it. Picking up the spears that had also been dropped into the moat, two of them held the undead back, while the third deftly came from the side and cut off its head, thus reaching the seventh level. Fucking MacLeod. There was almost no blood, and I didn't even flinch. Perhaps I was getting used to scenes like this?

The corpse was then trussed up and raised to the battlements. MacLeod was the last one to leave and took the head with him. Even if they examined the body, we had returned everything that had belonged to the goblin in life, to allay suspicion. I even left the dead goblin his chain mail. Its jangling would have given away my position anyway. Plus, the single arrow wound fit the 'bled to death' scenario. Hmm, we hadn’t removed the crystal from him, either. Was that why he had come back to life so quickly? Later. I'd consider it all later.

Now I had to wait and find out what the goblins would do with the horse. They were unlikely to try lifting an animal weighing half a ton using ropes. And unlikely that they'd decide to kill it, since a war horse cost quite a lot of money. They were bound to know of my existence, but not much time had passed, so it was logical for them to assume that the players were still some distance away. The goblins had no reason to fear us.

Come on... I found myself saying a strange prayer, asking the gods for luck. It was in the goblin language. Hell, was it just me, or did I just ask the Great Y for help?

There was a creaking sound. Whether thanks to our plan, the goblins' greed, my prayers, or something else, but they opened the gate. Mistake. Big mistake.






One goblin passed through the gates, took the horse's reins and walked slowly back. I followed, keeping to the left. Fortunately, the Swordsman and I’d had the foresight to divide the sectors beforehand, to avoid crossing paths. It would have been incredibly stupid to ruin the entire plan by crashing into another invisible person.

The gates consisted of two massive doors, kept closed by a thick, iron-clad crossbar. No mechanisms. The gates closed again as soon as the 'groom' led the horse through, and three goblins quickly put the heavy bar back in place. I pressed my back against the wall so that I wouldn't run into anyone, and looked up at the steel teeth of the raised portcullis. Lower it, and some kind of oil would pour out of those holes. The goblins hadn't really come up with anything new.

I stopped abruptly, noticing that the stones in front of the entrance were heavily covered in sand. Two dozen goblins with shields and spears stood in a semicircle in front of the gates, and a dozen archers stood behind them. An accident? I didn't think so. The portcullis lowered slowly behind me. I activated Calculating Mind, and my emotions receded along with the growing panic. I had done the right thing so far by staying still. Getting jumpy was irrational.

"What is the meaning of this?" The groom took a step back, voicing my nagging question. Several spears pierced the air around the goblin at once. The horse neighed, also looking disapprovingly at the flashing spearheads.

"Just a check, Shir," MacLeod snorted. "There was an invisible man among the humans, so one can't be too careful. Pass through the formation and don't be afraid, they won't touch you. But if someone sneaked into the fortress, they will get a spear in their side."

Thanks to my active skill, I felt no fear and calmly considered my options. The goblins had already lost by letting us into the fortress. Even if the Swordsman placed the beacon right here, instead of closer to the center, most of the players would appear inside the fortress. All I needed to do was survive until this joyful moment. Should I rush forward, break through the formation, and escape using my Invisibility? Or give myself up, thus drawing their attention away from my partner?

"Whatever you say, Rud," the Level 6 groom grunted. "They say caution is a good quality in a leader… or was it bravery?"

"Then show me how brave you are, Shir," MacLeod snarled. It seemed these two really disliked each other. "You don't really think I'm going to kill you, do you?"

Shir walked silently through the line of spearmen. The spears pierced the air right beside him, but the goblin didn't even flinch as he stared at his enemy. I was thinking that he would pass successfully when the next blow shifted slightly and struck him in the side. It was followed by another, and another. Different goblins joined in, but they didn't seem to be trying to kill him.

"Enough! I let you out of the fortress." MacLeod lifted his sword. "If you were smarter, you’d have taken the chance to escape. Get him up!"

"You're a trai..." the dying man didn't have time to finish. His head rolled across the stones, rewarding the murderer with a new dose of experience points. What a sweet habit. There can only be one, right?

I took advantage of the fact that most of the goblins were focused on the conflict, and carefully passed through the formation, trying not to leave any traces. It was surprisingly easy, but it had also become obvious that nobody here believed in the ‘invisible human’. This was a banal power struggle and a reason to eliminate a competitor. Nothing new in that.

All that remained was to intimidate any possible supporters of the loser. Three goblins backed up to the bars, weapons raised and looking around with haunted eyes. I wondered if their lives would be enough to elevate MacLeod to Level 8. I doubted it.

"You three bastards!" MacLeod snarled, pointing his bloody sword at them. "I clearly told you not to open the gate! Was that so hard to understand? You were willing to endanger us all over some lousy horse."

"But nothing happened!" one of them said, dropping his head. Idiot.

"You disobeyed my orders! There may be an enemy lurking among you. How can you be sure that this is not the case?"


"On your knees!" MacLeod snarled, and the goblins obeyed after a moment's hesitation. "Listen to me. I reached the seventh level today! As the most senior one here, I, Rud, declare myself the new chief of this fortress. Spearmen! Close formation. Archers! Check that no one invisible is hiding there."

Apparently, the usurper had decided to let the show run to the end. The three goblins prostrated themselves, and the semicircle, which had seemed so unreliable, closed again, bristling with spears. Arrows flew through the air, hitting the portcullis or landing further by the gate. Even if I stayed where I was, their chances of hitting me were slim. There was a chance, however.

"Well?" the newly appointed fortress commandant asked lazily. He didn't seem inclined to finish off the supporters of his defeated competitor. "Is there anyone?"

"I can't see any tracks," one of the archers reported. "Looks like no one got through."

A horn sounded in that moment and alarmed shouts came from the wall. It wasn't hard to guess what had happened. The goblins had finally noticed the players' approach.

"The check is over. Everyone, head to the battlements! The humans must see that the fortress is well defended." Macleod growled. "You three, off you go! Enough lying around. Get your crossbows ready! Let the servants also put on helmets and take up weapons. Light the signal fires. I'm sure the Prince isn’t far away. He needs to know that his prey is close."

A minute later, not a single goblin remained by the gate. Was that it? Was it so simple?

Chapter 2. Storming the Fortress.



We had asked about the layout of the fortress during the prisoner interrogations, so I had a rough idea of what I would find. The courtyard was quite large, and the ruins of a magic tower lay in the center, with only three floors remaining until this day. Something clicked and I 'remembered' the role of such towers in the city's defense system — they protected the surrounding area from shifts in space. It seemed that I had been mistaken in thinking that this fortress had escaped an assault. Rather, the attackers had destroyed the tower in passing, demolishing anything that protruded above the walls. Luckily for us, it had been out of action long before we had arrived, and was being used as a temporary warehouse. It was where the goblins stockpiled the loot they had brought back from the raids.

To the left and right of the gates, adjacent to the walls, stood three-story outbuildings, and a four-story building rose directly opposite me, which could be considered the keep. It was a bit of a stretch, since the buildings abutted each other. Although the goblins had sealed the passageways and raised the entrance to the first floor, this could only protect them from the mindless undead.

With one last look at the courtyard, I turned and headed for the stairs leading to the battlements. Left. If Quel had kept his word, the attack would begin any minute now.

I went up the stairs, trying not to make any noise or run into the goblins crowding on top of the wall. Fortunately, it was wide enough for even three warriors to walk abreast, so I had room to maneuver. I could see the approaching players in the distance. Although the main force was still dragging its feet further back, the assault squad was already in place.


Attention! The Quetzalcoatl beacon is operating in this area!

Attention (Intuition)! Quetzalcoatl is looking at you!


It was time. I took a sip from the flask. Quel hadn’t let us down, and I saw what a player's arrival looked like for the first time. First, the air rippled faintly, revealing the portal’s square shape, then the first player jumped out and looked around uncertainly. I squinted, but he had appeared quite far away, so the System could only provide the bare minimum of information.


Player. Level 1.


A newb who didn't even know where he was. Potential corpse. Most of the goblins were looking in the opposite direction, but it was only a matter of time before they noticed him.

Dozens more portals appeared immediately after the first one, but nevertheless, the passage clearly wasn't simultaneous. It looked like Quel had somehow shifted the timers, but had forgotten to sync them. Perhaps he couldn't. In any case, this meant additional losses. Most of the newcomers looked around in bewilderment, with no idea what was happening.


Attention! Your stats are temporarily increased! Stamina +0.6. Perception +1.1. Remaining: 17 minutes.


Damn. It was completely different this time, and although the effect was much smaller, my Stamina now exceeded 10. However, I didn't receive any bonuses and the stats number didn't change.

The goblins began shouting when they spotted the outsiders, taken aback by the sudden appearance of enemies in their midst. The number of arrivals kept increasing. The horn, which had fallen silent, sounded again, but the battle had not yet begun. It was the last few seconds, the calm before the storm.

I crept up to a goblin I'd selected and clamped my hand over his mouth, stabbing him in the neck with my dagger. The field of Invisibility expanded, enveloping my victim and hiding us from prying eyes. The goblin jerked, his teeth sinking into my palm, but it was the spasms of a dying man.


Attention! You have received 12 SP! (18/120)


The Calculating Mind dampened the pleasure I felt. As soon as a semitransparent card appeared in the air, I stepped aside and gave the corpse a slight push, allowing it to fall into the moat. As expected, no one noticed anything. I blew on my bitten hand and waved it in the air, assessing the effect of the skill. The pain was there, but I perceived it at arm's length, simply as a fact.

I looked at the logs. Only twelve SP. According to my calculations, a Level 5 goblin should have been worth twelve and a half points, but the System seemed to be rounding down. I hadn't been lucky with the card, either, for despite the goblin's top level, I had received a dummy.

Meanwhile, the players kept coming. At different heights, inside the fortress and beyond. A portal appeared in the air right beside me, but the girl who stepped out lost her balance, and flew screaming from the wall into the moat. I instinctively tried to grab her but gravity was faster, and my fingers scrabbled at empty air.


A second and then a third 'swallow' followed the first. The goblins had mostly gathered on the battlements, and the players who were unlucky enough to appear here met a quick death. Several luckier ones appeared on the opposite wall and were fighting a similar number of goblin sentries.

After another minute, the players stopped appearing on the walls. Either Quel had recalibrated the location or the beacon had somehow stabilized itself so that new portals now appeared quite close together, with reinforcements landing directly in the fortress courtyard, at ground level. Most of them were in no hurry to go into battle, though.

"What are you waiting for?" the Swordsman's cry came from somewhere. "Fight! Kill the goblins and open the gates. This is your chance! Quel?!"


Attention! You have received the divine task 'Capture the Fortress'!


Main conditions:

Kill, banish or capture all the goblins in the fortress.

— Protect the High Priest of Quetzalcoatl. Bill Michigan must survive.

Additional conditions:

Open the gates and let in the reinforcements.


Players will gain a temporary base.

Penalty for failure:

Quetzalcoatl's Displeasure.

— Your chances of survival will plummet.


I waved the message away, noting that there wasn't really a reward for the quest. Quetzalcoatl seemed to be a very practical fellow. However, it was exactly what we needed right now. Instructions for the new arrivals.

"Block the stairs! Arche..." MacLeod's shout was abruptly cut off. A severed goblin head fell into the courtyard. It was quite ironic, really.






The battle was gradually heating up. Goblins with bows began to shoot at the players below. The players covered themselves with shields or used the abilities they'd received from the System. Some of the goblins blocked the stairs, but they weren't many of them, and their number was gradually decreasing thanks to my arrows. I used normal arrows since I wouldn’t receive any experience points for these goblins, and I was almost out of System arrows, despite trying to collect them after the battle.

"Hide behind me!" A veteran shouted from behind a huge energy shield. Not a bad ability. I wondered how long it would last.

"Let's go!" Someone else said. "There are more of us than them."

Although many players were madly darting around the courtyard, trying to hide from the goblin arrows, a large portion of the veterans headed for the stairs. I also noticed that most of them were carrying shields taken from the goblins in the previous battle. More evidence that killing the leader had gone unpunished for the Swordsman, since only he could pass the shields to the newcomers. Was everything going according to plan?

A dozen players lay on the rocks below, killed in the first few minutes of battle, but most of the others had quickly found cover, the gatehouse arch being an obvious choice.

The gates finally opened, and the wailing of the horn sounded from beyond the walls, confirming the beginning of the assault. Too early... As long as the tower itself held, the goblins could lower the portcullis at any time. I suspected that they wanted to lure as many players as possible under the arch, so that they could cut them off from the rest. How much time would it take to break down this grating? Especially if the goblins had some oil. The defending ranks grew thinner, the arrows were running out, and we had no way of replenishing supplies.

However, all these tricks could only delay the inevitable, for the outcome of the battle was clear. Nevertheless, not all goblins were willing to accept their deaths. Some tried to hide in the buildings, and some tried to climb down the wall. The open gates didn't go unnoticed either. Two riders flew out of the stables and tried to race past the players, whipping their horses into a frenzy. One even managed it, by some miracle. Bursting through the crowd of players in the archway and racing over the bridge, the fugitive then turned sharply to the left and away from the approaching crowd of players. Cthulh hurled a fireball at him, but it missed and splashed over the rocks.

I raised my bow to stop the rider, but then sent an arrow into the thigh of a goblin protecting the stairs. It seemed more rational to me. The fugitive was far away, and the likelihood of success was low. A faint flash of satisfaction broke through the Calculating Mind. I seemed to be getting better at controlling the skill. Rational, irrational — it all depended on one’s point of view. Deep down, I was inclined to wish the rider good luck. Figuring out what was happening and grabbing the tiny chance of survival deserved my respect. Plus, shouldn't there be a place for miracles in life?

These thoughts didn't stop me from firing two more arrows, although only one hit the target. The goblins had long since realized that someone was shooting at them, and were covering themselves with their shields. However, this made it easier for the assaulting force to do their job.


I heard a clang I'd been expecting as the goblins lowered the grate. The wave of players who had almost reached the walls howled in frustration... No matter. The defenders fought fiercely, but they couldn’t change the outcome. Their archers had finally run out of arrows and become infantry, whom the players dominated confidently. Our people soon captured a stairway and ascended the wall, cutting off some of the goblins from the tower.

The defenders launched a counter-attack in a desperate attempt to break through to their kin, but one goblin dropped his weapon and ran along the battlement in a panic, straight at me. I automatically stepped aside and stuck out my foot to trip him. After tumbling along the top of the wall, the goblin managed to stay on it, then leapt up and kept running, almost without slowing down.

I had already exchanged my bow for a spear, and at the sound of footsteps, I turned to meet the next coward with a strike to the chest. The invisible spear meant the goblin didn't have a chance.


Attention! You have received 2 SP! (20/120)


I suppose I should have felt ashamed. The body swayed and fell, almost dragging me down with it as the spear had gone in too deep. By the time I had freed my weapon, the first goblin had jumped onto the roof of an adjacent building, reached the stairs and disappeared inside. Lucky bastard. He would die a little later.

I looked around, trying to figure out where I'd be most useful. The goblins didn't need to protect other sections of the wall thanks to the moat, so almost all the defenders had gathered at the gate tower. Only the corner towers with the ballistae had a few goblins still scurrying about. They weren't a danger to the players inside the fortress, but could be to our reinforcements. The goblins would target the approaching crowd, and a meter-long arrow could reap a rich harvest.

My next target was thus the nearest corner tower. The ballista had already been loaded, but there were only two goblins. I could swear there had been more before, but perhaps some had already deserted. The first levels? Perhaps capturing them would be more sensible.

"Surrender!" I proclaimed, appearing out of thin air. Low-level goblins, once considered worthy opponents, were no longer a cause for concern.

Unfortunately, the goblins didn't appreciate my 'generosity' and charged at me, shrieking. It wasn't the smartest decision of their lives, considering they only had long knives as weapons.

I impaled the first goblin on my spear, and simply kicked the second one, hoping to obtain а handy source of information. Unfortunately, the blow was too strong, and the goblin flew off into the moat.

"Damn reflexes," I muttered, meeting the gaze of the goblin at my feet. The spear had gone deep into his stomach. "Doesn't look like I’ll be capturing you, either."


Attention! You have gained 2 SP! (22/120)


How... irrational. Two more experience points meant almost nothing to me, but could have ensured a way home for one of my allies. It was one of the reasons I'd wanted to take the goblins alive, in addition to getting them to talk. Putting my foot on the corpse, I pulled out the spear and glanced at the corpse indifferently. The wound was serious, but it shouldn't have led to such a quick death. I wondered if the System weapon somehow sucked up life, making any serious wound fatal.


Attention! The Calculating Mind skill has been terminated!


Why? I found the answer almost immediately — my mana bar had dropped to zero. I pulled out a new crystal, while trying to decide what to do next. There wasn't much time left before the fortress finally fell and players scattered in search of loot. I had to get there first.

It's just that... I leaned on my spear, overwhelmed by a sense of fatigue. The tense night, the fight with the Bone Horror, the flight, the battle, another flight and another battle, it all came together at once. Well, I did have something suitable for this occasion.


Activate Second Wind?



I confirmed activation and the world brightened once more as my body was filled with energy, the fatigue dissipating. It was hard to believe that I'd been seriously considering giving up my loot to rest. According to the agreement, everything taken before the fortress fell would be mine. Who knew if I'd get another chance if I missed this one? I could only hope that they'd manage without me.

I didn't go back to the stairs where the battle was still raging, instead choosing an alternative path. Reaching the edge of the wall, I jumped onto the roof of the building below.






The slightly sloping roof was used to collect rainwater, as was often the case in this city.  The design was simple: the water flowed down the roof into the gutters, along them into a special opening, then down the pipes and into tanks located somewhere in the basement. It was possible to drink such water, especially if it had been boiled first. It meant we wouldn't die of thirst here.

Once at the stairs, I activated Invisibility again and carefully descended the steps. Right... The third floor. I didn't have a detailed map of the fortress, so I needed to capture a prisoner to avoid wandering mindlessly through the buildings.

What did I want to find, exactly? The dead shaman had given me the idea that by choosing Magical ability, I had not only unlocked the Wisdom parameter, but also obtained those same abilities. Perhaps I could develop them further with regular training, in addition to the System’s input. Even if it required a lot of time and perseverance, the results would be much more stable in the future. The local mages had to pass the knowledge on to their students somehow. Quite possibly using books kept somewhere in this fortress and which would be nice for me to get my hands on...

I cautiously pushed open a door on my left and found myself in a dark, half-empty hall. A training hall, judging by the wooden and blunt weapons hanging on the walls and simply piled up on the floor, but clearly not often used for its intended purpose. The tables looked like they had seen more use, and I even noticed a rat rummaging through the leftovers on one. Or a creature that very much like a rat. The animal pricked up its ears and looked around, but soon relaxed when it couldn't see anyone. I didn't bother it or linger in the room. There wasn't anything here worth stealing.

To the right of the stairs was a long corridor, with doors on either side. The wall sconces weren't lit, so the passage was poorly illuminated by a few rays of sun that had somehow found their way in, perhaps through a system of mirrors.

I didn't like this corridor. It was too narrow for a spear, so I switched to my sword. I was less skilled with a blade, but it was more suitable to a confined space, and my Invisibility made up for the other disadvantages.

After walking a little further, I stopped. A player's corpse lay just ahead of me, in a small pool of blood. Likely someone who’d been unlucky enough to appear in the first few minutes, when the portals were opening at random. A newcomer who’d suddenly found himself beside some goblins wouldn’t have stood a chance. The question was, where did the killer go?

I crouched down and closed the dead person's eyes. I couldn't see any wounds, but there was no point in searching for a pulse — the System was a reliable indicator. The goblins hadn't stripped the dead man, but they had taken his bag and the cards, so there was no loot to be had. The thought that I was evaluating a recently living person in terms of spoils to be had made me feel almost ashamed. I looked at the body again, trying to guess where he might have come from. He was olive-skinned and dark-haired. Hell, I had no idea! A quarter of the world's population could fit this description.

I gave the nearest door a little push and cautiously stepped inside. It was a small cell with a bed, table, chair, wardrobe and chest. A narrow arrow loop was cut into the thick wall. It was very modest, yet, as far as I knew, common soldiers lived in the barracks, so this room belonged to someone higher up. One of the riders, perhaps? The trunk was locked, and I wasn't interested enough in personal belongings to waste my time.

I stepped back into the corridor, closing the door carefully behind me. The neighboring rooms looked very similar. It didn't seem like I'd find anything interesting on this floor. Time was running out. Should I go downstairs or check the remaining rooms? I strained my ears, trying to hear anything...

No, it was pointless. The shaman was unlikely to live here; the keep seemed like a better option. I needed to descend to the ground floor, go out into the courtyard and then play it by ear. There might be a goblin lurking in one of these cells, but checking them all was a waste of time. Although... who said I had to go in there myself?

"Is anyone here?" I shouted in the goblin language. "The fortress has almost fallen! All survivors are ordered to retreat through the secret passage. I don't have time to wait!"

"I'm here!" One of the doors opened and a goblin jumped out. "Do we really have a secret passage? Hey, where are you? Don't leave me!"

Seeing no one in the corridor, the goblin ran for the stairs. This time, I didn't repeat the mistake of ordering him to give up, but simply slammed his body into the wall. I ripped off the dagger scabbard hanging from his belt and finally reappeared, giving my prisoner a chance to assess the depth of his problems. I also noted that the goblin didn't have a bag, so the human in the corridor was probably killed by someone else. Or he'd had time to hide the spoils.

"Where are your sorcerer's chambers? Answer me!" I snarled, shaking the prisoner and slamming him back into the wall. I kept one arm free. The goblin was terribly scrawny, and there were tears in his eyes. The perfect target for an interrogation.






"Help!" the little brat yelled. "The enemy is here! Help, everyone!"

I grimaced, not even trying to shut him up. I doubted someone would come running to his aid. Under the circumstances, anyone willing to fight had gone to the gate long ago, so that only cowards would be hiding here. Or those too small to fight, since, admittedly, the goblin didn't seem like a coward. Just an idiot.

"That's not what I asked you. How do I get to the library?"

"Help!" The goblin shouted again, and sniffled when he realized that no one was coming. Was he really crying? "Come on! Where is everyone? Leon!"

The prisoner was no longer sniffling but openly sobbing, breaking the 'rules of the game'. I considered his size again. Perhaps it wasn't a matter of build but rather of age. Damn it. I'd never killed a child before, and I wasn’t going to start now. Although I doubted the other players would be so squeamish. I took out a new crystal and cast Identification.


Nameless Goblin*


Status: System creature.

Gender: female.

Type: Bronze.

Creature's Rank: F-.

Level: 1.

Threat: very low.

Emotions: strong fear, hopelessness.


Dexterity: 5.

Strength: 3.

Intelligence: 4.

Vitality: 5.

Stamina: 4.

Perception: 5.

Luck: 7.

Additional Parameter:

Wisdom: 2.


*You can give the creature a name. This requires 10 SP, 150 mana units, and the creature's voluntary consent.


Great, a woman. A girl, even more likely. I felt like a villain again. What do I do? Do I leave her here and search for another prisoner? A goblin I wouldn't feel so bad about killing later? That would be stupid.

"No one came, as you can see," I spoke. "Where are your... shaman's chambers?"

"I w-w-won't tell you," the goblin muttered, gritting her teeth and closing her eyes. If not for the lack of time, I would even consider this amusing. But I didn't have time to play interrogator. The fight was coming to an end, and I would soon have a lot of competition.

"How about a deal?" I tried a different approach. "If you help me, I'll try to keep you alive. I can't guarantee it, but I'll try."

"I don't believe you. All humans are cowards and liars!"

"What a controversial statement. Do you want to see if it's true?" I put my sword to her neck. "I need to find the shaman's room. If you refuse, you will die right here, and I will go and find another guide. Do you think I am lying again?"


"I'm counting to five. One, two, three, four," I didn't even think to slow down. "Fi..."

"No! I-I agree," the goblin girl stammered out and started sobbing again.

Although I had already killed dozens of her kin, I felt strangely and irrationally guilty. What the hell? I wasn't even planning to kill her. If the girl had refused again, I would have just cursed and left. The experience I’d get for a first-level mob wasn't worth the deals I’d have to make with my own conscience. Of course, someone else would have killed her soon after, but I wouldn't have witnessed it. Stupid, but my conscience was a very illogical beast.






As expected, the shaman's quarters were located in the keep. To get there, we had to go down to the ground floor, cross the courtyard and ascend the high porch. The goblins knew about the basic principles of fortification, and the entrance was on the first floor. However, the staircase had grown larger over the years, while the narrow, iron-clad doors remained open. It seemed that none of the goblins had been able to make use of their last chance.

All this time, I moved in Invisibility mode, appearing only a couple of times when players showed an interest in my guide. As I had suspected, I wasn't the only one intent on pillaging, but my level easily convinced any competitors not to stick their noses into my business.

The shaman's chambers were on the fourth floor, together with the incantation hall and access to the roof, where the deceased had occasionally conducted some rituals. I was glad that I found what I was looking for — a shelf full of books — almost immediately.

"Sit here and don't move."

I pushed the goblin girl a little further into the room so I didn't get attacked from behind, and went to the shelf. Had all my efforts been rewarded? I opened the first book I came across and stared at the illustration in surprise. What the hell? I turned the page and realized that my eyes weren’t deceiving me. The most battered book, with a richly decorated cover and a poetic title, turned out to be a local version of the Kama Sutra. Well, I doubted the goblins had discovered anything new in this area.

"Right here?" my captive asked softly.

"What ‘right here’?"  I asked, tracking her movements out of the corner of my eye. The next book turned out to be a poetry collection, but the third one was related to magic.

"My beauty is well-known," she said. "I-I know why you spared me!"

The young goblin looked away in embarrassment, grabbed her shirt, and pulled it over her head. She was probably blushing, but it was imperceptible given the color of her skin. I sighed heavily, giving her a skeptical look. Well... The System wasn't wrong — the goblin was a girl. She was quite young, so her secondary sexual characteristics could be easily missed under clothing, but now I could see her breasts. Although relatively small, they couldn’t belong to a man, not with that build.

"And then what?" I queried, opening a new book. A herbal, it seemed.

"I know what warriors do to the women on the losing side," the goblin let out a small sob. "Let us go to my father's bed, I won't resist."

I froze, digesting what I'd just heard. Great, just great. So, the late shaman was her father? The girl lay down on the bed and arched her back. I guessed it was supposed to look tempting, but I felt amused instead. Or sad? Any goblin, regardless of age or gender, who found themselves surrounded by so many players, was almost certainly doomed to be turned into experience points. I doubted that I could change that. "I'm not buying it," I said. "What have you got there? A dagger under the pillow?"

The girl shook her head fearfully, wrapping herself in the blanket. She didn't remove the pillows, though.

"Put your clothes back on. I'm not interested in goblins," I sighed, and began shoveling all the books into my bag. I'd sort out the loot later.

A horn sounded somewhere below, proclaiming that the main force had finally broken into the fortress. Now all we had to do was clear the fortress of any remaining goblins. We'd won. I wasn't the only one who seemed to think so.


Attention! You have completed the divine task 'Capture the Fortress'!

Attention! The area around the beacon is now under the patronage of Quetzalcoatl!

Attention! You are in a conditional safe zone!


I studied the logs for a bit, assessing what had happened, then chuckled. Not only had Quel not given the players any rewards, he had also staked out this territory. Strong move. The 'conditional safe zone' forbade the killing of other players, threatening the violator with the 'wrath of god' and, at first glance, simply duplicated the functions of the System. However, the fact that the god could contact his High Priest and point out the violator, changed everything... In addition, thousands of newbs would soon be crowding into the fortress, and it wasn't hard to predict whom they’d choose as their patron.

I shook my head, returning to my current problem. I had to grab what I could, then find a place to house my squad. But before that, I had to deal with the goblin girl.






"My name is Vasily, how about you?" I began, sitting down on the bed.

"Re... Rebecca," she looked away. She seemed terribly embarrassed of the spectacle she'd made just before.

"Wow, a whole seven letters?" I asked, impressed. Given how careful goblins were about the length of names, it couldn't be local. Was it an Earthen name?

"I," Rebecca blushed again. "That's what one of the players called me. My actual name is Re, but a third letter was to be added to my name very soon!"

Right. In other words, she was still considered a child, even by goblin standards.

"Tell me, do you know anything about magic?"

Although Wisdom was a racial parameter for goblins, most had a value around one, and they lacked magic. The girl had a two in Wisdom, which meant there was a chance that her father had passed on some of his knowledge and skills to her. The goblin girl looked away again, showing no desire to answer. This alone spoke volumes. What is this, kindergarten?

"All right, Reb," I flattered her by adding a third letter to her name. "Let's speak honestly. Do you want to live?"

"Yes. You won't kill me, will you?" She cried harder this time, tears running down her cheeks. Again. I'd never been good with children. "Please!"

 I shook my head. "I won't. We agreed, remember? I promised to protect you, but for that, you need to help me. Work with me. If you do everything right, I’ll let you return to your kin in seven days. So, do you know anything about magic?"

In that moment, I felt like a detective from a crappy TV series, telling a prisoner about the benefits of cooperation. But it worked, and the goblin nodded uncertainly.

"My father taught me. I know the basic rituals, though I've never performed them myself. I can charge simple amulets. I know about herbs and how to dry them correctly."

"Not bad," I said. "Can you use magic to harm a person in any way?"

"I doubt it. Probably not. Our people have few strong shamans left, and I was only a disciple."

Even if she was lying, it wasn't excessive. A chill ran down my spine. I had remained careful all this time, yet I had only considered her danger in terms of physical strength. I was completely oblivious to the fact that goblins also knew magic. Would I have been able to dodge a lightning bolt? Damn it. My noble gesture could have cost me dearly... On the other hand, I couldn't suspect every goblin I met of being a shaman. "Why did you try to seduce me? Were you hoping that it would protect you?"

"Yes." The averted gaze again. She was lying. I didn't even need Intuition to know this.

"I thought we had a deal?"

"There are many warriors and few women in the fortress," she admitted with downcast eyes. "My father put a spell on me that would strip the rapist of his manhood."

"Wouldn't that make him angry?"

"It would. But if I died, the curse would kill the rapist. While I lived, it would eventually dissipate... Eventually."


"Yes," she nodded. "My father said it would take at least five years, but no more than ten."

I snorted, appreciating the cunning plan, compared to which a dagger under the pillow was child's play. Then I moved on to the main question. "Alright, let's forget about it. Do you know how to quickly raise the undead?"

Re thought for a few seconds, then nodded. Bingo.

Interlude. The Chosen One.



If one was to talk in clichés, then Kawakami Ryu could be considered a completely ordinary Japanese schoolboy. However, like most teenagers, Ryu thought deep down that he was special. Although he would probably struggle to say exactly what set him apart from his peers. He wasn't especially good at school or sports, nor did he possess any special talents. He certainly wasn't going to brag about the fact that he knew all the Pokémon names at the age of seventeen. Just like his deep knowledge of anime, manga and video games. Being an otaku was not something to be proud of these days, and was even considered shameful.

Nevertheless, Ryu was a sensible young man and could clearly separate reality from fantasy, not allowing himself to sink into the latter too deeply. Perhaps that was why he hadn't hesitated to accept the System's offer — he simply hadn't believed it was real.

The high school student woke up in the traditional white room. Of course, the room wasn't completely white, but what was happening fit neatly into the familiar childhood clichés. He was the Chosen One. He would have the opportunity to gain power and change his fate... or perish. Having read plenty of adult manga, Ryu remembered that, apart from the main character and his girlfriend, all the other 'chosen ones' rarely survived for long.

"Well, I don't think I'm the girlfriend," the newly minted River Serpent muttered. "Let's hope I'm the main character, or at least someone in his entourage."

Ryu didn't hesitate when choosing his weapon, a katana. Just like one he'd seen in a museum. In the absence of firearms, national pride wouldn’t let him choose anything else. His ancestors were samurai, after all! They were on his mother's side, but still...

He might have chosen Magical ability, but this option wasn't on the list. The high school student also figured out how to use the bag and equipment without any difficulty. Finally, after making sure he hadn't missed anything, Ryu headed for the portal, since there was no other way to leave this place. The portal lit up at his touch. After reading the mission description, which spoke of "capturing the temple", Ryu noticed the last item.


Select the drop point:


— Divine beacon No. 1 (Quetzalcoatl).

— Random location within the city limits.


It wasn't an easy choice. A random location could be a considerable risk when it came to one’s life. Theoretically, a stationary beacon should be a kind of safe zone. On the other hand, it could be the other way around. It was much more difficult to set a trap in a random place.

While the teenager was thinking, the first line of text changed color, going from a neutral black to a yellow, almost sickly green. At the same time, the second option turned a bloody red, as if pushing him towards a choice. Ignoring the hint, Ryu carefully selected the random location.


You have selected 'Random drop point'. Confirm?


The letters were almost scarlet at this point, and then began to soften, as if bleeding. His finger froze.

"When a true samurai is compelled to choose between life and deathhe must quickly choose death," Ryu muttered, but the wisdom of the ancients didn't give him the confidence he’d hoped for. They’d all died, after all!

Ryu exhaled slowly, decided not to swim against the current, and chose the recommended location. Although he'd never heard of Quetzalcoatl, weren't heroes always being summoned by the gods? Logic is such a multifaceted thing that a smart person can use it to justify any decision.






Leon felt a growing sense of desperation. The 'feat' meant to secure his future no longer mattered. His patron had been killed in battle, which meant that his bride had lost her status. Although Re had learned her father's trade since childhood, no one would put a shaman's staff into the hands of a snotty teen. Plus, her ability was quite weak, only two points. His ability was even lower, but it grew rapidly and could reach dozens in the future. He was a Hero! With training and leveling up, he could become a powerful shaman one day. And then, who knew…

Alas, his plans had been ruined in an instant, and now the very life of the ‘loyal servant of the goblins’ was in danger. The large losses had enraged his owners, and every goblin strove to insult the ‘property’ that now belonged to no one. Given that Leon barely knew the local language, he had to turn to his bride for clarification. Although the goblin girl had explained what was happening, she was also moody and unhelpful.


Attention! You have received the divine task 'Capture the Fortress'!


The task that popped up felt like a mockery under the circumstances, yet it appeared that the mysterious System still considered him one of its soldiers. What a joke. His only chance of returning to Earth was to complete the main task. Even then, there was no guarantee that it would count if the temple was captured by someone else.

"Go and fight!" His bride stood by the window and stamped her foot. "You're a man!"

"I am only a servant. I don't even have any weapons," Leon replied automatically. "Besides, if I pick up a sword, your fellow goblins won't know which side I'm on. They'll just kill me."

"You're a coward! It's... it's over between us!"

What a dumb cow. Nothing new here, goblins weren't known for their intelligence. She actually wasn't too bad when compared to the rest.

"Goodbye, Rebecca. I'm sorry it turned out this way," Leon said, leaving the room and walking away. While his position had been precarious before, he'd still had a chance of survival. However, the sight of players appearing out of thin air made it impossible for him to deny the truth any longer. It was obvious that the fortress would fall. What would happen then?

Leon clenched his teeth. Almost every scenario promised death, whether soon or a bit later, when the goblins recaptured the fortress. Even if they didn't kill him, he'd be a slave again. It was much more likely that his own people would finish him off first, for cooperating with the enemy. Would anyone care that he had been forced to do so? He was going to die, he was so going to die... A wave of hopelessness washed over him. Wouldn't it be easier to find a rope and simply hang himself? Leon turned the thought over in his mind. He knew where to find a rope, but had no idea how to make the right knot, and there was no internet at hand to check.

"Get out of the way, slave!" said a voice behind him. Leon understood only the last word in the sentence, but the gesture and tone were quite eloquent.

Leon jumped aside, pressing his back against the wall and letting the group of goblins pass. The latter cast a bloodthirsty glance in his direction, but then turned away. Leon’s rough robe clung to his back, soaked with sweat. He could almost sense the goblin debating whether to kill the slave just in case. Was it the same sixth sense that the late shaman had unsuccessfully tried to teach him? No, Leon didn't want to die, and his thoughts turned the other way, searching for a way out. There must be a way out, right?

He needed to think. Almost no one knew about his 'sabotage', so that left only the accusations of working for the goblins. Collaborating with the enemy. He had to prove that he hadn't betrayed anyone. He needed to prove his loyalty. But how? By finding a weapon and joining the players in their fight against the goblins? He'd lost a one-on-one skirmish last time and hadn't gotten any stronger since. They'd kill him. Steal a corpse's clothes and pretend to be one of the newbies? Pointless, the other prisoners would report him as soon as they were released. Use the time gained to escape from the fortress? Into a city occupied by the undead? Into a world without people? Well then... Sneak into the basement and kill the witnesses? Leon smiled bitterly, knowing that he couldn't. He just couldn't. Anyway, it would be useless, the red status would give him away. He felt a deep sense of hopelessness again.

It was all pointless. Utterly pointless.

The air in front of him rippled and a player appeared before his eyes. A Japanese guy, judging by his appearance and the weapon he had chosen. Leon pushed him aside and tried to jump through the invisible portal, but struck the wall instead. The passage only led one way. Merde...

"Who are you?" the youth asked, raising his katana, but there was no real threat in it. He was even built like a girl, thin as a sapling.

"I'm... I'm from Earth, like you. You have to help me!" Leon began, following his gut instinct. "There are prisoners in the basement! If we free them, they'll help us take the fortress! We need to hurry or the goblins might kill them."

The plan took shape in his mind. He was a Hero, so why not perform a feat? If he couldn't kill the witnesses, he would try to save them. Maybe it would only delay the inevitable, but Leon didn't want to die. Not today.



[1] Chuchuk – a sausage made from horse meat in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan.

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Release -  April 12, 2021 


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