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Chapter 20

Age 749, Thursday, Afternoon August 8, Portal North of Baba’s Palace

I threw the heavy sword away and rushed the creature, grabbing hold of its body and throwing it to the side before it could jump through the portal.

It glowed blue as it tumbled on the harsh stone ground, before eventually halting its momentum with a pulse of energy.

The creature righted itself, giving me a menacing stare with its pupiless eyes.

A quick check to its status window showed that it had used a rather small amount of mana to avoid receiving damage altogether.

It waved its staff at me, the wood flaring purple for a brief moment. I braced myself, summoning up my [Mana Shield] as gale force winds erupted from the staff, slicing at my body with lethal intent.

-45 MP!
-1,400 MP!
-1,800 MP!
-1,100 MP!

I felt harsh shoves on my neck, thigh and the back of my ankle— all spots with major veins. If I were any other person, that would have spelled my imminent death, right there and then.

I felt the cutting winds die down, dashing immediately to the Lump Mage in the hope of catching it as it recovered from casting the spell.

Two feet away, it gave an eerie grin, staff leveled at me with a reddish glow.

Shit!

I shifted to the right as much as I could, barely avoiding the small ball of flame and lashing out with a claw strike to its side, fingers aglow with [Tiger Claw].

-175 MP!

The deadly mana claws were stopped dead by the creature’s own version of [Mana Shield], the two spells grinding against each other with an painfully loud whine.

I felt my MP begin to drain as the we engaged each other in a clash of will— a clash the disgusting blob would win by virtue of simply having more MP than I did.

Different tactics, then.

I withdrew [Tiger Claw], instead waving my hand at the demon.

-800 MP!

[Dazzle]!” I incanted, putting my enemy under illusions, which would hopefully allow me to attack while it was distracted—

The creature giggled as it shredded through the spell with seemingly minimal effort. It brandished its staff at me once more, its unnaturally wide smile growing with glee.

And my world was awash in red. Creatures the size of trucks burst out of the portal behind me, the ground beneath my feet shaking with every step they took.

I turned in shock, staring at the mountains of muscle in fear. There was no way I could survive this; I was outnumbered, eight to one now. There was no way I could—

Wait.

They had no names over their heads.


Ping!
You are now under the effect of Dazzle!

Duration: 3 minutes.


Oh, so that’s what this spell was like from the target’s perspective, huh? I turned to the Lump Mage, only to find that he was no longer there.

Was it part of the illusion? I wondered.

No, it couldn’t be; at least, to my knowledge. The spell wasn’t supposed to hide anything from the real world, simply add in a few illusions to what was already present.

Then again, this was a demon from a plane of existence completely unlike my own; he could very well be able to do that, I thought as I hesitantly activated [Gamer’s Mind].


Illusion detected!

Illusion shattered.

You are no longer under the effect of Dazzle.


I felt the calming effects of the skill as the world went back to normal, the monsters behind me disappearing, and the Lump Mage reappearing on my left side, a bit to the front— it was attempting to wobble its way to the portal.

I kept my previous expression, [Gamer’s Mind] not betraying any of my intent. I waited until the opportune moment, waiting until it was right next to me, before grabbing hold of it and snatching the staff out of its weak tubby fingers.

I threw the piece of wood away, the blue glow around the creature fading into nothing. On its stat sheet, I saw its MP get cut by a solid 20,000, leaving it with only 14,000 left.

There was no moment of hesitation.

-350 MP!

I activated [Tiger Claw], digging into its body and tearing a large chunk of its flesh in one solid move.

Then, while ignoring its pained shrieks and feeble protests, I did it again, and again, and again until there was nothing but twitching flesh at my feet.

+5,800 XP!


Ping!
You have gained a level!


Name: Ten
Occupation: The Gamer
Level: 22 (2,000/23,000 XP)
Race: Human
Age: 14

HP: 5,880 ; [13,342/13,505]
MP: 6,748 ; [4,693/10,363]
Ki: 7,750 ; [12,321/17,801]

STR: 74 ; [130.98]
VIT: 85 ; [150.45]
AGI: 77 ; [136.29]
INT: 78 ; [107.64]
WIS: 82 ; [113.16]

Points: 67

Battle Power: 78.7, [140.8]


Deactivating the skill and dismissing the windows, I stared at my bloodied hands for a moment, before wiping it away on my clothes.

A long-press later, [Gamer’s Mind] was deactivated as well, the wall of emotion slamming into me once more.

It took a few seconds of concerted mental effort to regain hold of myself, but I managed to do it.

The portal had been getting wider during the fight I had with the deceased Lump Mage. It was now big enough to fit a medium-sized truck.

With a regained sense of urgency, I went for the demon’s staff, snatching it with a quick motion and invoking [Insight].


Wizard Staff

Item: Weapon
Rarity: Arcane
Description: Imbued with fire magic, this staff is able to convert your Mana into a low level spell: [Frizz].

+5,000 Max MP / 10,000 Max MP (Moderate Attunement Required)/ +20,000 Max MP (Full Attunement Required)

—-

Frizz: The standard flame spell, a fireball used to sear your enemy.

—-

Would you like to equip this weapon?

Y/N


I pressed on “Y”, feeling the weapon’s energy link with mine. My mana pool felt like it had swelled by half its previous size.

A quick check to my stat sheet showed that my MP’s maximum was now 15,363.

My available magic, on the other hand, stayed the same— though, I could tell it was regenerating at a faster rate than before.

The addition to my MP also translated into an increase in its regeneration rate, it seemed. Hidden benefits would come in handy, especially in a situation like this.

I hefted the staff, swinging it a few times, getting a feel for the weapon.

It was quite sturdy, surprisingly enough. I swung it around a few more times, marveling at the resilience of the material.

What was this made of?

Was this a byproduct of my Gamer ability turning weapons into objects I simply couldn’t destroy? Or was it naturally this sturdy?

I unequipped the weapon for a moment, feeling absolutely no difference with every swing.

Trees in the demon world must be made of sterner stuff, I realized and re-equipped my new weapon. Fixing my attention onto the portal, I stared at it for a long moment.

The energy pulsed again, the portal growing more in size.

I closed my eyes and grit my teeth in anger and frustration. Was there nothing I could do to stop it on this side? My hand rested on the beaded bracelet sitting snugly on my wrist.

“Like father, like son, huh?” I opened my eyes, my mind made up.

-45 MP!

With a thought, a bluish white glow settled over my skin, my [Mana Shield] coming into effect immediately as I stepped into the portal, images of my mother and Chichi at the forefront of my mind.

The world shifted from blues, greens, browns, whites and yellows to a deep blackness. All I could see was a black void, except behind me.

I looked back for a moment, watching the portal get smaller despite its bursts of growth. I realized I was being transported at great speeds.

I hadn’t even felt it. There was no resistance in the.. Air? Was there even air in here? I took a breath— yep, there was air.

Why was there no resistance, then?

I had no real time to ponder this as a pinprick of red light began to emerge in the distance. Quickly approaching it, I realized this was portal, and that it was about the size of a large truck.

The void spit me up none-too-gently, the black surroundings shifting to red, brown and black. I stumbled a few times, before righting myself with some effort and quickly surveying my surroundings.

It was so completely alien and frightening to look at, I realized quickly with a disturbed frown marring my face.

The sky was the color of blood, a bright crimson which bathed all of my surroundings in some shade of red. The small clearing I stood in was surrounded by forest-land on all sides.

Though, calling it a forest would have been quite the generous claim.

Forests were not supposed to be like this!

They were havens for all manner of creatures, housing them in their trees, under the earth, safe from the summer sun’s heat, or the chilly winter winds.

This forest was antithetical to everything I’d known. The trees were lifeless sticks of charcoal, lacking vibrance in any way, shape or form.

The scorched ground at my feet was bathed in the red light from above. The smell of burning filled my nose, and I had to slow my breathing down, so as not to choke.

“So this is the Demon World…” I said, slowly coming to grips with the situation. “This is where my father spent his final moments?”

I harshly suppressed the flare of righteous anger that blazed within me, and linked my power to that of the portal, trying to feel it out.

I shivered slightly, the vile feeling of the world around me affecting my mental state. [Gamer’s Mind] would eliminate this issue entirely, I realized, but I refused to use it unless it was absolutely necessary.

Even this discomfort beat the absolute emptiness I felt when that damned passive asserted itself.

I stared at myself, the glow of my magical shield strengthening my resolve.

I had to be smart.

Immediately scanning the portal would do me no good, and would waste precious minutes I could use to recover my full strength again.

I unlatched my power from the portal, instead sending the tendrils in all directions in an attempt to feel any of the demons out, while settling down on the scorched earth and initiating [Meditation].

The effects were immediate, I thought as my reserves began to fill up at a much faster rate. As it was, I needed to regenerate over 5,000 Ki, and a bit over 10,000 MP.

I kept my shield up, unwilling to take any risks. I could keep it up at all times even without [Meditation] now, I realized faintly as the reserves were filling up much too quickly for the skill’s cost to be a major detriment.

Ten minutes passed as I belatedly realized that my Ki was back to full. My MP on the other hand, would require another ten minutes.

To be honest, I had expected some kind of welcoming committee at the portal, but there was no such audience waiting for me.

I linked my power with the portal, realizing its size had been the same for the last ten minutes.

Focusing all of my attention on the portal for a moment, I realized it was linked to something off into the distance, off to my left.

I would have said west, but this place seemingly had no sun. I discarded the idle thought, the sense of urgency strengthening.

My MP was high enough now, I thought to myself.

Disengaging from my meditative state, I climbed up one of the dead trees— which felt as sturdy as the staff on my back— and stared off into that direction.

A large structure stood tall a fair distance away, its stones black as night— the redness of the sky not affecting it in the slightest.

Something in there was powering the portal. Whatever it was, it had to go; and then I had to hightail it back here, hoping I could make it back before the portal closed up.

No wonder dad never managed to get back. According to Baba, my dad’s only talent was in magic. He’d had quite the number of years to practice.

He was particularly good with enchantments, which was why he’d made the bracelet in the first place, at least according to the old hag.

From the way she was putting it to me, the man wasn’t a fighter. And yet, he ventured into this realm and closed the portal, effectively sealing his own fate.

A non-combatant in a world where combat and strife was key? He was probably long dead— there was no way to mince those words.

Logic didn’t solve my problem, of course.

It was possible he could have survived all these years. Unlikely, but possible.

Those were the thoughts running through my head as I made my way closer and closer to the fortress up ahead. I wondered just what this whole thing was about.

It was obvious at this point that this was not an invasion— or, at least an invasion as I had envisioned it. There were no great armies waiting to wreak havoc on the Earth.

So, it had to be something else.

But, what?

I got within spitting distance of the black fortress, using the dark forest as camouflage as I slowly circled the great structure, finally reaching its entrance, a large bridge.

Upon closer inspection, I noted that the moat around the fortress was filled not with water, but with a great number of sharp steel spikes, bones of various creatures lain on its bed.

Two guards were posted atop the bridge, armed quite haphazardly; I could see plate in some places, fur in others, and maces in their hands.

The monsters themselves were featureless humanoid skeletons, their eyes glowing a bright purple, even in this world of blood red.

They moved their heads automatically, scanning the area for any intruders— though they did not notice me.

With a frown, I reached out to them with my power and invoked [Insight].


Deadnaut

Nameless – Lv 25
Race – Undead
Age – 3012

HP: 7,000

Rep: 0/10,000 Neutral

Raised from the dead, a Deadnaut’s only purpose is to follow the orders of its summoner.

This particular servant has only recently been ordered to guard the fortress.

Battle Power: 65


Deadnaut

Nameless – Lv 24
Race – Undead
Age – 2993

HP: 6,800

Rep: 0/10,000 Neutral

Raised from the dead, a Deadnaut’s only purpose is to follow the orders of its summoner.

This particular servant has only recently been ordered to guard the fortress.

Battle Power: 60


I blinked at how weak these creatures were; and, what did the description mean by “only recently”? Did something happen, here? Perhaps that was why my world wasn’t facing a full blown invasion.

Whoever was behind it was busy with something else?

I had no way to tell, aside from breaking into this place and finding out.

I checked further out with my power, but could find no other creatures nearby. I could not penetrate the fortress’ walls, however; every time my energy got close, it was firmly rebuffed by the black stone.

It was rejecting my power outright.

Taking a breath, I tried to figure out what my method of approach would be. These things were skeletons, so I couldn’t exactly attack their vital areas for quick kills.

Then again, these things were skeletons, undead creatures of the night; and, what did creatures of the night fear?

Fire.

Mind made up, I grabbed the staff and pointed it at the one on the left. “[Frizz]!

The wood flared red for a few moments, greedily absorbing my magic and blasting out a great ball of flame at the skeletons.

-2,500 MP!

I rushed in after the spell, watching it tear through the first guard, exploding behind the second and sending him flying toward me.

I gave him a solid whack with the staff, shattering the thing’s spine and sending it down on the ground.

I didn’t let up, continually smashing the undead creature’s bones until its errant bones stopped twitching.

+3,000 XP!
+2,900 XP!

With a huff, I reached outwards with my power to see if anyone had detected that little display.

The energy was rebuffed by the walls of the structure again, so I reeled them back in, instead relying on my normal senses.

I waited for a long, tense minute, but nothing happened. No one opened the large doors, no one came out of the forest. No further guards showed up from any unexpected position.

And so, I moved to enter the great structure, pushing against the large gate with great effort. It didn’t budge an inch.

How heavy was this thing?

I backed away, moving toward the bridge and looking up at the large walls, trying to estimate their size. At my current strength level, I could probably make that jump.

I crouched down slightly, my muscles coiled and ready to go, before jumping as high as I could. I made it over the roof only barely just, my feet lightly skimming over the cold, black stone.

The structure was rough, I noted as I was able to get a good grip on the roof with my hands and feet. I walked along the roof for about a minute until I found a large hole, which led into what looked to be a hallway from what I could tell.

Judging from the hole, it looked as if something had brute forced its way into the structure only recently. With no frame of reference or any additional information, I had no way of confirming this.

Still, I wasn’t going to question my good fortune. I jumped down the hole, into the fortress.

I landed with a roll, quickly getting to my feet and checking my surroundings; I found myself in a dark hallway, lit by a few torches on each side.

The center of this place would be to my left, but the hallway ran perpendicular to that direction. So, which way would I take?

After a few seconds of thought, I ended up picking one at random. This was no time to sit down and slowly consider things. I had a job to do, and I had to do it quickly, while the enemy was seemingly distracted.

That’s the only thing that would make sense.

Who would open a portal, only to send two low level lackeys? Something else must be at play— it might have to do with the hole in the ceiling I came through.

Then again, it might not, I thought as I turned a corner, coming face to face with large, monstrous creature.

It was a hulking grey beast, with hooves for hands and feet. It snorted derisively at me, glaring at me with a sharp toothed snarl that did not belong on a horse’s head.

I’d seen one of these in the illusion that the Lump Mage had thrown at me, but…

This one was real, I realized as I latched my power to it, invoking [Insight] immediately.


Horse Knight

Kon – Lv 44
Age – 247
Race – Demon/Beast

HP: 30,000
Ki: 10,000
MP: 500

Rep: 0/50,000 Despised

A low-ranking Knight in the Demon Army, Kon has been ordered to guard this hallway, and let nothing past him.

It has noticed a strangely familiar mortal, and plans to crush him under its hooves.

Battle Power: 175


Without hesitation, I put my points in strength, agility and vitality, raising them respectively to 103, 100 and 100 in one go. I saw my beaded bracelet glow as new windows appeared— but I was infinitely more concerned about the brute before me.


Ping!
Due to your STR, VIT and AGI reaching 100, you have evolved your previous passives!

Fighter II: All Ki Strikes and Physical Damage increased by 20%.

Quickness II: 15% Increase to overall movement speed.

HPR/Ki Regen II: Base HP and Ki regeneration is now 1.5%/min. You can now exercise for five hours without succumbing to [Exhaustion]!


Passive unlocked on the [Beads of Haste]!

Speed Demon I: 7% Increase to overall movement speed. Effect increases as you grow more attuned to the accessory.


Name: Ten
Occupation: The Gamer
Level: 22 (7,900/23,000 XP)
Race: Human
Age: 14

HP: 8,085 ; [20,571]
MP: 6,748 ; [7,015/15,363]
Ki: 10,658 ; [18,211/27,117]

STR: 103 ; [184.37]
VIT: 100 ; [179.00]
AGI: 100 ; [179.00]
INT: 78 ; [107.64]
WIS: 82 ; [113.16]

Points: 0

Battle Power: 101, [180.8]


The great beast tried to barrel into me, with absolutely no luck. I dodged it with ease, my newfound state allowing me to go at speeds I could only dream of before.

I underestimated my strength, leaping over the horse monster and smashing my head against the wall above me.

-200 HP!

I grit my teeth as I landed and redoubled my efforts to control myself as best as I could.

The beast snarled at me and rushed me again. Truly, this beast was nothing but a mindless brute. No wonder it was stuck on guard duty. It was almost as stupid as the skeletons, and those things lacked brains!

To my satisfaction, its following charge was neatly sidestepped, even as it tried to trick me by changing its course at the last moment.

Maybe it was a bit smarter, I thought uncharitably.

Not that it mattered.

With no hesitation, I dodged under its furious arm swipe, and pointed both hands at it.

-5,000 Ki!

Ha!” The [Ki Ball] smashed into the Horse Knight with unrelenting power, embedding its body into the wall with a small shockwave ruffling my bloodstained clothes.

I stared at my hands in wonder for a brief moment, before activating [Tiger Claw] and going for its throat and eyes, not even waiting for the dust to settle.

-350 MP!

No mercy.

I was neither able, nor willing to give it out.

I ignored the creature’s cries and kept tearing it to pieces, a fresh coat of blood spattering my arms, clothes and face.

When its HP finally reached zero, I finally backed away, staring at the dead demon for a moment, before wiping at my hands and face and walking past its quickly cooling corpse, through the hallway it was meant to defend.

I kept my mind on the objective.

Find whatever was powering the portal.

Close it.

Escape.

That was all that mattered.

I refused to die here.

The hallway finally ended, leading to a set of stairs going down.

Was that where the portal was supposed to be?

With an absent shrug, I carefully— and quietly— made my way down, my energy swiftly searching for any sign of monsters.

[Insight] picked up on two signatures in front of me, a window appearing with their stat sheets. I prepared for another fight as I read through the information.


Renegade

Dyran – Level 63
Race – Demon
Age – 321

HP: 22,000/35,000 [Bleeding]
MP: 7,320/15,000
Ki: 18,000/35,700

Rep: 0/10,000 Neutral

Heavily damaged from a battle with his leader, Dyran wishes to escape the demon world with his human friend.

He is currently bleeding badly.

Battle Power: 210


Escapee

Ren – Lv 43
Race – Human
Age – 42

HP: 3,500/5,000 [Dazed]
MP: 20,000/70,000
Ki: 500/1,000

Rep: 100,000/100,000 Loved

The first chance in many, many years, Ren is attempting to escape into the human world with a demon he befriended during his captivity.

He wishes to see his wife and son beyond all else. He hopes they haven’t forgotten him.

Battle Power: 30

What is this? Who is doing this? Get out of my head!


Error: [Insight] has been detected and rebuffed.


…What?

I soon came face to face with the two. The first, was an eight foot tall, yellow skinned demon. He was extremely well built, and wore a simple looking, iron-like armor that covered much of his body.

The indigo cape he wore was in tatters, but it only seemed to enhance his frightful, yet strangely majestic appearance.

He tightly held onto his bloodstained, cracked sword while he dragged his companion along. Speaking of…

His companion— he looked like me.

The man looked weathered, bruised, and had grown a sizeable beard, but I recognized those eyes anywhere, glowing in the low light of the dungeon.

The three of us stopped dead in our tracks.

The large demon looked at me in a mix of impatient urgency and curiosity, while the man next to him had a look of abject shock on his gaunt face.

“W-what.. Ten…?” The man hesitantly spoke, reaching a hand out slowly. I tried to answer, but there was a sudden lump in my throat.

Never would I have imagined a situation like this.

“How?” He asked hoarsely, eyes wide in disbelief.

Far behind the two, I heard a loud roar which shook the foundations of the fortress. Power spilled forth from the darkness, conveying seething rage, unadulterated hatred and an unquenchable lust for blood.

The demon next to my father cursed. “Run! Your can have your heartfelt reunion when we’re not too busy trying to stay alive!”

I obeyed instantly.

Whatever was down there was something I didn’t want to tangle with.

Not when the stat sheet I acquired after linking with it clearly showed that I stood no chance.


Dreadfiend

Genus – Lv 92
Race – Demon
Age – 3,556

HP: 60,000/75,000 [Disoriented]
MP: 30,000/45,000
Ki: 45,000/60,000

Rep: 0/50,000 Despised

The dreadfiend Genus is a monstrous demon who only wishes to inflict death, destruction and chaos unto the world of the living. His plans were thwarted by an upstart human many years ago, but he kept the human as a plaything, torturing it often for information, but mostly for fun.

Eventually, he pieced together the information required to undo the sealing spell the disgusting human latched onto his portal, but was betrayed at the last moment by his right hand, Dyran.

He plans on killing Ren and Dyran, before amassing a new army and reducing the filthy mortal’s world to ashes.

Battle Power: 312

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