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Chapter 23

Age 749, Thursday, August 8, Wilderness

It had been a few hours since we’d closed the portal to the Demon World. The sun, which was already setting by the time we’d made it here, was now completely gone, replaced by the dark shroud of night.

Understandably, both my father and Dyran had shortly succumbed to their injuries and fallen asleep in a tent I’d quickly pitched— complete with sleeping bags.

I’d been worried at the start, but a few uses of [Insight] had shown that my companions’ lives weren’t in any immediate danger— it was not as if I could have done anything, even if they were.

Staring down at the familiar man’s heavily worn, but peaceful visage worked greatly to settle my frayed nerves.

My father was truly alive. It was mind boggling, but he was really here!

Never in my wildest dreams would I have envisioned such a scenario.

I sighed deeply before checking over the final person in our ragtag group. I’d managed to put her in another one of my sleeping bags, but a sleepy swipe on her part made me leery of doing anything further.

Perhaps now was a good time to throw [Insight] on her. I gently exerted my power, latching a tendril of my energy with hers and invoking the observational skill.


Rhythmic Death

Aira – Level 71
Race – Demon
Age – 328

HP: 3,240/38,000 [Broken Legs/Crippled]
MP: 5,000/30,000
Ki: 1,500/40,000

Rep: 0/10,000 Neutral

Dyran’s elder sister; she craves the fight, and will gladly go into a losing battle if it meant she would have fun. She is currently recovering from the fatal wounds she received in the battle against the Dreadfiend.

Battle Power: 250
Current BP: 25


“Two fifty.” I was surprised at the number. “What a fighter… No wonder she could match that monster so easily.”

Dismissing the window, I finally began to check through my notifications.


Quest Complete!

Demon Bane

The Fortuneteller Baba sent you on a quest to investigate the disturbance in Planet Earth’s spiritual flow. You ended up discovering that the disturbance was actually a hole in reality which led to the Demon World— a wholly separate realm from both the Living World and Otherworld.

Being the brave fighter of justice that you are, you boldly entered the Demonic domain and defeated the invasion force, while gaining new allies and reuniting with family!

Reward: 15,000 XP, 40,000 XP, Demon Slayer Title!


Demon Slayer: 10% increased damage to Demons.


You’ve gained a Moderate attunement to your Wizard Staff!

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.


[Ki Ball] has leveled up several times!

Ki Ball (Lv 44 – 55%/Active):Since time immemorial, living creatures have learned to harness their life energy and bring it to the surface. The Ki Ball is the most basic of techniques.

It has a base cost of 300 Ki and deals 1050 damage. Further damage will require more Ki, at the same ratio of cost. Note that the Ki Ball will become larger and slower the more Ki you inject into it.


[Martial Arts] has leveled up several times!

Martial Arts (Lv 49 – 42%/Passive): Many ages ago, the first people watched animals in nature, marveling at their different methods of catching prey; the ferociousness of the tiger, the patience of the mantis, and so on. Naturally, they began to emulate their movements and taught others to follow these same movements. Passively increases STR, VIT and AGI by 50%.

Known Styles: Tiger Style, Palm Karate Style


[Ki User] has leveled up several times!

Ki User (Lv 31 – 23%/Passive): Ki is like a muscle, the more you exert it, the more powerful it becomes! 40% Increase in your Ki pool.


You have leveled up twice!


Name: Ten
Occupation: The Gamer
Level: 26 (12,900/27,000 XP)
Race: Human
Age: 14

HP: 9,457 ; [27,022]
MP: 8,010 ; [22,886]
Ki: 12,402 ;[36,850]

STR: 113 ; [212]
VIT: 110 ; [206]
AGI: 120 ; [225]
INT: 88 ; [121]
WIS: 92 ; [126]

Points: 20

Battle Power: 114.3, [215]


“Holy…” I said slowly as I read through the notifications. I’d gained so much power in such a short time. The old lady was not going to recognize me when I came back.

Hell, I could barely recognize myself!

The thing that was even more ridiculous was the fact that I was already completely healed. It had barely taken an hour.

Aira mumbled something, but it was too low for me to hear.

“Huh?”

She mumbled again, one of her amber eyes opening slightly to take my form in. “Dr-Dr-ink…”

I called my inventory up and pulled a bottle of water out. I unscrewed the cap and knelt by the Demoness’ side, gently lifting her head. She hissed in pain, but greedily drank from the bottle until it was empty.

“Another.” Her voice came out much better, though it was still raspy.

I snorted and pulled ten more bottles out of my inventory as well as a good number of NutriBars. Aira’s comically wide eyes were amusing, to say the least.

As with all things, however, it was not to last.

“Why are you helping me?” She rasped between bites a minute later, thankfully no longer needing my help to feed herself.

I frowned in slight confusion. “I don’t see any reason not to.”

She opened her mouth to reply, but was interrupted by the sound of flapping wings.

In the span of the instant it took for me to process the noise, I had already spun into position to intercept the pterodactyl’s dive, invoking [Insight] as I did so.


Pterodactyl – Lv 23
Race – Dinosaur
Age – 18

HP: 5,000

An opportunistic, predatory species, the pterodactyl has evolved a very sharp beak with which it pierces its prey, rendering it easy to consume.

This one wants to eat Aira.

Battle Power: 55


I read the description as the pterodactyl and I fell together, crashing into the ground in a heap.

-100 HP

I gave the offending creature a kick to the head and watched its eyes bug out, my much more powerful legs pulping its brain in a single instant.

+1,000 XP!

I stared at the dead creature for a few seconds, completely awed by my own strength. That had taken no effort whatsoever!

How powerful had I become in the span of a few hours? My HP and Ki had doubled, and my MP had risen quite significantly, as well.

It made me wonder just how strong I would eventually become. Master Roshi was already capable of reducing mountains to rubble, and my Battle Power was now almost a match for his!

Was I already able to destroy mountains with my Ki?

“You going to eat that thing?” Aira interrupted my musing. I blinked, turning my eyes to the Demoness for a moment, before staring at the corpse at my feet.

“…No sense in wasting such readily available food.” I agreed and got to work, going through the motions of my [Butchering] skill.

Within ten minutes, I had the pterodactyl skinned, gutted, thoroughly cleaned, chopped to bits and held over a fire in a set of well placed skewers.

“Don’t know why you’re going through all of this trouble.” Aira complained, the smell of cooking flesh bothering her.

“You don’t cook meat in the Demon world?” I threw her a glance. She stared back, nonplussed.

I supposed that was the answer I would get.

I snorted. “I should have figured. You all have fire but you don’t even use it.”

“Only our ‘glorious leader’.” She sneered. “Had the pleasure of tasting cooked meat. The rest of us weren’t allowed to. Who cares, anyway? Food is food.”

“Food is food.” I repeated, a smirk forming on my face. “And yet, I can see your mouth watering from the smell. So, which one’s right: what you’re saying, or your body’s reactions?”

Aira growled, an intimidating noise that sent a shiver through my body.

I raised my hands in mock defeat as my father and Dyran began to stir awake from the smell and noise.

“I’m just saying! Besides.” I pulled a skewer away from the flame and inspected it, before holding it near Aira’s mouth. “Cooking food improves your digestion and the absorption of nutrients— it doesn’t matter what race you are.”

Her resistance crumbled: she grabbed the skewer and began to tear into the meat like it was the first meal she’d ever had.

I felt my father and Dyran take seats nearby, helping themselves to the well-done pterodactyl.

“This is amazing!” Dyran near-moaned as he consumed the meat at a rate even faster than his sister. “You were so right, Ren. Earth food is marvelous.”

The man in question snorted as he chewed on a small morsel. “This is just the tip of the iceberg, Dyran. I have greatly missed the appeal of proper food.”

“Tip of the iceberg.” Dyran nodded, completely ignoring the other man’s point. “You must take me to the iceberg sometime so that I may understand your fondness of that phrase.”

I snorted involuntarily. It seemed my father’s propensity for spouting random sayings and proverbs carried over to his captivity. Even in a literal version of Hell, my father hadn’t been completely broken.

His eyes met my own for a moment before he smiled wide and moved to sit by me.

“No, don’t force yourself so much.” I protested, but the words fell on deaf ears.

“It’s all right.” Ren replied, finished his skewer and grabbed two more, handing one to me. “You should eat, too. You went through the trouble. Plus, I haven’t seen you have a single bite!”

“I… Don’t really need to eat.” I hedged. “Not technically, anyway.”

He stared at me for a second, still holding the skewer up. I obliged and began to eat alongside him. The meat tasted bland, but it was fine regardless.

“I take it that your lack of hunger has something to do with how you have not suffered any crippling damage from any of the fights you’ve been in?” My father asked quietly.

He’s very perceptive. I thought as I threw him a glance.

“Yes.” I nodded in confirmation. “My life is a video game.”

Ren stopped mid-bite, eyes going a little wide. “…Really?”

I nodded and elaborated. “An RPG.”

“You’re serious?” He seemed awed. “Like, with levels, and stats and skills?”

“Yup.” I confirmed.

A long moment passed, and then—

“That’s amazing!” Ren blurted out. “Wait, is that what it was you were doing with me before, by reading my stats?”

“That’s right. Your magic is very powerful, d-dad.” I hesitated at the last word, still feeling awkward saying it. His gaze softened, and he placed an arm around my shoulder.

“I know you said it was all right.” Ren said quietly. “But you still ended up spending years of your life without me. It’s my fault.”

“No, I know what you’re going to say, son.” Ren cut off my reply. “But, it’s the truth. I wasn’t there for you or for Jean.”

“…You weren’t.” I conceded the point. “But I don’t hate you for it, dad. Neither does mom.”

“You really think so?” He seemed a little nervous. “She hasn’t, um… Moved on?”

I blinked at his question, my mind automatically thinking of Kai. There might have been something slowly brewing there, but neither my mom nor Kai had hinted at having a relationship— at least, their character sheers hadn’t said anything of the sort.

I rather doubted my mom would go for Kai if she knew my father was alive, anyway.

“I’m not sure.” I hedged carefully, not wanting to give the man too much hope.

I gave a nervous laugh. “It’s not something I bring up with her, you know? It’d be a little… awkward.”

“She does go into excruciating detail, at times.” Ren agreed, leaning back slightly and sighing in contentment. “That was good food.”

“Yes.” I agreed, grabbing a few skewers and handing them to Aira, before continuing to finish mine.

“What will you do?” I asked after a minute of quiet eating and contemplation.

“…” My father didn’t reply immediately, staring into the roaring flame with great intent. “I’m going to South City. To Jean.”

He turned his gaze to me. “Will you come with me, son?”


New Quest!
Reunion

After his long, grueling and torturous years in the Demon Realm, your father, Ren, has the chance to make his previously discarded dream come true: to reunite with his loving wife and make the family whole once again.

Will you help your father?

Accept / Deny


“Do you even need to ask?” I replied while hitting Accept, swallowing down the sudden lump in my throat.

Ren let out a half-laugh, half-sob. “I suppose not. I love you, Ten.”

“…Love you too, dad.”

“Another.” Aira growled impatiently from her sleeping bag. “Hurry it up!”

I rolled my eyes and handed her a few more skewers. “Calm down. The food’s not running anywhere.”

“Don’t make me say it again.” She said threateningly.

“Yeah?” I smirked, holding the skewer just out of her weakened reach. “What are you going to do if I make you say it again?”

Aira stared at me. “I will break every bone in your body when I’m healed.”

“Strong words.” I smiled slightly and handed her the skewer. “I look forward to that fight.”

A glint appeared in her eyes. “Just you wait.”

I was about to say something else, but something in the distance caught my eye. In front of the slowly rising moon, I glimpsed a strange silhouette— a winged creature.

I narrowed my eyes; who was that? Did some Demons make it through the portal as I was battling against Genus— maybe when I was infiltrating the fortress?

I had left the portal unsupervised for quite some time, after all.

“What is that?” I asked out loud, pointing.

“I’m… not sure.” Ren said beside me, gazing into the distance. “My eyes aren’t what they used to be… Wait… I think it’s Akkuman!”

I glanced at my father for a moment before focusing my attention back to the figure. “Are you sure?”

“I’d recognize that silhouette anywhere!” Was his answer.

I kept my gaze on the figure until it landed in front of us. It was a tall, dark blue furred demon, complete with wings, tail and an actual trident.

He, clearly male, crossed his powerfully built arms as he stared down at us, his eyes resting on myself, and then on Ren for a very long moment.

“Imagine my surprise when Baba tells me she sent the new recruit to deal with the same problem his own father failed to deal with.” The voice that came out of the tall demon’s mouth was surprisingly cultured and almost delicate. “I trust there’s a good story behind this?”

“You can say that.” I answered, glancing above the creature’s head to make this was indeed Akkuman.


The Devil
Akkuman – Lv 48


I breathed a sigh of relief as he approached.

“Ten, the new recruit.” Akkuman looked me over. “I can see why Baba holds you in high esteem. You are quite strong.”

I blinked, caught off-guard by the praise. “Thank you.”

“I take it your mission succeeded?” Akkuman asked, his eyes straying to the two injured, wary demons before resting on my father. “It has been a while, Ren.”

“Yes.” Ren struggled to get up before wobbling his way to the blue furred devil. “It has.”

I rushed to his side and helped him walk. “You shouldn’t be moving so much! Are you trying to get yourself killed?”

Both Ren and Akkuman snorted.

“Ren never truly understood the need for rest.” Akkuman rolled his eyes before extending his hand to the man in question. “It’s good to have you back. Your ‘death’ has weighed on Baba’s mind for too long.”

Ren took the offered hand, shaking it firmly. “It’s good to be back. I hope my return will ease the old crone’s worries, as well as a few other people in my life.”

He directed a look towards me. I only smiled in response.

“Come, sit!” Ren gestured to an open spot by the fire. “I suppose you’re eager to hear the story.”

Akkuman stared at us for a long moment, before moving to the offered position. “I was going to fly us back to Baba’s Palace, but I suppose I’ll listen to your tale beforehand.”

“Wonderful!” Ren took his previous seat. “Help yourself to the pterodactyl.”

And so I sat, listening to my father speak and watching the shine gradually grow in his eyes as he slowly began to realize that the nightmare was truly over.

I could at least hope he was.


Age 749, Friday, August 9 (3:00 AM), Baba’s Palace

“So, you found the disturbance.” Baba said later that night.

“Yes.” I confirmed, watching my father, Aira and Dyran all being hauled to the upper floor so they could sleep and recover in proper beds.

“And it turned out to be an opening to the Demon Realm?”

“Correct.”

“And, instead of surveying the area and coming back, you…” Baba trailed off.

“Went into the Demon Realm and killed everything I saw.” I answered, starting to feel sheepish.

“Which allowed you to uncover a decade old plot to learn your father’s magical secrets and re-open the portal?” Baba rubbed the bridge of her nose.

“Yes.” I nodded.

“Then you proceeded to befriend two locals, reunite with your father, all before destroying what amounts to a demon lord?” Baba finished.

“A Dreadfiend, I believe his title was.” I corrected.

“Right, your ‘gamer’ nonsense.” She closed her eyes, now pinching the bridge of her nose and sighing theatrically. “I don’t get paid enough for this.”

“You don’t get paid at all.” I quipped.

“I already regret my choice in taking you on as a student.” Baba sighed again, her gaze softening as she looked up. “How is he?”

I didn’t need to ask who ‘he’ was.

“He’s taking things well.” I said carefully.

“‘Taking things well,’ he says.” Baba replied, rolling her eyes. “You might be the man’s son, but you don’t know him as well as you think you do.”

A flare of irritation went through me. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“The man has gone through over a decade of torture and misery in a realm entirely inhospitable to him, only to appear to be behaving normally after returning to this realm.” Baba recounted. “Does this sound like a man who should be ‘taking things well’, as you put it?”

I looked away, unwilling to answer the question. The truth was that I didn’t want to think about something like that. I was simply glad I had my father back.

What more could I ask for?

“I see you understand.” The old crone floated around on her crystal ball. “He likely doesn’t quite believe that this is all happening.”

“But…” Our reunion, our struggle, sitting with each other and watching the sunset after our daring escape. “He did realize it. There’s no way he didn’t.”

“Perhaps, on some level he did.” Baba acknowledged the point. “You will understand better when he comes to. Humans are resilient, but not as resilient as one is led to believe. Of course, it is possible that he found greater resolve in the throes of his misery.”

I latched onto that. “Yes. I checked him over with my [Insight].

“Oh?” Baba seemed intrigued. “And?”

“He’s single minded.” I explained. “All he cares about is reuniting our family.”

The old crone absorbed my words.

“Perhaps not all is lost, then. His will may have overcome the harsh nature of his captivity, and while he may heal through a family reunion, I assure you that he will need more than that to fully recover.” Baba explained calmly as she led the way to the outside fighting ring. “Trauma of this magnitude does not simply ‘go away’.”

Akkuman was already there, sitting by the water and gazing up at the stars.

“Thank you for your advice.” I acknowledged the wisdom, before giving her a strange look, a sudden thought occuring. “Did you know this would happen? That I would find the Demon Realm and save my father?”

“Who knows?” Baba replied cryptically as she floated back into the main building, leaving me alone with the blue furred devil.

“She’s called a fortune-teller for a reason, kid.” Akkuman said, his gaze still set on the dark canopy above.

Son of a bitch.

I went to stand beside him and looked in the same direction, trying to banish thoughts of my father’s future mental problems away.

“So, you just stand here all night and stare at the stars?” I asked curiously, watching the many pinpricks of light shine over the darkness.

“Yep.” Akkuman said simply.

“What do you do in the day?” I continued.

“Whatever Baba asks, I suppose.” He replied just as succinctly. I wondered if he simply didn’t want to chat.

That was nonsense; he wouldn’t have initiated the conversation, otherwise.

“You don’t sleep?” I tried again.

“Rarely. Once every few weeks.” Akkuman answered, giving me a quick glance. “We demons do not require as much sleep as humans.”

“I don’t really need to sleep, either.” I revealed.

That got his attention. “I was under the impression you were human. Are you not?”

“Oh, I am.” I said. “I just have a strange power which changes how all the rules of the world work.”

“…The crone did say something about a special ability you had.” Akkuman said, eyes curious. “I was looking forward to putting you to the test.”

“To the test?” I repeated, before realization came. “Oh.”

He’d wanted to fight me.

He only glanced back towards the center of the arena, before turning back to the stars. I understood his intent.

“You’re not, anymore?” I asked.

“No.” Akkuman denied with a shake of his head. “What more proof of your competence do I need than you facing the denizens of my homeland and winning through sheer strength, cunning and determination? No, you’ve proven yourself to be a Warrior in your own right. There is no need to test you.”

“I…” I trailed off, not knowing what to say. I stared up at the stars, instead.

“A Warrior, huh…”

I rather liked the sound of that.

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