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Chapter 9

Age 749, Friday, June 14, Central City

The dinner was sublime; the steak, succulent; the mashed potatoes, deliciously creamy.

I hadn’t eaten so well ever since I left Fry Pan Mountain!

I sighed happily for the fifth time that hour as I made my way through Central City, asking for directions from a few friendly locals, as well as a rather helpful police officer.

“I finally made it.” I said to myself, staring at the building ahead of me.

It was an old structure, starkly different from those around it, and looking more like the remnant of a fortress rather than the library it was.

A large plaque was proudly presented on the wall by the entrance. It said:

In loving memory of our fallen brothers and sisters, we dedicate this building to all the people of Earth. May it serve as a house of learning and progress, so that we may never fall under the likes of the foul King Piccolo and his vile minions.

The Remnants – Age 461

I read it over a few more times, lips pursed as I dipped my head in a show of respect for people whose names I never knew, but were probably the Earth’s long forgotten heroes.

I’d heard a tale or two of the Demon King Piccolo, of course.

They had been my mother’s favorite method to keep me in line when I was younger and much more unruly.

“Bad kids always get a visit from the evil King Piccolo.” She would say, eyes glinting with a mix of sternness and mischief. “Never to be heard from again.”

It almost seemed rehearsed, like something her parents did to her when she was a kid.

I wondered if I would do that with my kid- assuming I had one. I closed my eyes for a moment, an image of Chichi gently easing into my mind.

I shook the thoughts with a smile and a shrug, before I made my way inside, leaving the plaque and banishing it from my mind.

It was time to research!

A few grueling hours of fruitless research later, I was walking away from the building with a huff, my mood having taken a nosedive.

I’d massively underestimated how dull and mind numbing this crap was.

I’d figured, due to my raised INT and WIS scores as well as my history as a consummate nerd, that I would have no real trouble doing this.

I rubbed at my forehead, the mental drain having gotten to me. A quick check of my watch showed that it was already around 9 PM.

I’d been cooped up in that library until they’d damn near kicked me out, so.. four hours?

Four hours with nothing to show for it; the old historical records were written in some archaic form of Standard.

Thus it was illegible.

So, I needed another book to help me translate- well, for that particular document, anyway.

Seeing as the language evolved with time, a document from an era five centuries ago was quite different from one written two centuries ago.

And so on.

Of course, this leveled up a skill I hadn’t even paid attention to in a good long while.


Speed Reading (Lv 21- 93%): You’re one of those people who want to go through books as fast as they can, and you’ve learned how to read diagonally, your eyes loosely scanning the general vicinity and direction, picking up on clues that provide context.

20% Increase in reading speed.


I sighed, palming my face and dismissing the skill window.

“Four hours of this crap- and I have to come back tomorrow, too…” I muttered to myself in sheer anguish.

I palmed the money currently in my pocket. “At least I can eat well for a few more days. Silver linings!”

The sound of something crashing against metal startled me out of my monologue.

I looked around wildly, irrational fear seeping into every fiber of my being, before being leached away by Gamer’s Mind.

Slowly making my way towards the source of the noise, I noticed the general level of noise rising, the sounds of a crowd emanating from the alleyway ahead of me.

I slowly turned the corner, keeping my pace smooth and controlled so as not to startle anyone there.

There was a small crowd of men standing in a circle, the sound of grunts, yells, and meaty smacks coming from its center.

A fire crackled merrily in a nearby barrel, bathing the alleyway in shades of red, orange and yellow.

“You’re pretty weak tonight, Hercule!” Someone jeered as I approached the group. “I bet a lot of money on you, boy! You’d better not lose or else!”

“Shut the hell up!” Another raged, getting into the first man’s face. “Armin’s got this! He’ll kick the shit out of Hercule for sure!”

He then turned to the fight. “Ooh that’s right, give him a good kick- that’s the stuff!”

I stood by one of the spectators, pretending to be one myself as I watched the fight, curious despite myself.

It was Mark.

I was almost surprised, until I recalled that this was what he probably did to put help pay the bills.

Still, I hadn’t expected him to go at it tonight, not after I’d reduced his HP by more than half!

I used [Observe] on the two fighters.


Ambitious Student
“Mr. Hercule Satan”

Mark – Lv 15
Race – Human
Age – 13

HP – 900/2,600 [Greatly Fatigued]
Ki – 500 [Dormant]

Rep – 8,000/10,000 Neutral

Description: Mark is a boy who’s lived a troubled life. His father having left at a young age, he has shouldered the burden of helping his mother make ends meet, doing odd jobs here and there for strangers kind enough to take pity.

Recently, he’s begun to make a name for himself as a street brawler under the alias known as “Hercule Satan”. His dream is to make it big as a martial artist, and never have to worry about money ever again.

He is currently getting his ass kicked due to being worn out from the fight against you.

Battle Power: 25


His enemy, a grown man, easily twice his age and size, with a build most people would kill for, threw punch after punch, trying to put Mark down for the count.


Henchman
Armin – Lv 10

Race – Human
Age – 25

HP – 1,200/1,800

Rep – 0/10,000 Disliked

Description: Blessed with remarkable natural strength, Armin decided he would sell his services to the highest bidder, often using the money to further his addiction to drugs.

He is currently confused at Mark’s weakness, but still plans to put him in the hospital for daring to defeat him the last few times.

Battle Power: 30


The small crowd began to get feverish as the pace of the fighting rose, the two fighters exchanging blows at a furious pace.

It was a savage display of raw strength and brutality.

Mark didn’t fight like a martial artist, here. There were only very slight hints of the technique he’d shown during our spar.

Here, he was a brawler like the rest of them.

I watched as he shifted to the side, taking a hit to the shoulder as he stepped into the much older man’s guard, viciously striking at his face.

Armin the Henchman was dazed for a moment, allowing Mark to take a moment to breathe before sending a roundhouse kick into the bigger man, laying him out.

He backed away slightly, watching as the man gripped his side, face set in a pained grimace while the men around them laughed uproariously at the humiliation they were witnessing.

“You little shit!” The man slowly recovered, getting back to his feet while Mark grinned, playing to the crowd. “You’ll regret doing that.”

“Will I?” Mark replied, expression freezing for a moment as he locked eyes with me.

The moment passed, and he fixed his attention back on his opponent, eyes set in a challenging glare. “Do your worst.”

The two rushed each other, both snarling like incarnations of pure rage itself.

Mark dodged to the side, leaving his foot out to trip Armin, but was surprised when the older man suddenly stopped, pivoting and sending a left elbow to the younger brawler, connecting with a loud smack and sending the boy staggering back.

With a grunt of effort, Mark worriedly righted himself and quickly parried the following right hook, letting loose with a hard punch to Armin’s ribs.

His desperate strike had held nothing back, I noted as the older man collapsed in agony, unable to even concentrate as the referee counted to five without issue.

“And the winner is Mr. Hercule Satan!” The referee grinned as he grandly gestured towards the exhausted Mark. “What a guy! Defeating a man twice his age and size, who would have expected anything like that?”

The crowd cheered Mark on- or, “Mr. Hercule Satan”, I supposed- as he tiredly gave the crowd a few pleasant waves, the host collecting the money from the bets, before handing out the appropriate rewards to those who’d bet on Mark, as well as paying Mark quite the hefty sum.

I snorted in amusement, leaning against the alley way’s wall as the excitement began to die down, the spectators visibly shedding their youthful exuberance at the prospect of going home and dealing with their partners.

One had even muttered something about being forced to watch makeup videos with his girlfriend- I winced in sympathy.

I would never wish such a fate on anyone.

“What are you doing here?” Came the blunt question from my left. It was Mark, or Hercule or whatever name he went by.

“I was just passing by and heard the noise.” I replied truthfully, gazing at the worn out boy who was fixing his money into a roll, wrapping an elastic band around it and placing it into his pocket. “I didn’t expect to see you fighting.”

Mark shrugged and rubbed at the bruises on his face. “You know how it goes, I just love to fight.”

A little white lie, but it’s not like he owed me anything, so I let it go. My [Observe] skill was quite the intrusion on people’s privacy, I noted.

I imagined the various spy agencies in the world would love to have a tool that was capable of discerning a person’s, age, strength level, race, life story and current intent.

On that note, I could probably make a killing as a private investigator, or an interrogator.

“Yeah, fighting’s fun.” I agreed, moving to stand by him, poking at his likely bruised shoulder. “But so is fighting correctly. What made you break stance?”

“Bah.” Mark pushed my hand away with a wince. “Keeping stance isn’t as easy as it looks; plus, street fighting is a whole other world. People don’t wait for you to get ready, you have to react at a moment’s notice or it’s all over.”

Images of the pirates I’d fought, lying face down in the dirt in the forest by Fry Pan Mountain, came to mind. I hadn’t taken any stances then, either.

“Good point.” I allowed, seeing something in the corner of my eye. Mark was looking in that direction as well, but his face was a picture of dismay.

When I turned my head to see, I understood why. The man who’d lost, Armin, was back and he brought five other men with him.

They all carried various weapons, from bats, to bronze knuckles, to knives, brandishing them threateningly.

“Beat it, kid.” Armin took a threatening step forward, making us tense. “I’ve got business with ‘Mr. Satan’, here. Get out’a here, unless you want to take a trip to the hospital tonight.”

Mark tensed in preparation for another fight, but I could tell he looked dead on his feet.

Had he not fought with me today, he probably could have made a break for it, or even beaten them if he were careful.

But, as he was now, he stood no chance at either.

I put a little pressure on Mark’s injured shoulder, reminding him of his injuries and ignoring the hiss of pain he gave, before pushing him back against the wall.

Turning to the group, I almost laughed at all their low levels. None of them were near level 10, except Armin, who was already worn out and beaten.

I thought about giving them a warning to leave, but I realized a few things. One, these guys were here to beat on- possibly kill, judging by those knives- a 13 year old kid who was just trying to help his mom make ends meet.

Two, they were never going to listen to me, anyway; so, why bother handing out warnings?

With that thought, I moved quickly, rushing past Armin’s guard and punching him hard in the stomach.

All of his goons rushed me at the same time, completely ignoring the fact their leader was on his knees, gripping his stomach and releasing its contents.

I supposed Mark had a point. Thugs didn’t really assume stances, or attack in any meaningful manner. Their tactic was to dogpile someone and beat or stab them to death.

But, I was beyond them, by far. Training against the Ox-King had given me much greater strength and durability, and training against Chichi had raised my speed in equal degrees.

I dodged the attempt at dogpiling me, leaping towards a wall and using it as a springboard, launching myself towards the group, activating [Mana Shield] with a thought and diving into them, head first.

-50 MP!

-250 MP!

The effect was immediate, bowling the men over almost comically, if it weren’t for the devastation I’d wrought on them.

The first man’s hands as well as his left shoulder were broken from my initial impact. The man directly behind him- well, I’d slammed into his chin, headfirst.

-100 MP!

I rolled onto the floor, deactivating [Mana Shield] and getting back to my feet, rushing the remainder of the men, now looking shocked at what just happened.

Two ran for it as soon as they managed to scramble to their feet. The final one tried to take me head on, receiving a few harsh punches to the kidneys for his trouble.

The nameless follower fell down, clutching at his side in agony as Armin finally- and slowly- got back up, standing on shaky feet and glaring at me in a mix of fear and hate.

“Who the fuck are you?” He snarled, spittle flying from his mouth as the fire crackled merrily in the barrel to the side.

“I don’t think you need to worry about that.” I replied and walked to him, smiling as he turned tail and began to run.

Not that Armin got very far, I noted as I rushed towards him, harshly kicking at his knee, breaking it and making him fall flat on his fate, his scream of pain cut off by the impact knocking him out.

I lifted the man in question and lugged him over my shoulder, turning to a shocked looking Mark.

“Where’s the nearest police station?” I asked.

Mark didn’t answer, merely staring at me further.

It was after I’d repeated the question that he finally answered. “I-I’ll take you there.”

And so we exited the alley, leaving behind the man’s followers, who were still lying on the cold alleyway groaning in pain.

The trip to the station was quiet, but thankfully relatively short- a thirty minute walk.

Of course, I hadn’t counted on the police wanting to question us on what happened, keeping us in for a few more hours. In hindsight, how didn’t I count on that?

I must’ve gotten caught up in the moment.

So there I was, sat with Mark in one of the station’s many rooms, answering an officer’s questions as another officer looked over Mark’s wounds.

“So just to recap the events that happened…” The officer— Officer Lang judging by her name tag— began, looking down at her notepad. “You two were just wandering around town and the Armin fellow you brought in tried to rob you. Is that right?”

“Yes, ma’am.” I replied with a straight face, Mark wincing as the second officer applied some rubbing alcohol to his wounds.

Thankfully, Mark wisely kept his mouth shut and allowed me to take the lead on this one.

“And you… managed to beat him without getting a scratch. Not only that, you’ve made sure that he won’t be walking again for a long time.” Officer Lang deadpanned, rubbing at the bridge of her nose.

“He really wasn’t all that tough.” I waved it off.

“Not all that tough.” She repeated incredulously, but didn’t say anything further.

“That guy sent two of our finest to months of physiotherapy!” The second officer— a rotund fellow whose name was Feld— said vehemently, getting a bit excited and applying a bit too much alcohol to his patient’s wound, causing Mark to hiss loudly.

“Sorry.” He apologized, laughing a bit too loud.

Idly, I realized that it was already midnight- I’d missed the curfew Master Palm had set for me, but gave a mental shrug. It wasn’t a big deal- he’d either be cross with me, or I’d find somewhere else to sleep.

I’d been sleeping outside for a month, now. Another night wouldn’t matter.

“No offense, ma’am, sir.” I smiled, having expected this sort of reaction. “But I’ve been training very hard in the martial arts- I want to compete in the Tournament next May. If someone like Armin can beat me, then my training was a waste of time.”

The first officer’s face lit up and she smiled slightly. “I love those tournaments. Those folks really put their all into it, you can’t help but admire how many hours they’ve put in their training.”

I nodded amiably.

“So you’re one of them?” She asked, leaning forward.

“I hope to be.” I replied with a shrug. “I won’t know for sure until I actually participate.”

“Right.” She nodded, before re-assuming her professional demeanor, giving me a halfhearted stern look. “Well, you shouldn’t be out looking for trouble just because you can handle it, young man. What if they had guns?”

I blinked at the change in tone, before shrugging again.

“Then we’d be dead.” I said flatly, watching as the three in the room shuddered at the thought. “It wasn’t like we were looking for it, we were just heading home after a long bout of training together.”

At that, she deflated slightly, but still managed to hold onto her stern look. “I suppose that’s fair. We’ve already taken the time to inform your parents of what happened.”

“Don’t worry-” She added in quickly, seeing our alarmed expressions. “We’ve assured them that nothing bad happened, and that you’re safe. Of course, traveling on your own, Mr. Ten, I think is extremely foolhardy: sailing from South City and making your way through Fry Pan Mountain and the wilderness beyond it!?”

She huffed, before rubbing the bridge of her nose again and muttering that she didn’t get paid enough for this shit.

I cracked a smile at that.

“May I call my mother?” I asked. “I had planned on doing it a few hours ago, but… well…”

“Sure, kid.” The officer said, getting off her chair and opening the door, motioning me to follow. “I was going to let you do that anyway. I’ll let you handle Mark here, Officer Feld. His mother should be here soon.”

With a wave to my fellow teen, I followed the officer out as she guided me through the hallways of the station, passing by a few envious criminals in cuffs being led to the slammer.

“Crime never sleeps, huh.” I said as we turned another corner, before I was led into a small room with a phone.

“Unfortunately, no.” The woman sighed. “There’s been a marked rise in crime in the past few weeks, to be honest. Gang wars, that kind of thing.”

Ah, that explained her stern warnings.

“Oh, I didn’t know that.” I gave an understanding nod as I grabbed the old telephone and began dialing.

“I’ll give you some privacy.” She said, before exiting the room.

I stared at the security camera in the top right corner of the room.

“Privacy, huh?” I muttered in amusement, waiting for my mother to pick up. It didn’t take long.

“Hello?”

“Hey, mom.” I greeted, but didn’t get very far.

“Ten!” She almost shouted. “I’m so glad you’re safe! What happened? You said you were making your way to Central City a month ago, and I had to wait all this time only to get a call from the police saying you got into trouble!?”

“That’s.. Not what happened, mom.” I said with a frown. “I thought Officer Lang explained it all to you?”

“She said you stopped a mugging, or something.” My mom replied, her tone concerned. “Did you get hurt?”

I was honestly confused, my mother’s tone jumping from angry to concerned throwing me off. “N-No, mom, I’m fine. Not a scratch on me. Mark, on the other hand…”

“Mark, who’s Mark? Is it that boy you were with?” She asked suspiciously, as if implying it was because of him I was in trouble to begin with.

Technically, she wasn’t wrong

It still irritated me.

“Mom, they came after us.” I said heatedly, anger getting the better of me for a second before [Gamer’s Mind] squashed it. “Mark’s just a guy I met at the martial arts dojo here. You can ask Master Kai about it— Palm Karate Dojo. Mark’s their best student.”

A few moments passed, before I heard her sigh.

“I know, I know..” She sounded exhausted for a moment. “I just… I worry, you know? I’ve been worried for weeks, and this happens… The only real conversation I’ve had all month is with your new friend and her dad.”

I swallowed a bit thickly— not really wanting to think about Chichi at that moment. She would’ve been equally worried, come to think of it.

“I’m sorry, mom.” I said honestly. “I didn’t mean to worry you like that. I’m fine, I promise. I’ve even started doing the research I told you about. I was going to call you earlier, but I got caught up in everything and— well, you know what happened.”

I could hear her stifling a yawn. “Ye-ah.” She yawned again.

“You should get some rest, mom.” I replied. “I’ll call you tomorrow afternoon, when you’re done with work?”

“I- er…” I could tell she was conflicted over this, but eventually her tiredness won out. “All right, honey. Just.. be safe, okay?”

“I will.” I said.

“You have a place to sleep tonight?” She asked.

“Uh, yeah.” I replied. “The dojo master offered for me to stay the night. He might be a bit irritated with me, though. It’s late.”

“All-” She stopped to yawn again. “All right. I’m going to sleep now, honey. I love you.”

“Love you, too, mom.” I smiled. “Goodnight.”

She replied in kind as I ended the call, Officer Lang coming back inside. “I take it your call went well?”

“About as well I could hope for.” I shrugged, rubbing the back of my neck before addressing the officer. “So, am I free to go?”

“Oh, yeah.” She said. “Well, Mark’s mother wanted to invite you over to sleep, or something.”

“Uh…” I said eloquently.

“Beats me, kid.” She laughed as she led me to the exit. “I’m guessing she wants to reward you for saving her kid’s life, or something.”

That made sense. I supposed it wouldn’t hurt to hear her out.

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