[Commander] Talius was stunned.
There they were, about to engage in battle with the enemy when, with a loud bang, a strange human in weird clothes appeared out of nowhere on the battlefield.
“It must have been a teleportation spell,” he muttered under his breath.
“That was no spell!” squeaked Aylin from behind him.
“How would you know?” Talius asked, not looking behind.
“Teleportation magic is impossible! It’s the stuff of myth and legend! Besides, I detected no spell fluctuations in the ambient manasphere!” she explained.
“Fluctuations?” Talius was curious now.
“Yes. Any spell-casting causes fluctuations in the manasphere, no matter how minute. You can’t tread water without creating ripples, after all! It’s the principles of causality we all studied at the academy!”
The strange human was sitting up and casting anxious glances around, looking bewildered.
“That makes him even more curious. Do you think he’s with the enemy?” Talius asked.
“I think - ” Just then, horns sounded, interrupting her response.
It looks like the [General] thinks this is a ploy by the enemy and is rushing to attack, Talius thought with annoyance.
He looked to the men surrounding him and lifted a fist in the air.
“TO GLORY! CHARGE!” he shouted over the din.
Two armies were charging at each other across the vast battlefield, and Ethan was still standing in the middle without a clue as to what to do. Should he run east, or west? Should he hunker down and hope nobody on either side tries to kill him? He was so gripped by indecision that he started panicking, and that’s when the AI kicked in.
<WARNING: HOST IS EXPERIENCING 3RD DEGREE PANIC ATTACK – ADMINISTERING BETA-BLOCKERS!>
Easy now, breathe! Ethan told himself, and suddenly his mind was calm again. Think, how do I get myself out of this situation? he asked himself, watching both armies charging from opposite ends of the plains. He looked at the human side of the conflict and saw better chances if he joined his own kind. Although the human host was smaller by a large margin, he still hoped they wouldn’t attack him on principle.
So that’s where he decided to go.
AI, activate the Survival Protocol. Calculate the most optimal route through the charging human army - execute, he thought to the AI implants.
The Survival Protocol was a built-in feature reserved for emergencies. It was a method by which the AI implants would calculate and project the safest path from point A to point B through highly dangerous environments, and control the adrenal glands to fine-tune the cardiovascular system, all while pushing muscles to their maximum to avoid any dangers while manoeuvring the body to its destination.
Ethan’s current destination was as far behind the charging human army to the north as possible, on the other side of the human army from the horned people, by preference.
<Active simulation in progress… Activating Survival Protocol>, the AI responded.
He felt his body lurch as he lost control of it - he could no longer control a single muscle.
The AI used all the sensory information it could collect to supplement its data on the situation. Every move it made was a measured effort, every twitch of his eyes was calculated.
Ethan’s body stood frozen in place for ten seconds while the AI collected data. It seemed like an eternity.
<WARNING: UNKNOWN ENERGY SIGNATURE DETECTED! ALTERING SIMULATION TO ACCOUNT FOR NEW DATA.>
Ethan’s body jumped backwards with inhuman reflexes, and shortly thereafter, the first fireball landed nearby.
A fireball? For real? Did someone just cast a god damned spell at my face? Ethan felt like screaming. There were less than 10 metres between both sides of the conflict, with Ethan still in the middle, when the AI finished its calculations.
<Data analysis complete. Requesting Confirmation.>
“Confirm, damn it! Confirm!” he shouted.
<Survival Protocol Initiated.>
And then Ethan began to run.
“Did you see that?”
“By the gods!”
“How is he moving like that?”
All eyes were on Ethan as he traversed the now bloodied plains, jumping over boulders and combatants alike. He evaded spells, arrows, and strikes from melee weapons, all with unprecedented grace.
“Is it magic?”
His body twisted in mid-air as three arrows tried to wedge themselves in his chest and abdominal area. The arrows all missed, and one of them wedged itself in a human warrior fighting to the side.
“It’s a demon! Kill it!”
A horned soldier tried to jab him with a spear, only to have him step lightly on the shaft and direct his other leg into the face of the would-be attacker. A resounding crack was heard.
“No! No! You idiots, stop trying to kill him! The [General] wants him alive!” one of the burly horned people bellowed.
Ethan was making great progress, now firmly behind the humans’ ranks. Too bad they were trying to kill him now. Once the humans heard the horned men say that they wanted him alive, they had started gunning for his blood. Not that they had much chance of intercepting him. He kept retreating along the lines of the human army, dodging every attempt to kill him. Bewildered looks followed him everywhere he went, from humans and horned ones alike.
Ethan suddenly landed in an empty circular space, surrounded by human warriors in every direction.
Apparently, the AI had judged him exhausted—which he truly was—and had decided that this was a safe spot to let him recuperate. He could see in his HUD that it had analyzed the situation, and, hopefully correctly, judged their reaction as well.
“Who the hell are you?” a towering human asked him.
“Just a traveller,” Ethan wheezed.
“Do not lie, scum! Are you a Polarii spy?”
“No, I’m just lost. I swear it.” Ethan was really much too out of breath for this conversation.
“We all saw you materialise out of thin air! You’re no traveller! You’re a [Mage] of some kind!” the man accused.
“A what? No, I’m not a mage, I swear!” Ethan lifted his palms in supplication.
“Then what are you?” The man was circling him now.
“I’m a scientist!” Ethan tried to say.
“A [Scientist]? Do you take me for a fool? I’ve never heard of such a class!” The warrior was scowling.
“A… class?” Ethan asked.
“You don’t have classes where you come from?” the man asked sceptically.
A grim realization dawned on Ethan at that moment. He looked at the leftmost corner of his vision and saw a flashing prompt there, forgotten, or ignored, in the heat of the moment.
<UNKNOWN DATA INTERFACE AVAILABLE, WOULD YOU LIKE TO CONNECT?>
Yes! Ethan thought, focusing on the prompt.
A flurry of messages appeared in his vision. It looked like a combat log from a role-playing game. There were messages about stat increases, elemental resistances, and experience gained.
“Holy shit!” he exclaimed.
The man looked at him quizzically.
“Wait… wait… I’m in a fucking video game?” Ethan started laughing hysterically.
The surrounding men looked at him nervously. He clearly lacked the makings of a sane man, in their eyes.
“Are you mad?” The big warrior looked at him with scorn.
“No, no. It’s just… Hahaha… You wouldn’t believe me even if I told you.” Ethan couldn’t control his laughter.
“I tire of your games, boy. You appear on our battlefield with the Polarii, cause a great ruckus and sow confusion, and now you laugh at us?” The warrior brandished his greatsword.
“No, no… Wait. Seriously. Wait!” Ethan tried to control himself.
“Okay,” Ethan collected himself, “okay…” he took a deep breath.
“First, what’s your name?” Ethan asked.
“Kothar. What is yours, boy?” the big warrior, Kothar, asked.
The warriors all looked at him expectantly.
“My name is Ethan West, and I… I come from another world!”
[Commander] Talius surveyed the now desolate battlefield. The strange man had disappeared in the sea of Krell tribes extending to the north. Talius had managed to convince [General] Gremand to rescind the order to kill that human, and instead to try and capture him alive, but now even that chance was gone.
“Damn stubborn humans,” he murmured.
His relationship with the Krell was somewhat complex. While he had fought them day after day for the past three years, he had grown to respect their unyielding pride. Even in captivity, it was rare to see a Krell slave completely broken. Even their noncombatants were fiercely resistant to enslavement, unlike the countless nations and races that The Empire had brought to heel over the past three thousand years. But something about that strange human resonated with him. The way he dodged and weaved through the battlefield was simply… unreal.
“So, do you think he was with the enemy after all?” he asked the [Pyromancer], Aylin.
“Not necessarily. Maybe he panicked, and found the Krell less threatening,” she tried to reason.
“I’ll admit that the visage of a Polarii army in battle armour does not inspire courage in anyone but a Krell,” he conceded.
“They’ve bloodied us badly, haven’t they?” she sighed.
“As to be expected from a proud people cornered like this, yes.” Talius looked resigned to the losses.
“At least many have been captured,” she said, trying to lighten the mood.
“For all the good that will do us. You know Krell aren’t good slaves; they’re too proud. There’s no benefit from this pointless war,” he sighed.
“They’ll probably go to the Royal Arena. The games this year will be excellent,” she ventured.
The Royal Arena was the greatest source of entertainment in The Empire. Seated at its heart of it, the capital city of Hjiavak, it was second only to the Imperial Palace in its splendour and could hold more than 80,000 spectators at a time.
[Commander] Talius couldn’t be bothered less by the entertainment of royalty, though, and saw no benefit from the cruel practice. Gladiators were destined to suffer and die. It was slow torture. At least a regular slave was a productive member of society, and a rehabilitated prisoner could have a future.
“We shall see,” he said as he turned away dismissively.
“Wait!” Aylin hurried after him.
“What?” He turned to look at her.
“I want your permission to perform a divination,” she asked meekly.
“A divination for what?” He looked confused.
Divinations were a branch of magic responsible for predicting the future or locating lost objects and missing persons. It required a trace of what you were trying to locate.
“That mystery human. I think he is important!” she said as she lowered her eyes.
Deep down, he knew that she wanted that human, badly. She may look innocent, but under that demure demeanour, she was an entirely different person. She wouldn’t fool him for a second. She would vivisect that human until she figured out all his secrets, where he came from, and why he appeared in the middle of the battlefield at such an opportune moment.
While he truly wished to interrogate the man, he wouldn’t wish that fate on anyone. But now that she had set her eyes on him, nothing would stop her.
“Magus Aylin, I think you’re giving the matter too much weight. He’s just another human,” he said slowly after a while.
“But—” Aylin tried to respond, but he interrupted her.
“No buts. We can’t waste precious resources for large scale spells such as a divination on a single human, no matter what you think. He may have even been captured with the rest of the Krell all along,” he silenced her with his decisive words. “Is that understood?” he asked firmly.
“Yes, sir,” she said in disappointment.
He doubted this would dissuade her, and was sure he hadn’t heard the last of it.