[Commander] Talius was stunned.
There they were, about to engage in battle with the enemy when, with a loud bang, a strange human, dressed in odd clothing, appeared out of nowhere on the battlefield.
“It must have been a teleportation spell.” He muttered under his breath.
Aylin squeaked from behind him. “That was no spell!”
“How would you know?” He asked, not looking at her.
“Teleportation magic is impossible! It’s the stuff of myth and legends! Besides, I detected no spell fluctuations in the ambient manasphere!”
“Fluctuations?” His curiosity was piqued.
“Yes. Any spell casting must cause some fluctuation in the manasphere, no matter how minute the effect. It’s like how you can’t tread water without creating ripples! It’s the principles of causality we all studied at the academy!”
The strange human now sat up, casting anxious glances around, a look of bewilderment evident on his face.
“That makes him even more curious. Do you think he’s with the enemy?” He asked.
“I think–” Her response was interrupted by the sound of a piercing horn.
“It looks like the [General] thinks this is a plot by the enemy and is rushing to attack.” He thought, annoyed.
Looking at the men surrounding him, he lifted a fist in the air. “TO GLORY! CHARGE!” He shouted over the din.
Two armies charged at each other across the vast battlefield.
Ethan still stood in the middle, clueless on 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 THIRD DEGREE PANIC ATTACK – ADMINISTERING BETA BLOCKERS!>
“Easy now, breathe!” He told himself. After a few beats, his heart rate steadied, and his mind was calm once again.
“Think. How do I get myself out of this situation?” He asked himself, watching both armies charge from opposite ends of the plains.
He looked at the human side of the conflict and believed he had better chances at surviving amongst his own kind. Although the human host was smaller by a large margin, he held onto hope that 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, and execute.” he thought to the AI implants.
The Survival Protocol was a built-in feature reserved for emergencies only. 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. They were also tasked to control the adrenal glands to fine tune the cardiovascular system – all whilst pushing the muscles to the maximum to avoid any dangers and manoeuvre the body to the destination.
His destination currently lay behind the charging human army, to the north, further away from the horned people as possible.
<Active simulation in progress… Activating Survival Protocol.>
He felt his body lurch as his control released. He lost control of every muscle in his body.
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.
He stood frozen in place for ten seconds while it collected the data—ten seconds which felt like an eternity.
<WARNING: UNKNOWN ENERGY SIGNATURE DETECTED! ALTERING SIMULATION TO ACCOUNT FOR NEW DATA!>
At that moment his body jumped backwards with superhuman reflexes, and shortly after, the first fireball landed nearby.
“A fireball? For real? Did someone just cast a goddamned spell at my face?” He was overcome with an urge to scream.
There was less than ten metres between both sides of the conflict, with Ethan located smack dab in the middle when the AI finished its calculations.
<Data analysis complete. Requesting Confirmation>
“Confirm, damn it. Confirm!” He shouted.
<Survival Protocol Initiated.>
Then, it began.
“Did you see that?”
“By the gods!”
“How is he moving like that?”
All eyes were fixated on Ethan as he traversed the now bloodied plains, jumping over boulders and combatants alike. He evaded spells, arrows, and strikes from melee weapons with unprecedented grace.
“Is it magic?”
His body twisted in mid-air as three arrows tried to find their way into his shoulder and abdomen. They all missed, with one of them wedging 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. Ethan’s response was to step onto the shaft and direct his other leg into the face of his 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’s progress was accelerating, now firmly behind the humans’ ranks. Too bad they were trying to kill him now. As soon as they heard the horned man say they wanted him alive, they began gunning for his blood.
Their chance at intercepting him was slim, however. He kept retreating along the lines of the human army. Bewildered looks followed him everywhere he went.
He suddenly landed in an empty circular space, surrounded by human warriors from every direction.
Apparently the AI had judged him exhausted – rightly so – and had decided that this was a safe spot to let him recuperate. He could see in his HUD – an overlay that came up in his vision whenever important things were happening – that it had analyzed the situation and judged their reaction as well.
“Who the hell are you?” A towering human questioned.
“Just a traveller.” He was wheezing.
“Do not lie, scum. Are you a Polarii spy?”
“No, I'm just lost. I swear it.” Ethan was really too out of breath for this conversation.
“We have all seen you materialise out of thin air! You’re no traveller! You’re a [Mage] of sorts!” The man accused.
“A what? No, I’m no mage!” Ethan lifted his palms in supplication.
“Then what are you?” The man was circling him now.
“I’m a scientist!” Ethan tried to say.
The warrior scowled, fiercely. “A [Scientist]? Do you take me for a fool? I’ve never heard of such a class!”
“You don’t have classes where you come from?” The man was skeptical now.
A grim realization dawned on Ethan at that moment. He looked at the leftmost corner of his vision. A flashing prompt laid there, forgotten in the heat of the situation.
<UNKNOWN DATA INTERFACE AVAILABLE. WOULD YOU LIKE TO CONNECT?>
“Yes!” He thought as he focused on the prompt.
A flurry of messages appeared in his vision.
It resembled 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?” Hysterical laughs left him at the realisation.
The surrounding men looked at him nervously. In their eyes, he clearly lacked the makings of a sane man.
“Are you mad?” The big warrior's eyes held scorn.
“No, no. It’s just… Ha ha ha… You wouldn’t believe me even if I told you.” His laughter was uncontrollable.
“I tire of your games, boy. You appear on our battlefield with the Polarii, cause a great ruckus and sow confusion. Now you laugh at us, too?” The warrior brandished his great-sword.
“No, no… Wait. Seriously. Wait.” Ethan tried to control himself.
“Okay.” He inhaled deeply, collecting himself. “Okay…”
“First, what’s your name?” Ethan asked.
The warrior's reply was instant. “Kothar, what is yours, boy?”
All warriors had their eyes narrowed on Ethan in expectation.
“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.
He’d managed to convince [General] Gremand to rescind the order to kill that human and instead try and capture him alive. The opportunity was now lost.
“Damn stubborn humans.” He muttered.
His relationship with the Krell was somewhat complex. While he had to fight them day after day for the past 3 years, he had grown to respect their unyielding pride.
Even in captivity, it was rare to see a Krell slave completely broken. Even their non-combatants were fiercely resistant to enslavement. This was unlike the countless nations and races that The Empire brought to heel over the past 300 years.
However, something about that strange human resonated within him. The way he dodged and weaved through the battlefield was simply… unreal.
“So, do you think he was with the enemy after all?” His question was directed at Aylin the [Pyromancer].
“Not necessarily. Maybe he panicked and found them 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.
A sigh left her. “They've bloodied us badly, haven't they?”
“As to be expected from proud people cornered like this, yes.” Talius seemed resigned to the losses.
“At least many have been captured.”
“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.”
“They'll probably go to the Royal Arena. The games this year will be excellent.” She persisted, remaining somewhat optimistic.
The Royal Arena was the greatest source of entertainment in the empire, seated at the heart of it: the capital city of Hjiavak. It was only second to the Imperial Palace in its splendour, and it could hold more than 80,000 spectators at a time.
[Commander] Talius couldn't be bothered less by the entertainment of royalty, though he 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 had hopes for a future.
“We shall see.” He responded as he turned away dismissively.
“Wait!” She hurried after him.
He turned, meeting her gaze. “What?”
Her voice was low. Meek. “I want your permission to perform a divination.”
“A divination for what?” Confusion laced his tone.
Divinations, a branch of magic, were responsible for predicting the future, locating objects, or missing people. It required a trace of what you were trying to locate.
“That mystery human. I think he is important!” She voiced, lowering her eyes.
He knew that deep down she wanted that human all along—and badly. She may look innocent, but under that demure demeanour she was an entirely different person. He wouldn't be fooled by her even for a second.
She would dissect that human piece by piece 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 also held a desire to interrogate that human, he wouldn't wish that fate on anyone.
But now that she had set her eyes on him, nothing would stop her.
A few beats passed before he spoke, “Magus Aylin, I think you're giving the matter too much weight. He’s just another human.”
“But…” She started, but was interrupted by him.
“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.
He doubted this would dissuade her and knew for sure he hadn’t heard the last of it.