“Move it, mincemeat.” The butt of a spear poked Ethan in the back.

“Hey! There’s no need for that!” Ethan protested.

“Of course there is. You’re slow.” The Krell tribesman pointed out.

“We’ve been climbing this mountain non-stop for the entire evening! When are we going to stop?” Ethan complained.

“Once the boss gives the word.” the man replied nonchalantly.

“Shut it, back there!” Kothar shouted from the front.

“Yes, boss,” and true to his word, the man shut up.

They’d been climbing non-stop since dusk. After Ethan’s revelation, Kothar had decided to withdraw from the battle with his small unit for some reason.

They had no idea what happened to the rest of the army, and they’d been herding him at spear-point ever since.

He knew he could escape if he really wished to. He could activate the Survival Protocol yet again, but it would really harm him this time. The stress accumulating on his body from using it a second time in rapid succession would be a truly unpleasant experience.

Besides, he had no idea where to go.

Looking around, he could only see rocks and light shrubbery sprouting from some cracks on the rocks. Although, with his computer-enhanced vision, he did notice some motion in the vegetation every now and then.

At first he’d thought they were animals, but then he noticed something else.

Every time he noticed the motion, it was followed by a different bird-call, and his party would sound another bird-call in response.

He assumed it was a predetermined pattern used as a method for identification or some such allowing them to travel past ambushers in the mountainside.

It was quite primitive, but quite effective nonetheless. Although his implants had managed to crack the pattern after a couple such encounters, he kept his mouth shut. He did not wish to offend the locals.

From what he was told about the Krell tribes, they were quite aggressive to strangers.

But maybe that was because of the horned people – the Polarii – that were hunting them down everywhere? He did not know. He didn’t know the full picture.

He was hoping to fill that gap in his knowledge on the way up here, but every time he tried to chat up the warriors, they either rebuked him, or Kothar put a stop to it.

They clearly wanted him in the dark about everything.

After he’d mentioned that he’d come from a different world, Kothar issued a few terse commands, then the troupe of soldiers surrounding him had closed in the ranks and escorted him out of the battlefield, then out of the plains, and now up and up the sharp inclines of this mountain.

He only wished he knew where they were going. Maybe a camp of some sort?

They walked in silence for some time as he reviewed the battle logs from earlier.

He still couldn’t believe his eyes:

You evade the fireball. (2) +6XP
You evade the arrows. (4) +8XP
You evade the fireball. (3) +9XP
You evade the swipe of a battleaxe. +2XP
You evade the spear attack. +3XP
You kick the [Soldier] in the face, breaking the jaw. +8XP
The [Soldier] is stunned. The [Soldier] faints. +12XP
The [Warrior] attacks the [Soldier] with a slash of his broadsword.
The [Soldier] dies. +36XP (ASSIST)
Congratulations, you are now a level 2 [Scientist]!
Congratulations, you are now a level 2 [Engineer]!
Feat of Strength performed. +2 STR, +1 DEX, +4 AGI

“AI, analyse that battle log, see if you can glean anything from it. I want to know how this levelling system works.”

“Come to think of it, what was that about the unknown data interface?” he asked it.

<Unknown. The foreign interface appeared to be latching to the visual and the auditory cortices directly by an unknown, non-physical means.>

“Why didn’t it blind and deafen me the moment it invaded my brain then?” He asked.

<Emergency procedures took place and the direct interface was prevented from forming, it was put under quarantine, the synthetic neural pathways of the implants are acting as a filter and interpreter for all visual and auditory data coming through the foreign interface, which is completely isolated from the host’s brain tissue.>

“Good work! Keep it that way, and put that on the priority analysis list too. But wait… auditory, what audio am I receiving?” He thought.

<All communications with the locals is automatically translated from their languages to the host’s main language. Analysis suggests that the same is happening on their end.>

“So I’ve not been speaking the same language as them all this time? Holy shit, I’m actually inside a video game dimension!” He wanted to pinch himself, but decided against it.

No reason to make them doubt his sanity again.

The Krell… They looked a lot like text-book Native Americans, and their tribalism certainly deepened the impression.

But they also tattooed their bodies heavily, Native Americans didn’t do that, did they? Wait, they did it during wars, right?

<Assessment is correct! Would you like to watch an educational video on the subject?> The AI queried.

“Maybe later. I certainly need to investigate this in the future. Remind me to do so when I have a moment.” He thought to it.

Aylin Merza was currently in the Magisterium part of the war camp.

She had petitioned for an audience with the Vice Magister, and naturally her request – coming from a lowly [Pyromancer] – was put on the waiting list. The Vice Magister was a busy personality and had many responsibilities.

“Like polishing his golden behind.” she thought disdainfully.

But she wanted that divination! Even if [Commander] Talius would not authorise it. She had to know where that man went!

More importantly, she had to know where he came from.

If only the [Commander] would understand!

But maybe… just maybe… he did understand her, maybe he did so too well.

She had her suspicions that he might have picked on some of her more… extracurricular activities. Her other fields of study were of the less known – and much less welcomed – variety.

She just didn’t understand why things like soul trapping magic and necromancy were so ubiquitously frowned upon.

If she’s going to torch an entire village anyway, why not capture all that spiritual power for herself while she’s at it? Why not raise the skeletons yet again to faithfully serve a righteous purpose?

So what if thousands of immortal souls would suffer for eternity? It’s not her problem once they’re bound to the soul crystals, or undead vessels – Or both! A Revenant! – A girl can dream, right?

It’s not like they can harm anyone unbidden!

Unless someone broke the crystals, or the undead went feral, of course.

But she was careful, she would never slip and allow such a thing to happen, ever.

She was currently waiting, sitting at a bench and sipping some spiced wine from a pitcher she managed to liberate somewhere.

She kept reheating the wine goblet using a simple spell from the palms of her hands as she waited, and waited, and waited.

She wasn’t going to give up no matter what, she wanted that divination.

[Commander] Talius be damned! Knowledge – her knowledge – was more important!

And finally, after a long wait, the Vice Magister sent for her.

She got up hastily, produced her hand mirror, and redid her make up. She donned her ornaments and jewellery in the right arrangements – a seductive symbol of the power of her noble heritage – from her delicate horns, and made sure she was stunning as always.

She would get what she wanted, no matter what the price.

Ethan’s group had journeyed for two more days up the slopes of the mountain without stopping for anything other than food and calls of nature.

They fed him dried stringy meat that he dared not imagine from whence it came.

The taste was strange to his palate, but not entirely unpleasant after a few bites.

As they climbed in height, it got much, much colder, and when their waterskins dried up, they filled them with snow to melt using their body heat.

They weren’t entirely cruel though, they did give him some furs to warm himself up, once they made absolutely sure that he couldn’t cast any fire magic to warm himself up, at the risk of freezing to death.

“This is torture! The sadist bastards!” He thought, without daring to actually voice this sentiment.

Something in the group dynamic had shifted in those last few hours though.

Everyone looked more… wary. It was as if they were expecting an attack at any given moment.

Their formation tightened. They took fewer breaks, and they appeared more alert.

This naturally made him very nervous, if such strong warriors could be unnerved by something. What would such a thing do to him, a newly dislocated civilian from a different land.

He soon found out what put them on edge, when a gigantic bird the size of a building swooped down from the mountainous peaks and grabbed a man in its huge talons.

Kothar was out there in an instant, drawing a bead with his longbow. He took aim, and shouted right before release.

“[Triple Shot]!”

An arrow left the longbow, and ghostly images of two other arrows could be seen mirroring its path as it closed on the giant bird of prey.

The three arrows pierced the poor man in the chest and the neck, he must have died quickly, for he stopped his struggles immediately. The bird continued flying away.

Ethan was speechless.

“What the hell was that?” He asked Kothar after the bird had disappeared.

“That was a Roc, they live high in the mountains. Have you not seen one before?” Kothar was very calm despite almost losing his head to a giant bird just mere seconds ago.

“Did you just kill your own kinsman?” Ethan’s tone was icy cold.

“Yes, he would have endured horrible torture in the beaks of the chicks and begged for a death long in coming. They would have kept him alive for days. I spared him that fate.”

Ethan looked away in shame, his anger dissipated. Now he understood.

Suddenly his tiny problems paled in comparison to this simple fact of life.

This was not a forgiving world. It was eat or be eaten.

He was determined to remember that.

When Aylin entered the Vice Magister’s tent, she stood there in shock.

Sitting there and laughing with the Vice Magister was non other than her very own secret nemesis, [Commander] Talius.

And the look he gave her made her blood run cold.

“Oh hello, Lady Merza! Are you here to petition His Radiance for a divination against my orders?” He asked in a cool voice, blunt and to the point, as always.

“Um… Uh…” Her mind was screaming at her to recover with something, anything to say, but nothing came to mind.

She squirmed and wanted the earth to swallow her whole at that very moment.

“I see. As expected!” He looked to the Vice Magister, “You see, Your Radiance, I win.” He proffered an upturned palm to the man.

She looked up quizzically.

“His Radiance made a bet, he said that you would never have the gall to go against my orders, since any respectable student of the Magisterium would never go against a direct order from their superior. It looks like I won the bet.”

The Vice Magister handed him a sealed pouch of coins while staring daggers at Aylin.

“I’ll take my leave, with your permission, Your Radiance.” The [Commander] bowed. “Until next time.” he turned to leave.

As he was leaving, he leaned in and whispered in her ear.

“It looks like you, young lady, are in deep shit! Moreover, once I made sure of your intentions, I took the time to tell him about your nightly dabbling activities.”

He brushed a tear from her cheeks.

“Good luck, kiddo!” He smiled as he left.

Late in the night, she sneaked her way out of the camp and started trekking north. With all her secrets publicised, only a trial awaited her at home.

Her disgrace was so vile, she would no longer be welcome in The Empire. Even her family would disown her once the news travelled back to the capital.

Her only choice was to die at the hands of these savages, and take as many of them with her as she could.