Chapter 3 – The Challenge

Chapter 3 – The Challenge

Unedited

We enter the fifth day in the chasm. The previous days we explored the different cave exits, while coming back to the red bear’s lair to rest. This underground complex is huge, so we needed a rather safe place to retreat to and being able to bath and collect some herbs and other plants doesn’t hurt either.

We killed a bunch of mobs and even I got a level up in the meantime. Momokawa gained five levels by that time. So we’re level 38 and 16 now. The monsters here are strong enough to be even troublesome for me, if I’m careless. No wonder that Momokawa’s level is rising quickly.

But even with bathing from a hot spring, our appearance definitely suffered. I need a shave and my hair became felted.

Momokawa’s hair is worse, since it’s longer than mine.

Our clothes were severally damaged, only the sewing kit we found keep it at place. We smoked the bear meat to keep it eatible for days.

Somehow we tough it out. Although we don’t have much choice but to go even deeper into the cave, unless we return to the surface. After a discussion, we decided that the underground way might be the more promising one.

So we left our camp after arming ourselves and getting everything with us, which could be useful. We don’t plan to return to the lair anymore. You did a great job.

The mother bear’s pelt is carried on my shoulders, I want to keep it. It’s soft but tough to penetrate. Maybe that will be useful.

The plan for now is to follow the underground river as much as possible. Even though we met some bat-gnomes on the way, this very territorial and aggressive race didn’t stand a chance against Momokawa’s and my combined powers. Or the ‘tank and heal afterwards’-battle-strategy.

There are some other mobs here, like giant ants and termites. And they’re quite strong, too. But I’m still much stronger. This wouldn’t normally be my grinding grounds, but under these circumstances it’s welcome.

Especially since we have to watch out our SP in this chasm.

Momokawa, on the other hand, could raise her level in the meantime and get more MP. These mobs would definitely too tough for her alone, but at least she won’t be killed by one or two minor attacks, finally.

That eases our minds. If Mookawa dies, I’m as good as dead as well. And she isn’t keen to be killed for obvious reasons.

The underground passage is moving further down, whenever we could we would follow the river. With my [Pitch]-skill I can press my ear at the wall to hear the water current. Momokawa’s [Torch]-spell gives us the needed light, even so my [Darkvision] is essential to navigate and detect enemies here.

But since these skills drains my SP, I have to recharge them by healing or with water of the hot spring, we carried around in the patched waterskin. Depending on the current circumstances, like Momokawa’s MP, my SP-consumption, etc.

“Katsuragi, I need some water.”

I have just finished a sip.

“Here.”

I hand the waterskin over.

“Thanks.”

She pressed her lips at the mouthpiece and draw a sip herself.

=======================================================================

You gain 1 WP.

An unintentional indirect kiss is a symbol of closeness.

=======================================================================

And she looks, like the water has transformed into bile. I’m too tired to comment it. Momokawa on the other hand grows more erratic every time a message pops up.

“How many WP do we currently have?”

“Eight.”

“So eight times.”

We get them by spending time and doing stuff together. But since we have to work together to survive, we have to do some, like drinking from the same waterskin. It would be less annoying, if the pop-ups wouldn’t have these weird messages at the end.

Momokawa dismisses the topic and ask another question.

“What time is it?”

“Hard to tell. I would guess around 2 p.m.”

In the big cave we had the crack in the ceiling to determine the time by daylight. Here aren’t any pointers to that, so I guessed by how hungry I am.

“So about six hours, already.”

Since we don’t regain that effectively SP by resting due the hotness of this place, we use Momokawa’s MP to gauge when to rest. MP regenerates over time and a bit more when resting, but if we run into a hard encounter with insufficient MP, we’re doomed.

Momokawa’s MP are around 80%, so we don’t need rest now.

“Let’s have a break when we find an open part of the underground river.”

Then we can regain our SP with the water there and fill up the waterskin again.

We continue our journey down and after an approximate hour we got into another cave. It seems to be huge, somehow, even though it was tough to see. Since the cave was fogged.

The water of the underground river is boiling here. The heat was immense and our SP are drained four times the speed as before. There is a kind of illumination, but since we could only see fog, there was no way to determine, what the light-source is.

Only that it’s everywhere.

What is this place?

A bridge made out of rocks is laying in front of us, which is the only way through the sea of boiling water. Normally I would presume, that this would be the source of the hot spring, but this is the place the underground river flows into. So the reverse direction.

“Momokawa, I think we should retreat.”

The heat is nearly unbearable, the SP-drain is crazy. It’s so foggy, that even I can’t perceive the area. And I got the feeling, something strange is lurking here.

“…No.”

“Why?”

I don’t want to be here. As a solo-player you have to know your odds to be effective. And our odds at the moment are miserable.

“This might be the only way out. And I’m sick of this chasm!” Don’t be irrational, woman! “You already did some stupid actions. Now we do mine!”

Start to make sense!

“Anything could lie in wait for us.”

“Are we inside a volcano?”

“Hear me out, dammit!”

“Look, under the boiling water… is that lava?”

She is right. The light source here is glowing lava, which heats the water of the river and boils it. But there is still a layer of liquid there, which constantly boils.

Is something like that even possible? My understanding of physics couldn’t tell. But at least there seems to be no poisonous gases. I check my status screen to be sure. No poison condition.

“Never mind. We have to retreat!”

«But you just have arrived.»

This voice… I remember it, it was the same the large Ss’rak, the voice of Muaotef, spoke with. Only much louder, clearer and more majestic.

And I remember a detail, I totally missed. But can you blame me, I was pretty sidetracked back then. The words Muaotef spoke that day: ‘You will not be killed, yet. Bring them to Our chasm.’

This isn’t any chasm. It’s Muaotef’s. And we stumbled across his lair.

«So the heroes finally arrive. We were waiting for you.»

I couldn’t see anything beside fog and the voice was echoing across the cave. So loud even the rock vibrates.

«And now you’re powerless.»

Ah, I see. We got pretty much messed up over the days. We raised our level, but we are run down mentally. Was this intentional or only a side-effect?

Momokawa keeps her cool. “Are you a dragon?”

How could you as such a question so calmly!? We should run away!

«…How do you know?»

“I saw a western movie which kinda reminds me of this situation. Your voice in particular.”

«We see. Heroes indeed. Or more to say ‘outsiders’. Dragons are just fairy tales in this world.» The rock drones, heavy steps are made. «But We’re more real than anything else.»

Muaotef shade appears in the fog. He’s at least 30 meters tall. A short blast of fire from his nostrils dissipates the fog around him and a majestic creature with red and golden scales stands before us. His eyes are green and shiny as emeralds.

And even though he does nothing particular intimidating, I’m overwhelmed by fear. All thoughts stopped. Even though I want to run away, my legs aren’t moving an inch.

Momokawa is shivering, too. She was pale as a ghost and even though it’s unbearable hot in this cave, my blood is freezing.

We reach out to each other, holding our hands, to feel some human warmth.

Satisfied with this reaction, Muaotefs mouth maliciously widens and the fog obscures Muaotef back to just a shade.

My mental paralysis fades away, but the cold of fear is still present. And I question myself, how something like a dragon could do this to me. I’ve seen tons in games!

Maybe because you don’t realize there, how big a 30 meters tall creature really is. But even Momokawa who kept her cool until now is devastated.

«In the end you’re just humans.»

That self-satisfaction. As if he knew, what would happen.

Is this an ‘aura of fear’-skill? But even if it is, it doesn’t change how well it worked. My legs are still so soft, that running away is no option anymore. The only thing we’re running on is Muaotef’s palm.

«Which one brought you in this world? Tell Us, male.»

He must mean, which god.

“I don’t know.”

«Is it male or female?»

“I couldn’t tell. The voice was unisex.”

«What about you, female human?»

“I don’t know either.”

«What a pity. But as expected.»

Muaotef is losing interest. And I’m sure if he loses interest, we’re dead.

I need to keep him interested. Or get him into a conversation. To keep us alive. But I’m not good at this… But there is one thing, I’d like to ask him. Let’s go!

“Why did you bring us in the chasm in the first place? Couldn’t you ask us back there?”

«We can hear your heartbeat and smell your hormones. You can’t hide anything. You smell is full of fear and you don’t want to be killed, but We won’t waste Our time with useless questions anymore.»

We’re totally dead. Seriously. And I’m too shaken to do anything about it.

But then Momokawa speaks up.

“Great One, how can we please you? We’re nothing but ignorant children, but if we can do something to stay alive, we will definitely do it. You just have to ask.”

These are most likely the most honest words I ever heard of Momokawa, but somehow her plead sounds very persuasive. Maybe because she’s used to please others for her own advantage.

«We know, you’re just flattering Us, but We don’t mind.»

The luxury of the mighty.

«Cross this lair of Ours and you will find a staircase. Our servant Ss’raks are there. If you want to stay alive, you have to slay their patriarch. Entertain Us.»

This is like a sick TV-show.

So he’s ready to sacrifice his servants for his own amusement? And since we don’t have a chance to resist, he can enjoy us being forced to kill sentient beings? I killed mobs before, but Ss’raks are more human-like than anything I met before. Except humans maybe.

But we have to survive.

“Very well.”

Momokawa made up her mind, too. It’s time to be pawns of a dragon’s entertainment.

«You have three days.»

―○●○―

We finally escaped the chasm. After crossing Muaotef’s lair and climbing up the stairs, we found ourselves at a sanctum of a temple. A heavy stone door separates the entrance to the lair and the sanctum to kept the heat under control.

Since nobody was here, we rested first. This is the first time, we could use our natural SP-regeneration normally in days.

And probably the first time, we feel chilly at around 30°C  (86 Fahrenheit).

My legs are still trembling with fear and even though a priest of Muaotef might come in anytime, Momokawa and I need this rest to regain our composure.

But I’m still wondering about the quest we just took.

“Why did he give us three days to kill a one person? There has to be a catch.”

“It’s the patriarch. So he’s supposed to be heavily guarded, right?”

“Is he recreating an assassin game?”

“What’s this?”

“Became popular in recent years. You play as an assassin who better kill people quietly and without causing a stir. The challenge is the interesting part.”

“Or maybe he wants to see, what we’re capable of, if we have time to prepare.”

“To conclude what other heroes are capable of?”

“Maybe.”

“But we are all different.” We have different classes, different personalities and different strategies.

“Not for him, I guess.”

She may be right. Muaotef doesn’t think much of us. We’re just flies for him. At least that’s the feeling I got.

And I wouldn’t be surprise, if he breaks the agreements out of boredom. I hate it! I don’t have an idea what’s going on and go blindly into the next danger.

Somehow I get the feeling, that I have my inner fire back. I didn’t notice that my spiteful personality was dampened in the chasm. I guess constant SP-drain would have such an effect.

“Let’s get over with, Momokawa.”

“I don’t have a choice, do I?”

And even Momokawa’s obedience is disappearing.

A good time to take on some Ss’rak.

I open the bronze door leading out of the sanctum and activate [Sneak]. This corridor don’t have any windows and is going upstairs.

At the end is another bronze door. I press my ear on the wall and use [Pitch] and whisper the things heard to Momokawa.

“Three people standing right in front. No other sound in ten meters.”

Our weapons are the rusty knife, six stones and three rip bones of the crimson bear. We only have the unclosable backpack and the pockets of our clothes, so we couldn’t carry much.

Three Ss’rak…

I guess I can take them on, since I’m currently uncursed. But it might take too long and reinforcement could come. I don’t have any consumables, so I have to trust my basics.

I change my class to [Pikeman].

“Momokawa, I need a bone.”

She carries the backpack and the rip bones within. With one of them I can use [Spear]-skills, but they break after one or two usages.

“Here.”

“Thanks. Now go back a bit, I will take care of all of them.”

Inhale. Exhale.

“Phew.”

Bone in the left hand, knife in the right. And I push the door open. I thrust the knife in the throat of the first Ss’rak I could see, while he was flat-footed.

The second one is pierced by my [Speedthrust] directly into the heart. This skill is fast and strong, so even after the moment of shock I’m able to overwhelm the Ss’rak. The bone breaks, I draw the knife out of the first one and prepare for the attack of the third.

My plan succeeded, now it’s a one-on-one fight.

The Ss’rak don’t need a weapon, he has claws, teeth and a strong tail. With rending claw-slashes it tried to hit me, but I jumped back. In this fight I would use my SP to the fullest, so strong and fast attacks in succession and great evasion movements are possible.

If I don’t end it fast, I will be killed.

But a knife is not a good weapon against a Ss’rak. Scales and claws make it tough to go into the infighting and if you don’t watch out, you will get hit by the strong tail.

“Human defiels plaze of Great One. Dai!”

And suddenly all my vigor vanishes. It’s talking. This… is a sentient creature. It’s like killing people. My body starts to cramp.

Move it!

I already killed two of them, so a third one…

I… killed two already.

Even though I only need to kill the patriarch. I already killed innocent bystanders, because they’re in the way. These thoughts hurts much more than the tail, who flicked me to the ground. The Ss’rak’s eyes are full of hate.

Hate to a murderer.

Damn it! Move! I’m an a-hole, what do I care about, who I kill to survive!?

“Katsuragi!” Momokawa runs toward me and throws a bone in my direction. “[Speedthrust!], fast!”

I do as ordered. I catch the bone and use [Speedthrust], another broken bone, but this time my aim is off and only scraped the body of the enemy.

The Ss’rack clinches me and is about to rip my throat out. Maybe it will need several times, since I got some [Vitality], but the damage will be immense either way.

I try to shake him off, but my cramped body is too weak. And then the Ss’rak cries out. A heavy knife is stabbed into it’s kidney.

Momokawa.

She is holding another knife and one stab after another is performed. The Ss’rak cried of pain and then for help and finally for mercy. But without any kind of wavering, Momokawa continues. The Ss’rak let me off and is about to tear Momokawa apart with its claws.

I grab both of its arms and step on the tail. And close my eyes to blend out the picture of Momokawa killing this Ss’rak brutally.

=======================================================================

You gain 5 WP.

You just got your life saved by your wife.

=======================================================================

“We need to start moving. Take its knife.”

Ah, the knives she had are tools of the Ss’rak. She took them from the two I killed.

But yes, we have to move. My mind is blank. Don’t think about anything, just follow her.

Momokawa leads us to the right corridor, since we could already hear other Ss’raks coming from the left.

We keep moving, but we realized something. Ss’raks are very got climbers, so they don’t need stairs apparently. Instead there are big holes at the ceiling and a hoist in case large objects have to be moved.

They can simply climb the wall, but for a human, it’s impossible. And the hoist isn’t in use.

“They’re coming close…”

I try my best to stay focused, but the pictures of murder are on my mind. They could easily find us, if we run around, but will do definitely if we go into one of the rooms. There has to be a way…

“Wait. Momokawa, search for a room as contorted as possible.”

We both check the rooms around us and find one suitable. It was a storeroom, mostly full of junk and broken furniture. I change to [Scout].

I press myself to the wall at an inner corner and use [Camouflage]. My body and equipment changed color.

“Great, Katsuragi. Now they won’t find you.”

The sarcasm hurts.

“Shut up and come here immediately!”

Even if I move, my colors won’t change in any way, this is one of the disadvantages of [Camouflage]. It cost a lot of SP and I shouldn’t move while using it. But this time, it’s an advantage.

I take Momokawa into my arms and press her to the wall. Every inch of her body has to be covered with mine. Since the room is dark and contorted, it should be more difficult to figure out, that there is someone at the wall.

And I hope it’s the same case with two. Momokawa seems to say something, but her face was buried into my chest.

“Quiet. They come.”

She falls silent immediately and the door opened. The Ss’rak entered and take a fast look around.

“Not here. Lokk.”

They left. And we hear how they lock the room. Most likely to signal, that this one was already been searched.

“Phew.” At least some time bought. “Ugh!”

Momokawa punches me into the stomach. And again. I let her go.

“Ha… You almost suffocated me!”

Even though she is bitching around, at least she does so quietly. Is it me or is her face a bit green?

=======================================================================

You gain 1 WP.

Whenever you’re in grave danger, a passionate hug will always help.

=======================================================================

Read the mood, dammit!

“I will use [Pitch] on the door, so I can hear when someone’s coming.”

The Ss’rak are searching the rooms and locking them afterwards. Good thing we went into hiding fast enough.

“We’re safe for the time being.”

Today shocks come in plenty. First the fear I felt for Muaotef and now the dread of killing someone, who could talk to you. Murder instead of killing.

If mobs in games would cry for help while you slay them, that game would belong to the horror genre. Maybe the Ss’rak we killed had family.

“Don’t think about it.”

“What?”

“Don’t think about those Lizardmen.”

This is the logical solution. But not so easy. It sinks in.

“Dammit.”

How could Momokawa stay that calm about it? It’s like she murders every day! Or maybe she just have more backbone than me.

I feel pathetic. Almost got killed because I couldn’t suppress these thoughts for a minute. One minute!

I want to shout out, but we’re currently hiding. So I simply use [Pitch] and torment myself at the same time.

―○●○―

“Whateva it was, it be not hear anymoar.”

The Ss’rak gave up their search, I could listen to their conservation. Problem is: They didn’t unlock all of the rooms. Including ours.

Maybe because it’s a pain and not every one is used here. Just like ours.

But at some point, they will unlock this room, so we have to stay alert.

Great.

It’s so great, I want to puke.

“We’re stuck here for a while, unless I break the door and then we’re almost back at the beginning.”

“So we need a plan beforehand.”

“Yes. But I have first to know, how could you even deal significant damage to a Ss’rak?”

I thought about the whole incident over and over and a non-combat character like Momokawa shouldn’t be able to hurt a Ss’rak much.

“You and I were close. Remember, there is a bonus to attributes, if we’re next to each other.”

“But it’s only minor.”

“The knife is powerful, too.”

I better take a look at the knives, the Ss’rak uses.

=======================================================================

[Ss’rak’s Knife]

Description: This heavy knife is hard and sturdy. It’s difficult to wield as a weapon, but can deal massive damage when working with something which doesn’t move.

Status: +30 Attack or +150 if the target doesn’t move

Value: 1,500 Newgold

=======================================================================

This is… sick.

A normal longsword have an attack bonus of +80. So this dagger deals about twice it’s damage at a immobile target. Since the Ss’rak and I were grappling, neither of us could move much and Momokawa got a really dangerous weapon.

What a loophole.

Or more like, does it work that way in real life or is this a hero-thing?

“Did you know it, Momokawa?”

“No. I had to come close to heal you and decided, it wasn’t worth it.”

She’s right. Healing me in that situation wouldn’t have helped.

“Then I saw knives at their belts and took them. And it was the best choice to stab the Lizardman.”

“…Thanks.”

I force this word out of my mouth. In this situation, Momokawa stayed calm and did the best she could do. I, on the other hand, showed a pathetic performance.

“Don’t let me do it again. It was scary.”

I’m scared of how you calm you are! But instead of retorting, I try to get back to the topic.

“The Ss’rak are difficult to fight with knives. Even with three of theirs we’re still at disadvantage. We need to secure any asset we can. Let’s look around. This is a storage, so there might be something interesting.”

“Less of a storage and more of a junkyard.”

But Momokawa helps me to search through the room. Brooms with slightly broken sticks, worn out furniture, shattered lamps, separated nails and screws, torn leather stripes plus other trash.

“Hm… but maybe…”

I think I could try to don a knife on a stick to improvise a spear. Luckily, there is an old buckle, so we can try to fix the backpack we found in the great cave.

We start working.

Or more like I work on the spear, while Momokawa provides light with her [Torch]-spell.

“Katsuragi, I got level 17.”

“That’s twelve levels in nine days.”

“But it’s far too dangerous to do this continually.”

“I agree.”

“And we always seem to rest a long time after each battle.”

“We do.”

“Do you normally do it like that? Going right into danger to increase your level?”

“Hell no. Soloing is all about searching battles you can easily win.”

“But wouldn’t you normally have to find a lot of monsters?”

“After I got my first class, I killed nearly a hundred weak mobs a day to increase my level.”

“Don’t be absurd. Finding mobs and fighting them that often is impossible.”

“Not if you cut the recovery time. Get their loot, sell it, buy consumables and use them after battle, until you begin to run out.”

“Consumables?”

“In this case mostly pots. So HP and SP-potions. After each battle I used them and was ready for the next one. You don’t make much money, but if you need to, you can try to collect treasures by bypassing their guardians unseen. This is one of the reason, I wanted to have a sneaky class in the first place.”

“Does that actually work in games?”

“Depends on the game, but it’s not rare.”

“So you left us, because you wanted to increase your level badly?”

“Ah… could we change the topic?”

“You don’t want to tell me? Why?”

“Because I don’t like to talk about it.”

“*Stare*”

Please don’t stare at me! “I just… it’s… I don’t trust the ones who called us, OK!?”

“You mean the gods?”

“The gods who transported us in this world, the king who didn’t even meet us, the whole kingdom which fights an enemy I don’t know anything of.”

“The king invited each of us to dinner. Each party got an own dinner.”

“But what about this fight against demons?”

“I… don’t know. But Masahiko-kun and the rest should already have met them. They’re undergoing training at the border.”

“The more I know, the less I trust anyone.”

“…What about me.”

“What do you mean.”

“Do you trust me?”

“I have to, right?”

Momokawa picks up one of her throwing stones and throws it into my face.

“Ouch.”

“Idiot…”

“What about you, do you trust me?”

“Not a bit.”

“See?”

“You do things like leading me into a shrine full of Lizardmen, attacking them when surrender is the better option, attacking a murderous bear on your own and hesitating when you’re about to be killed. Finally, you contaminated me with that curse and forced me into marriage at the age of sixteen.”

Each argument feels like an arrow in my back.

Quick, retort! Don’t lose ground! “And you… erm…”

She healed me without complaining, saved me multiple times and didn’t mind to bow or adapt to every circumstance.

I know, I did some cool stuff, too, but Momokawa still have to do a real blunder. The only thing which could be criticized would be her level, which drags me down at times. And when I proposed this team-up, I already knew that I have to keep her save, in the end.

So I couldn’t really complain about it.

I hate it!

Meanwhile, I carve out the hilt of one knife with another, so I could stick a broomstick into it. Afterwards I will try to pin it with some nails.

“Nothing to say, Katsuragi?”

“I try to concentrate.”

“Heh. Concentrate. Of course.”

This woman!

“I’m sorry, OK!? But now we should focus on what to do next!”

“I have no ideas. I have not the slightest clue what to do.”

“We need the following: More combat strength, a way to get upstairs, a strategy and a fallback plan.”

“How?”

“Our final goal is to find and kill the patriarch, but I don’t know, if I can do it.”

“Since you don’t have backbone?”

“…” After the last blunder, I can’t argue that. “If it would be that easy, Muaotef wouldn’t give us that task.”

“How will he watch us… wait. Magic, right?”

“Definitely magic. Most likely with sound, too.”

“Magic television.”

“MTV, yes. And I don’t know anything about the patriarch, this quest sucks!”

“We have no choice. Or do you want that dragon to be displeased?”

“I would rather die.”

“Same here.”

“We… we lack in everything: Intelligence, power and resources.”

“So we should give up?”

“…there is a way to get at least some power. Maybe.”

Momokawa becomes suspicious.

“How and why are you talking about it only now?”

“Because you will hate it.”

“Tell me.”

“We should grind WP.”

The temperature dropped. Momokawa’s voice was cold as ice.

“… Why?”

“I checked the WP-store-list before and there are some strong bonuses there.”

“But then we have to act… like that.”

“I know. But the systems doesn’t seem to be very smart. Even halfhearted gestures are rewarded with some WP. And there are some fairly easy actions on that list. Like holding hands for an hour uninterrupted.”

“Rejected.”

“We could think about it as a make-believe and-”

“Rejected!”

“… *Stare*”

“Stop doing that.”

I try my best to put every ounce of conviction and blame into my stare. But Momokawa simply ignores it after frowning for a bit.

We worked silently for an hour.

To nail the knife onto the stick was pretty difficult. I used the hilt of the second knife as a hammer substitute, but I didn’t want to damage the wood by using full force. But now I have a spear which might not break after using a few [Spear]-skills.

=======================================================================

[Improvised Knife Spear]

Description: A Ss’rak Knife on a broomstick, nailed together so it wouldn’t fall of that easily. It’s not that reliable.

Status: +55 Attack or +110 if the target doesn’t move

Value: 100 Newgold

=======================================================================

The value dropped immensely and its secondary trait became weaker. But finally, I have something like a weapon again. Now I try to fit the buckle to our worn-out backpack.

I have to cut the strap a bit, since it’s too wide. Cutting leather was difficult, especially if you only have a knife as a tool. But maybe we get the inventory option back we lost with our original backpacks.

Momokawa is pondering and only reacts, when I ask her to relight her [Torch]-spell.

“No, still no inventory.”

That was too bad.

“You won, Katsuragi.”

“Hah?”

“It’s better to bend than break and we need everything we can get.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Getting WP, of course! What are you thinking about?”

Doesn’t she realize that some time has passed and it already slipped my mind? But better to play along before she changes her mind again.

“Great! We have to see which actions seem to be doable.”

“…yes.” Wow, what a look of displeasure!

Both of us start to investigate the ways to get WP. Luckily there is a list.

“First name basis… or nicknames. That’s acceptable, right Kenta-kun?”

“Ugh… I don’t like it. It somehow feels wrong.”

“What’s wrong about it, Kenta-kun?”

“Phew… I don’t exactly know.”

“What about a nickname, like Kenken.”

“That’s horrible!”

“Hm… Ken-kun?”

“That’s acceptable, I think. Seems more like an alias.”

“Good. And now try saying my name.”

“OK…”

I don’t remember! I have to check the status menu. Momokawa’s first name was never important for me before. How do I read that kanji (杏)?

“Anzu.”

The temperature drops and my whole skin got chills. Momokawa is looking at me, as if I kicked a kitten just now.

“You don’t remember my first name.”

“I… You’re right. I confess.”

“It’s Kyou.”

Kyou… like the kanji for misfortune, a perfect fit.

“So it’s Kyou, I see.”

“Don’t drop the honorific! We’re not actually that close!”

“Erm… Kyou-san?”

“Acceptable. So now we’re Ken-kun and Kyou-san.”

“On second thought, just drop my honorific. It’s weird if you start using one, when you didn’t before.”

“Ken and Kyou-san.”

“This could be a title of a children’s story.”

“Well, Katsu- Ken, we are in a world full of fiction.”

“Point taken.”

Momokawa… I mean, Kyou-san doesn’t mind calling each other on first name basis at all. But I somehow feel uncomfortable. Maybe because we aren’t any closer than before.

I guess, I will get used to it.

“Hm… Holding hands for an hour each day… Ken, I would like to skip it.”

“But we’re resting pretty often, so using an hour to hold hands shouldn’t be…”

“That’s what lovers do.”

“We are a married couple, in a way.”

“Urgh… let me thing about it.”

You don’t have to look so disgusted every time you remember that the cursed got us married in a strange way.

“Sleeping next to each other at night. No problem.”

“Huh? But Momokawa, that’s much worse than holding hands.”

“It’s ‘Kyou-san’ and it’s not.”

“How?!”

“First, we did it already once, a few days ago when we first arrived at the chasm. And in the end, you don’t have the balls to do something.”

I… couldn’t argue with that. So that’s the reason, why she is so defenseless in her sleep, even though I’m technically still a man. Because she knows I won’t dare to do something.

“But it would be uncomfortable.”

“It’s 1 WP every night, so bear with it.”

This girl is a tyrant!

“Feeding each other… That’s too embarrassing, dismissed.”

How does she measure embarrassment? It’s illogical that sleeping next to me is less embarrassing than holding hands or playing the ‘Ahn’-game.

“Ken, everything which includes kisses is banned.”

“I agree.”

“And the ecchi stuff as well.”

“I would rather put a censor bar on these. Some are hardcore.”

“Linking arms… it’s almost like holding hands…”

“We better not link arms.”

“But holding hands?”

“Less body contact.”

“I see. How about the lap things?”

“Which ones?”

“Me sitting on your lap, lap-pillow and such.”

“Please don’t sit on my lap.”

I would ‘awake’ then and that would be awkward, since there would be no way she won’t notice.

“How about lap-pillowing each other?”

“We have to make compromises at some point. Let’s remember it in case we have too few.”

The list is long full of lovey-dovey stuff. Others are conditional or hard to trigger, like saving the life of the other one. Neither of us wants to try that, since you could actually die.

One of the hardest conditions are things which gets only rewarded when done subconsciously. Like an indirect kiss. These are simple things, but you can’t trigger them willingly because it wouldn’t be subconsciously anymore.

In the end, there are only few acceptable choices. Our final decision was:

[Calling each other by nickname or first name], [Holding hands an hour a day], [Wife gets lap-pillow for at least 10 minutes], [Husband gets lap-pillow for at least 10 minutes],  [Sleeping next to each other], and [Me eating her food at least once per day].

So we would gain 6 WP a day.

“Ken, which bonus should we gain first?”

“We need at least 50 WP before we get the cheapest stuff. Let’s first collect those and look what we need at that time.”

“We have only 15 WP, so in three days it’s impossible to gain the remaining ones with six per day. So why do we even care about that?”

“Only five we can achieve voluntary and controlled a day. But there are more we might collect unintended. And a slim chance is still better than no chance.”

“I agree to it, even though I dislike it.”

Kyou-san seems tortured. Hey, I got her name mentally right.

But there is a question left.

“I ask myself what happen, if we sleep next to each other while holding hands. Would we gain 2 WP then?”

“No idea. We can try it out this night.”

“Let’s not if possible. If we miss the WP for holding hands, we will be vexed if we’re short one WP when we need it.”

“I see. So…”

Kyou-san deeply inhales.

“…so we should get it over with for today. Which one first?”

“Holding hands, since we need to do an whole hour. And maybe we should try to make a lap-pillow at the same time.”

“You or me, Ken?”

“I don’t care.”

“Then put your head on my lap.”

I don’t know why she chose this order, but I just have to lay my head on her lap. This is the first time I got a lap-pillow. And with a female classmate, to boost.

Even though there is no romance in this. Somehow Kyou-san seems to be rather used to it. She take my head in both hands and leads it to her lap.

It’s warm.

Then she take my left hand with hers. These are the hands with the cursed rings.

“Is there a reason, why you took the left hand?”

“We’re both right-handed.”

“I see.”

Logical choice.

Wait a minute.

From this angle, I can see clearly Kyou-san’s chest, when I try to look at her face. Even though she has a slender build, there is still enough to fill one’s hand.

This… is bad.

I close my eyes and try to imagine playing games on my PC to ease this inner stirring. I never paid any mind to Kyou-san before coming into the chasm and even there I did only sparsely.

But I feel like it will be much harder to do the same from this moment on. Since we’re holding hands and hers is clearly feminine, much smaller than mine.

Since I’m laying on her lap and feel her warmth and scenther smell. It’s a mixture of filth, sweat and something else. This must be a girl’s smell.

Am I developing a fetish or is this only because I can’t ban the fact that I’m kinda intimate with a girl and discover everything what’s different about us here?

None of us talked. But I hear a light tapping.

Kyou-sans taps with the index finger of her right hand on the ground. It’s a regular and exact rhythm. Like the ticking of a clock.

…Wait, it’s really a tap per second. She’s counting the seconds!

Uh, she hates me so much, she can’t wait patiently.

I thought ten minutes are doable, but with this discovery, every second becomes painful.

But finally,

=======================================================================

You gain 1 WP.

After a hard work day, getting a lap-pillow from your wife is a way to replenish your vigor and heal your soul for the next things to come.

=======================================================================

“Exactly 10 minutes.” So Kyou-san really counted every second. “In our time.”

“Our time?”

“The one, back in Japan. In Feuerberg, they have faster seconds and 100 makes a minute, 100 minutes and hour and 20 hours a day. Taniguchi-sensei says a day in Feuerberg are exactly 28 hours and 18 minutes in Japanese time.”

So they have longer days? I can’t tell, because I never saw a clock in this world, I guess. At least I should remember a clock, which uses only 20 hours for a day.

But this would mean, that the curse uses our understanding of time. What could this mean?

“Ken, could you please…”

“What?”

“My lap.”

I forgot that I’m still getting a lap-pillow from Kyou-san.

“… Of course.”

Actually, it is quite comfortable, when she’s not counting seconds, but we have to switch. Since we want to test if we can make several WP-actions at once, we can’t release your hands. So we have some trouble, since our left hands are linked, but in the end we just need a bit of turning.

Now Kyou-san lays her head on my lap. It isn’t that special. She looks with a languid expression at my face first and then closed her eyes after sighing.

That’s not romantic at all.

“Back to topic. So that means the curse is able to tell how much time are 10 minutes in our world?”

“I think so, Ken.”

“Maybe it’s only converting it into another time. I calculate this… A day in this world is 28 hours and how many minutes?”

“18 minutes.”

“Let me see… Wait a moment.”

I changed my class to [Student].

“Your belly got fatter.”

This- “I know!”

Seriously, it’s not that bad.

“I think [Academics] might help. So we have 28 hours and 18 minutes, this would be 1,680 minutes plus 18 minutes equals 1,698 minutes .”

Even though it’s not like a calculator, my mathematical skills are much better than before.

Level 38 gives enough [Intelligence] to make these calculations much easier.

“Next, we…”

I calculates the numbers, but seriously, even with an enhanced [Intelligence] it was hard to remember my interim results. Since I couldn’t do it at once with a calculator, I asked Kyou-san to remember these for me, since [Fast Learner] apparently only helps with ‘learning’ and memorizing ‘knowledge’ not interim results. And it’s confusing, since their seconds and minutes are shorter than ours, but their hours and days longer.

“So 10 of our minutes are 8 minutes and about 29 seconds in their time.”

“I don’t think, it has a special meaning.”

“I guess so. So the curse really uses our time. But how and why? Does it have to do with us being heroes?”

“Maybe because ‘we’ are cursed?”

“So the curse uses 10 minutes within the understanding of the cursed?”

“It’s a curse, so I wouldn’t be surprised.”

Kyou-san is somehow right. But I come across another problem. Sitting on your knees is hard. I’m not used to it, since at home a always sat on a chair, either at the dining table or my PCs or consoles. When was the last time, I sit on my knees for a longer period of time?

My legs are numb.

I change back to [Scout], hoping that my higher [Vitality] will fix it. And of course because we still should use my [Perception]-skills, so that I can detect incoming trouble beforehand.

Kyou-san did count seconds to verify if the 10 minutes are accurate. Not because she wanted to end it quickly. In the end, she don’t mind doing something like that with a boy like me. She doesn’t care.

Well, at least it’s not direct hate, but it somehow hurts my manly pride.

That Kyou-san doesn’t think of me as a boy. Or at least a boy who’s worth to be bothered with.

She really has a lot of experience, but for me it’s still very uncomfortable to do things like a lap-pillow with a girl.

Even though I don’t particularly like Kyou-san. I just learned to get along with her grudgingly.

Somehow I feel like my first more private experiences with girls shouldn’t be with someone like Kyou-san, who I don’t have feelings for.

Even though she’s a pretty girl, her personality is…

Is…

Hard to describe.

Two weeks ago I would have said, that she’s a shallow girl with a pretty face, who fakes a nice personality for credits and benefits.

One week ago I would have added, that she’s bitching around a lot and only takes responsibility if she’s sure she will have an easy time.

Three days ago, I would have called her a surprisingly obedient person, who does what is needed to survive, even though it’s inconvenient and straining.

And now I think, that I don’t know shit about her and she’s actually quite complex.

Maybe I just forgot that people aren’t simple.

=======================================================================

You gain 1 WP.

Your wife is trying her best to make you feel as comfortable as possible, so you have to repay any kindness with a moment of privacy, so she can lean on you and recharge her batteries.

=======================================================================

Without a word, Kyou-san lifts her head and sits up. Again, we have the inconvenience to have each left hands, but this time she simply sit next to me, facing the other wall.

I, on the other hand, pulls my numb legs from under my body and sat down on my ass.

Neither of use says a word. My thoughts are wandering around. But it’s still uncomfortable to sit. I can simply lay down the crimson bear’s fur and-

“Ah.”

“What’s wrong, Ken?”

“I dropped the fur.”

“…You’re right. Where?”

“I think it was the sanctum. I remember putting it down for mobility, but then it… escalated.”

Kyou-san had to pull me with her to escape and we totally forgot about the pelt that time. Maybe it’s still there. Or maybe, someone took it.

We brought it with us for several purposes, but since its big and unhandy, you can’t really fight while carrying it. That we lost it is a pity. But at least we’re alive.

For now.

A light shiver passes through my body remembering the dead Ss’rak, albeit only for a matter of seconds. I feel human warmth through Kyou-san’s hand. It’s just like the first night in the chasm. Feeling someone’s warmth can be very comforting.

So just for now, I will engulf in this kind of comfort, while not even looking at Kyou-san’s face. So she won’t know that I need her right now.

And this way around forty minutes passed.

=======================================================================

You gain 1 WP.

Holding hands is a many-sided expression of your emotions of each other. You can express joy, happiness, sorrow and comfort only through your fingers. Sometimes words aren’t needed.

=======================================================================

So we can really perform multiple WP-actions at once. This will be useful. Like holding hands while sleeping, if there is no other way to accomplish a full hour.

Kyou-san and I separated from each other.

My hand is sweaty as well, but at least I don’t wipe it down like Kyou-san does. This reminds me of elementary school, when the other children said I would infect them with the ‘Katsuragi pox’.

Do I have any happy school-related memories at all?

Nevertheless, we’re still stuck in a storage-room full of junk and with no idea how to get out unnoticed and how we can climb the next level. We don’t have any idea, what Muaotef is up to and how to kill the Ss’rak patriarch.

The average Ss’rak are strong enough to be a threat to me if they gang up or I let my guard drop. I’m not sure, if I’m be able to kill them if the situation arises again and Kyou-san can’t do anything about the whole mess on her own.

And I guess the patriarch will be even stronger than the average Ss’rak. Basically we’re still in mortal danger, but it’s not as bad as the chasm. In three days, I think we might wish us to be back in the chasm, since Muaotef seems to be a dragon true to its word. He won’t let us go, if we fail.

I hate it.

Again, I feel my blood-pressure rising and clumps of anger welling up my stomach. I want to slaughter all Ss’rak.

But I understand, that this is only me throwing a tantrum. The frustration is just adding up and since I’m not in immediate danger, this side of me shows up.

I hate it. I hate how weak I am. In these last days I fully understood how pitiful I really am.

“Let us sleep, Ken.”

Kyou-san interrupts my train of thought, as if she knows what I’m thinking. And her proposal just blows everything away from my mind. Since sleeping would mean… sleep next to each other.

Back then in the chasm, we were exhausted in a dark cave and touching one another was the only way to confirm, that the other person is still there. This time it’s still a dark room, but a minimum of light comes from under the door.

So my [Darksight] works. I can see Kyou-san clearly, even though she won’t be able to see that well, the moment she stops using [Torch]. The only way for danger to come is through the door and if I sleep with [Sleepurnal] on, I will notice.

Altogether it feels different from the last time, it’s somehow less desperate and more… thrilling. Well, we only have to be to next other, so this might be surprisingly less exciting than I currently think.

Kyou-san and I lean at the door, so I can make out noises as early as possible. Our shoulders are almost touching. She extinguishes the [Torch] and I close my eyes. I’ve would have thought that the excitement would keep me awake.

But instead I fall asleep in a second.

―○●○―

I open my eyes. Where are we? Ah, the storage.

Where is Momo- Kyou-san? Ah, of course. She’s right under my nose.

Or more precisely my head is on top of hers, while she’s leaning on my shoulder.

=======================================================================

You gain 1 WP.

Waking up next to your partner in the morning gives you vigor and vitality.

=======================================================================

Wait a minute!

I quickly lift my head and now Kyou-san starts to awake.

“…Morning already?”

“Erm… No idea.”

We’re still at the bottom of a temple or something like that and couldn’t see natural light.

“Ah. Sorry for leaning on you. Must have happened after I fell asleep.”

Without much haste Kyou-san simply backs off. She really doesn’t think anything of me. But somehow my head feel a lot clearer than before. Maybe taking counsel with one’s pillow is more effective, than I thought.

“Kyou-san, I think I know how we can get out.”

It’s so obvious right now, but somehow I wasn’t able to realize it yesterday.

“Of this room?”

“Out of this building.”

“How?”

“We have to get captured.”

“That’s… a rather stupid idea.”

She is right, but even if we escape this building, we don’t know where the patriarch is and how everything of this will look like.

“It’s a big risk, but the Ss’rak will listen to us!”

“We already killed some of them.”

“But we’re messengers of Muaotef. Since they’re worshiping him, we might have a small chance instead of no chance. We need to ask to talk to the ‘Voice of Muotef’ first, then everything will fall into place!”

“…I see some logic in this madness, but there has to be another way.”

“We only have two days left, before Muaotef’s time limit is met. And even though I don’t know how he will kill us, I’m too sure that he ‘can’ kill us.”

“How about…”

I knew it would be hard to convince her. But we know too little, have no means to climb the level and even if we force on Ss’rak to take us up or do find another way, there might be still plenty Ss’rak outside.

“…Ken, how do we even know that they won’t kill us?”

“We can’t be a hundred percent sure, but there are too many obstacles, if we try it the other way.”

“But that risk is too high!”

We both look at each other eyes, but no one wants to back down. Normally, I would agree to Kyou-san. My idea is stupid. It’s basically letting yourself get caught and try to convince the Ss’rak, that you’re with Muaotef and somehow convince the patriarch to fight us under fair terms, like a duel or such.

But as long as we are able to speak with the Voice, we might be able to earn some credibility, since I’m sure, that this particular Ss’rak will have some insight in our mission. I can only hope, that this one has some influence in the Ss’rak society.

And the more I think about it, the less hope I have for any other plan.

Climbing up the wall, slaying every Ss’rak I see and fight my way to the patriarch? That would be normal in a game, but this is no game, even though I got the feeling, this world tries to convince me otherwise.

We don’t even know, where the patriarch is and how the outside looks like. Even if we would be able to hack’n slay our way out of this building it would be meaningless, if this is some temple in the middle of nowhere without any hint where the other Ss’rak lives.

We lack information and we lack time to gather it, but since this building seems to have a shrine of Muaotef, the Voice might have quarters here. This has to link us to the patriarch! Even though the chances of succeed were plummet. By myself.

I can’t believe that the first thing we did, after getting out of the chasm, was killing the guards. But living for two months in this world, and especially the last few days, made me think that I actually have to kill every problem I come across.

Surely, I became like that because I was solo-hunting and killing for survival. And maybe Kyou-san trusted my judgment, since these kept us alive in the chasm. Even though some would have killed us without her help.

But if she tends to trust my judgment…

“Please, Kyou-san. Trust me.”

I have to clutch at any straw.

“Kenta…” Kyou-san is narrowing her eyes. “Are you kidding? Do you really think, that line can convince anyone? Are your games like cheap romance movies?”

“Phew… I just thought I should try it. So there seems to be no other way.”

I change to the [Pikeman]-class and break the door open. Even though Kyou-san is in a position to complain, she was never be able to stop my plan in the first place. So I just will do it, if she wants me to or not.

The sound of the breaking door can surely be heard from afar and this will definitely get the attention of the Ss’rak.

“You…” Kyou-san looks at me, as if I just took her favorite book and threw it out of a window.

Then she looks around the room, maybe she tries to find a hiding place.

But she doesn’t have the [Stealth]-ability. I have.

Two Ss’raks come in.

“Who you be?”

“My name is Katsuragi Kenta, a hero, and I have to talk to the Voice of Muaotef. I’m sent by the Great One himself.” Or would it be ‘Themselves’, since Muaotef refers to himself in plural? Doesn’t matter, I just have to roll with it.

Kyou-san doesn’t find a way out and just gives up. But she’s looking at me, as if I had recommend her to trash-duty in school, while there are no tools to do so, forcing her to pick up everything by hand.

The Ss’rak, on the other side, seems to be confused. They don’t know what to do in this situation. So I just need to tell them.

“In this case, you should get some reinforcement, then send someone to the Voice, so a meeting may be arranged.”

I try my best smile.

“Better we kill zem.”

“Yezz.”

Why!? That was my best smile!

Kyou-san sighs and step before me. “Please don’t. We’re really here in the name of the Great One and the ones who defied us before are now laying dead, because they incurred the Great One’s wrath. Do you want to end like them, as well?”

“Zzzz… No. Better we do what tze female say.”

“So, female. What zhould we doo?”

This… is so unfair! Why are they listening to Kyou-san, but not me? This doesn’t make sense, if we put aside that I’m kinda unsocial, untrustworthy and put some players in my parties off in the past, while Kyou-san is… OK, it makes totally sense now!

So we are brought to the Voice of Muaotef.

So far so good. We’re in an audience room, which kinda looks like some voodoo hut. There are idols of dragons and strange symbols carved into the walls, multiple braziers burned different materials. Wood, bones and coal.

The Voice of Muaotef, a Ss’rak above 2,3 meters is standing before both of us and six guards surround us. The Voice wears a strange crown made of bones and stone prongs. This is new, but maybe its too troublesome to travel around with that thing on your head.

“Zo you again. You ssurviwed and even came bakk.” He seems to be surprised and wary. “You’ve chaanged.” He’s obviously looking at my belly, which doesn’t exist in my [Scout]-form. Even though it’s really rude! I’m not fat in [Student]-class, only a bit round!

“We did.” I try to ignore that insult and sound as confidence as possible. “And we talked with the Great One, Muaotef in… his majesty.” I almost said ‘in person’, but that wouldn’t be accurate, since it’s a dragon.

“Zee. What do yuu want!” The Ss’rak slurs their words often differently, so I had to focus on them with extra care.

“We’re sent by the Great One to challenge the patriarch to a duel.”

“…” The Voice is looking at me with narrow eyes. “Zhat doezn’t maek zense!” Uh, he slurred more than usual!

“Didn’t the Great One already told you?” Does that dragon really think, we sneak around in assassin style, killing the patriarch without anyone noticing us? It’s obvious impossible. Could you please give as a claw-armed hand, Muaotef-sama!? “We need to go to the patriarch and declare this, you know?”

Why am I feeling dizzy? Ah, the Voice just slapped me with his tail and now I’m at the ground. “Don’t you fool me!” He’s enraged. “Ai’m zhe voizz, human!”

Ah, I totally see. Jealous, huh? I slowly stand up and grin. “You know what?” I’m so calm, I’m scared of myself. Then I change into [Pikeman] and punch the bastard in the face. Feel the [Strength] of a warrior class, fool!

Kyou-san is rolling her eyes in despair. “Why…”

The Voice falls to the ground and spits some teeth out and seems to be semi-conscious. Even though it might be brutal, it makes me feel good. A bit of revenge for the chasm! Better to kick him, as long as it’s possible!

The guards were stunned before, since my class-change and punch were surprising, but now the point their knifes at my throat. With hands up, I declare: “I surrender, but let me speak to your patriarch!”

Well, this visit was pointless!

―○●○―

“Stupid, jerk, idiot, die!”

Kyou-san and I are in a prison cell. She is justifiably pissed at me. We were brought here by the guards, without any equipment other than clothes. Similiar situation like back then at the Heißquellen-shrine. But this time, it’s all in the plan, I made right before hitting the Voice.

But Kyou-san disagrees: “And the worst of it, I wanted to surrender at the shrine back then, while you did something stupid! And now you surrender and it’s still stupid! How can be everything you do so moronic!?” She lets off a lot of steam.

The prison cell is under the palace. And the palace is the center of a huge Ss’rak city. The humans of Feuerberg most likely don’t even know that this city exists.

The temple we were in lies still within the city walls, but seriously: I’m glad that I surrendered. To hack’n slay my way through a whole city would definitely impossible. And sneaking would be difficult, since we’re most likely the only humans around here. A single mistake would be fatal.

Even though it would have been ideal, if the Voice just had cooperated, but since he’s a jerk, it just wasn’t possible.

“Shortsighted, easily irritated, quick-tempered…”

“Come on, Kyou-san. We’re inside the palace and I’m sure, the patriarch will talk to us. So far, everything is fine.”

“Don’t talk like that. This is the worst!”

“It’s not worse than the birds, the bear and definitely much better than Muaotef.”

“These times things escalated, but this is the first time we are at someone else mercy!”

“Phew… what about the first time we got captured?”

“Don’t remember me of that! And it’s different! You didn’t ask me, yet I even helped you to get to the Voice and then you hit him, because his tail slipped in his anger! Why didn’t you tried to please him!? Like, at all?”

And why didn’t you participate in the conversation? But this is much too irrational and since she’s throwing a fit, I just can’t argue with her. So I try to change the topic.  “Shouldn’t we do something constructive while we’re waiting?”

“Oh? What great idea do you have this time? Do you even need my opinion or are you going to do it anyway again?”

She has become very lively and spiteful in just one day. I guess she’s back to normal again. “I thought if we’re waiting, we can at least get our WP for this day. So… holding hands and lap-pillows.”

Uh, now she’s looking at me, as if I had been caught peeking at the girl’s bathroom. The lowest of the low.

“Never mind.”

Well, I’m used to be looked at like trash and that girls despise me, so I should be able to handle it, I suppose.

… …

And so an hour or so passed, while I tried my best to not feel hard-pressed by Kyou-san’s relentless stares. Finally a group of Ss’rak guards is here to take us to the patriarch. I’m bounded, while Kyou-san could go without restrains.

Am I a wild animal!? Let us be fair and tie her up, too!

The throne room isn’t as large as I thought and more modest. The throne was nothing more than a large wooden chair, the furnishing pragmatic and the decoration made of bone, wood and copper. It’s less pompous than the Voice’s room.

The patriarch himself is a… well, he’s only about as tall as me, and since Ss’rak have an average height of roughly 1,90 meter, the king is pretty short for one. And even though I can’t really point out why, he seems to be an old Ss’rak. Maybe because his scales are paler, his features limber and his eyes blanker than those of the Ss’rak I saw up till now.

“I see, you are the one, the Great One sent, while punching his Voice out of commission” The partriarch’s voice sounds dry and humorless, but his way of speaking is more refined than the average Ss’rak seems to be capable of. “Why does the Great One sent you? And why did you do that to his Voice?”

I just need to address this problem directly, while ignoring the fact, that I did something obstructive on the way. I take a look around, there are five Ss’rak guards here. I wouldn’t even dare to say what I’m about to say, if I hadn’t seen the Ss’rak before.

“To be frank, I’m not only a messenger in words, but in deeds as well. Muaotef, the Great One, sent us to challenge you to a fight to the death.”

The guards are shocked, but they don’t move. Strength seems to be important to the Ss’rak, so I already figured, that they won’t kill me outright by challenging the patriarch in person. Who could actually know that the love-advice I got before would come in handy?

“I see. So the Great One wants to test me. Guards, leave. These individuals are on a divine mission, what is to be talked about is only for the chosen.”

Reluctantly the guards leave the room. Hey, I’m bound with ropes, so I can’t do much in this position!

Meanwhile, the patriarch studies each of us with a calm demeanor. After a while of silent observing, he continues.

“You have to know, that the Great One isn’t pleased with me. So I know, you’re assassins. But why did you attack his Voice? And why didn’t you ambushed me. Even now you might be able to overwhelm me, you know?” He seems to be very amused and curious, which makes sense, if I try to see the case from his point of view.

Kyou-san and I exchanged subtle looks. She’s still pissed, but she will let me talk for now, since ‘it’s my stupid idea which brought us here’.

“To be honest, there are several reason. Even if we would slay you, in the end there is no guarantee, that we will escape alive from this city.”

“So that’s why you challenged me before my subjects.”

“And there are other things we want and need. So if you accept our terms, we will comply with your conditions for this duel, as long as they’re reasonable.”

“And the Voice?”

“I didn’t like him! I just wanted to work together with him and he got a hissy-fit in exchange.” It was not because he insulted me with his stare to my belly and hurt me with his tail-whip.

“Keke.” The patriarch chuckled. “You’re crafty and honest. But a coward, to yield to Muaotef’s orders.”

I couldn’t deny it. “But it raises your own chance of success. And you don’t seem to like the Voice either.”

“You’re right.” I think, the patriarch is grinning. Hard to say, since he lacks lips. But this puts him in a good mood, so punching the Voice was totally worth it. “Say your terms, humans.”

“First, we have to fight to the death. Otherwise Muaotef will not be pleased. Second, we are the humans which you guys attacked at the Heißquellen-shrine. Give us our stuff back. Ah, and the red fur, that might be found yesterday in the temple is ours as well.”

“I see. So you’re the ones from the shrine. Now everything fits.”

I can’t tell why, but somehow this sounds like the patriarch means more with these words than just these events. I want to ask him, but he proceeds by telling us his conditions, giving me no chances.

These are the traditional Ss’rak rules for important duels:

1.) I have to fight him alone, since only males are to challenge other males to battle.

2.) Each of us will fight only in underwear and is allowed to take one item with us.

3.) We will fight in the arena, so everyone can see the battle.

4.) If I have a wife, she can stay at the sideline to give moral only support.

5.) Either the patriarch or the matriarch have to be the judge. Since the patriarch is fighting, this time the judge will be the matriarch and no, she’s just the coequal ruler and not the wife of the patriarch.

6.) When the battle begins, it will not be interrupted or stopped, before one of us will die. In that moment, everything goes, even if it’s dishonorable, since battle is not about fairness, but survival. The only exception is interference from a third-party, which will result to the judge’s call.

7.) After the fight ends, no ill mean is to be shown to the victor.

So basically it’s a typical one-to-one duel, with only one item, which would normally serve as my weapon. I will be at disadvantage, since the Ss’rak’s bodies are like weapons themselves, so the patriarch can just take anything he wants, like protective gear, without cutting much in his deadliness. He seems to be old, but I don’t get the feeling, that he’s weak.

“So if I lose, then Kyou-san will be able to walk away?”

“Yes, but if Muaotef has set his eyes on her, it’s only a question of time until she will follow you.”

“But you could escaped from him so far.”

“Because the Ss’rak trust me. If he would openly order to kill me, it wouldn’t be good for the moral. So he has sent assassins and traitors to do this work.”

Uh, so he survived quite a bit. That’s not good. “… I would really like to know more about it, but I shouldn’t.”

“You’re right. Since tomorrow at the twelfth hour one of us will die. I let your requested items be prepared. I call for you then, so you may choose what to use for our duel. Until then, you’re prisoner in our guest chamber.”

“How could you put ‘prisoner’ and ‘guest chamber’ in one sentenced without a flinch?”

“Kekekekeke.”

Too bad I have to kill the patriarch, since I begin to like him. But I hope, I will be able to kill him without hesitation, when the duel starts.

―○●○―

“Somehow, we go from one waiting to another.” Kyou-san is right. Since we escaped the chasm, we’re sitting around most of the time, while the rest is unnecessarily exciting. Like killing guards, throwing punches at religious figures and talking with someone, you have to kill to survive.

But there is a bright side. “But at least we’re going somewhere. In terms of assassination.”

I am not too keen to fight the patriarch alone without support, but if bringing Kyou-san to the fight would mean to face another Ss’rak, it’s doable. Since it would definitely be the strongest female warrior or such.

This doesn’t mean, that I’m that optimistic. “But this battle might be harsh. The patriarch seems like a warrior to me. But at least the chances are better than being stuck at the temple forever.”

“I think, I can cheer for you at the sideline.”

“Huh?”

Kyou-san sighs and repeats what she said: “I said, I will cheer for you in the arena. We’re somehow married, so it’s fine with the rules. And maybe I will find a chance to cheat unnoticed.”

I’m actually moved. That Kyou-san would do something like that. None of us thought for a moment that fighting fair is an option, as long as we find ways to cheat without being caught.

In times like these, I notice that we’re more similar than I originally thought. We’re both rotten to the core, in multiple ways.

“Come, Ken.”

With a small hand gesture, Kyou-san calls to me. She sat down on the only bed in this room, a big one for two people. For some reason, when we were asked if we need one or two rooms, Kyou-san said she wants one with a big bed.

I sit down next to her. Then she forcefully took my head and pulled it down on her lap.

“Ah.”

“Your hand.”

“Right.”

Seems like I did well enough for Kyou-san to forgive me. And we start the WP-routine we decided on yesterday.

But before even a minute passed, it knocks on the door and without waiting, a Ss’rak entered.

“Sowry, doh I dizturb?”

I blush, but Kyou-san is unfazed.

“Actually you do, but that means we’re called for?”

“Exzaktly.”

She separates calmly from me and even let go of my hand.

We are brought to a hall with two thrones. On one of these sits the patriarch and on the other the matriarch, I guess. Hard to tell the gender on Ss’rak without hearing voices. But on her side was a huge sword with a black blade.

This room is actually more of a throne room than the other one. It seems to be a banquet hall. Items are lined up on top of a large table. All our equipment from before we were captured at the shrine at the Heißquellen-shrine and the temple of Muaotef, even our armors. The red bear’s fur is here as well.

“Chooze one off thiise itemz.” Yep, that’s definitely an old woman Ss’rak, the matriarch. Maybe even older than the patriarch. “Zis item be ze one you use in duel.”

The patriarch takes over: “You bring the item to the matriarch, so she can keep it until the battle begins to prevent any kind of cheating. Mine is the sword.”

“Ze sword be strong and heawy, but it be just sword.”

So he will wield that big cleaver. This will probably just cut through my spear with one clean strike.

I look at the items. The weapons we made at the chasm. The spear I foolishly made out of a broomstick and a knife, how silly I was. Probably it will just break after one attack, but somehow I just wanted a better weapon. But most likely I needed to do something to distract me, since I was shocked.

The spear I wielded before we got to the chasm is still in the backpack, instead on top of the table. It might a reliable weapon, but is it strong enough? Most likely not.

I could use a Ss’rak knife, these are crazily strong, as long as you use it against an immobile opponent. But most likely there is no way that the patriarch will be unable to move at any point of the battle.

The waterskin and the fur are useless, so are the backpa- Wait, the backpacks! The ones we got when we came into this world! These are magical ones, which allows us to use an inventory!

I’m currently my favorite class, [Scout]. And I have a skill, called [Distraction].

It’s from the [Stealth]-ability and will make everyone look away from me for one second. You can use it to buy time to use another skill, like [Camouflage], but since it’s only one second, I considered it useless before. When you play solo, the targets will eventually find you, since there are no other threats to be aware of, which makes it only a SP-trap.

But now is different! I activate [Distraction] and shove some few items into my backpack with one arm, the waterskin and the improvised spear. The inventory is still working like it should, great.

One is not aware of [Distraction], so they won’t think too much about it. They basically just looked elsewhere for a second and think that was intended.

I present the matriarch my backpack.

“Hm… unuzual, but…” She looks into it and shakes it, but it’s still light and there is no rattling. “This be one item.”

Yes! I have improved my odds by far, since even if I take out other items from my backpack in battle, this is due a mistake of the matriarch. After the start-signal everything will go, I can use it to improve my odds.

The Ss’rak’s strange sense of honor comes in handy.

The patriarch seems to be suspicious, but doesn’t interfere. After the matriarch took the backpack, he says: “The rest of the items will be handed over to you, if you win tomorrow. If you lose, your wife shall take one item as a keepsake, but the others will become my trophies.”

Ah, so he wants us to have no items over the night. Well, I can live with it.

We return to the room and gave each other lap-pillows, holding hands in the meanwhile and eat dinner.

Even though the Ss’rak give us only soup and a strange kind of pastry, we greedily devour everything, since we had so little luxury in the chasm. We also got some kind of alcohol, which we diluted with water. We might be minors, but we’re in a fantasy world, so Japanese laws doesn’t oblige.

Kyou-san used her [Cook]-abilities before to determine if there is any poison in it and if we could even eat this kind of food as humans, but no problems there.

Our mood improved a lot.

“Ken, do you think, your trick will work?”

“Don’t worry. There are plenty of consumables in my inventory, like pots, bombs and such. I don’t think that you will need to do anything.”

“I see.” She seems somewhat relieved. “Ah, I want a bath. And shampoo. And some new clothes.” Now that her worries are somehow eased, she begins to complain.

When I think about it, Kyou-san’s skin and clothes are still dirty. On her sleeves and under her fingernails is the dried blood of the Ss’rak she killed. Even her hair is oily and barely combed. Normally you would call such a girl ugly, but somehow it doesn’t bother me much. More like, I enjoy it.

The two reasons are: Seeing a pretty and shallow girl in an ugly state is satisfying and I myself am no better off. It’s nice to have a companion.

“Let’s ask the guards, if we can wash ourselves.”

The guards’ answer is a washing bowl, a sponge and some hot water. We asked for clothes, but Ss’rak, male and female, only wear a kind of kilt, to cover the shame and to have some pockets. They don’t actually need clothes or armors.

But seriously, how many days have I been in the same outfit? It must reek of my stench, I even sleep in these clothes! And my spares are still in the backpack. But now it’s time to clean myself!

Or so I thought. “I will be first. Turn around.” Kyou-san says these words coldly, but I guess for her it’s even worse, since she’s a girl.

I turn around and suppressed the need to take a sniff at my clothes, so I can confirm how bad they really smell.

Kyou-san in the meanwhile… got naked right behind me!

This is the continuation of the hot spring-scene, only with no boulder to block my sight and the fact, that I won’t be able to relieve myself anywhere, since we’re restricted to this room.

Help!

Unaware how every sound, from the rustling of the clothes to the movements of the sponge, is exciting me, Kyou-san takes her time to clean herself, extending this kind of torture.

Think about a game character, think about a game character. Uh, doesn’t that increase my lust, actually?

Prime numbers, 2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, 17, 19, 23, erm… 29, 31, 33, wait, it’s dividable with 11 and 3. I hear the next sponge movement and Kyou-san sighs delightfully. Where have I been?

I want to push her down.

Wait! Go away, desire!

I’m in mental pain, which becomes more physical every second. It actually hurts!

I would rather commit suicide before pushing down a girl like Kyou-san! A shallow woman who’s looking down on everyone and always put the blame on others! A girl with bountiful curves, a pretty face and a pleasing voice.

Please! Somebody, kill me!

After a few minutes which felt like eternity: “Ken, could you take a look at my face and tell me, if I missed something?”

I turn around and… Overkill!

Since her face is slightly reddened and completely clean, my heartbeat fastens. The pain in my lower body is almost unbearable and my reason hangs by a thread. One more push and I will push her down.

Calm down! “No, you look fine.”

“Thank you. Your turn.”

The push doesn’t come. But I’m pretty conscious as I wash myself. And I face a problem: Should I wash my crotch? Since any stimulus might be too much to bear, it might be dangerous.

In the end I washed it extra carefully, so there won’t be accidents.

“Let’s go to bed, Ken.”

Please, give me a break! “I would rather sleep on the floor.”

“No, we have a bed and since we decided to sleep next to each other if possible, we should do so. We’re just a few WP short for a simple bonus, so we can see, if it’s worth.”

Oni, devil! And she was against grinding WP at first!

But if I object, she might find out, that I’m about to lose control and I will never let this happen! She will definitely exploit this and blackmail me afterwards!

So I just try my best to lay next to her while facing the other way. Even though I am still excited, I might calm down over time.

But even an hour is not enough to lessen my desires and I can’t relieve myself in this situation without her noticing the smell or the stains! I might get up and do it in the corner, but that’s still too risky.

“Ken… you’re awake?”

“Yes!”

“If you’re thinking about having sex with me, since it might be your last night…” She pauses. What? What kind of development is this? Is Kyou-san actually aroused, too? Maybe being with a man that close for so long makes her sexually frustrated, too. “…forget it!”

And it got flaccid.

Of course it’s actually better than being aroused all the time, but not much. My ego is shattered. Even though it’s only natural, that someone like Kyou-san would act like that.

At least I can now get some sleep.

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