Month: April 2020 (Page 2 of 4)

Chapter 47: Station-ary

Very strange.

[13,800/15,000 LP.]

Very, very strange.

In fact, the strangeness of this is nearly parallel to the amount of strangeness in my dream last night.

For a series of several hours, I was whisked away on some epic journey I knew not the nature of, and in the process learned a great many things about the world of Mystix, and about Miss M in particular.

And in the process…

My Life points have diminished greatly since I leveled up last night.

It’s concerning to me that my dreams could have affected me in such a powerful way, since normally sleep is the main reprieve from LP drain that someone with a system can utilize. And because of my adventures last night… I no longer have that option, it seems.

I pray to The Goddess that this isn’t something that becomes a regular occurence.

I feel a hand on my shoulder.

“You good, buddy?”

I look up to see Francis’s face beaming down at me. The sun above partially obscures his face, but his smile still pours down at me. He is a true friend, someone who will stick by me at any cost. And the look on his face fills my uncertain heart with a dose of good old fashioned hope.

“Yes, I am quite good, thanks to my dear friends,” I say. “My friends who are taking me on the adventure of a lifetime.”

One day after my adventure across time and space as a ghost… I embark on yet another adventure across space, if not also across time.

Francis and Delta are kind, kind people. Despite knowing me for just a few days now, they are beginning with me the kind of trip that can change a life. However, I do not think I will tell them about my time as a ghost on Mystix. Without further knowledge of exactly what is going on every time I sleep, I don’t believe it is prudent to explain all of that to them.

For now, I will treat it as something of a private matter. Miss M and all.

As of this moment, we are sitting in the outdoor platform to Amtrak station known as Jack London Square Station. It is the main station in all of the San Fransisco area, according to Francis. He appears to be a very big fan of this place, by the way he speaks of it, and as much as I don’t understand what a train really is, I am happy that he is happy.

“The Coast Starlight is one of the most scenic lines in the entire country, you know,” he has often told me. “We’re going to see the sights of beautiful California and you’re going to love it. Also get Destiny Points.”

His enthusiasm is something I would never want to discourage, not in my entire life.

I still do not think an adventure focused on exploration so much instead of combat is the optimal way to level me up, but I do think that it is going to be a lot of fun.

Speaking of Destiny Points…

I gained one last night.

In my dreams, as a ghost living on another world, I gained a Destiny Point.

Right there on my HUD it tells me I have 42 Destiny Points, one more than last night. I’m utterly flabbergasted by this fact. If I could only ascertain the mechanics of how something like this could even occur, surely I could master all of reality. I would ascend my [Adventurer] class and probably do something nonsensical like take multiple classes at once and level each of them up.

I have actually heard of something like that before, with people using some soul gem-related cheating to install the Destiny Deck system twice on the same person. So one person, by themself, could be both a [Chef] and a [Butler,] or a [Warrior] and a [Supreme.] However, anyone who has ever done that has faced a compunding and dire situation—the system, when installed twice, will take double the Life Points away from you. If you are F-Rank in two separate classes, then your base 5,000 LP will be a mere 2,500 in effect, since you will be losing two Life Points for every minute alive, and double the damage from every blow.

It is these sorts of things that make the Destiny Deck system so inflexible, so impossible to take true advantage of. It was seemingly designed to allow for the maximum available tampering, but any tampering will lead to instant consequences.

At least… on Mystix, that is.

Here on Earth, a place where violence is looked down on, a place where clocks keep the time exact no matter where you go, a place completely undiscovered by any [Adventurer] except for myself… It is almost TOO perfect a location for someone like me, someone who wished to advance faster in his own class than he was progressing in the long-explored, long-settled areas of Mystix along with his team members.

Oh, Team Fanghook… I can’t believe it split up.

And I can’t believe Miss M would seriously take me across YEARS of time just because she didn’t want me to accidentally wake up during her journey. What a complete jerk she is! At least… I think so. It was very hard for me to figure out what she was going through. Though that was mostly because she kept poofing me into her damn inventory anytime I wanted to ask her any real questions.

Delta and Francis sit down on the same bench as me, Francis on my right and Delta in my left. I attempt to shift my place in order to give Francis space, but I end up elbowing Delta in her side.

She barks, “Watch it, Eryk.”

“I apologize. I wasn’t paying enough attention.”

“You do seem kinda out of it this morning,” Francis says. “Wanna talk about it?”

“Oh, there’s nothing wrong with me,” I lie. “I am merely looking over all my stats and Destiny Cards because I am trying to strategize and such. Do you wish to hear it all again?”

“Uh, sure,” he says.

“Okay, then, first I shall divulge to you each of my current Destiny Cards in my hand:

Skill Check: Rank 1. Examine the variables around you. (There is a small chance that your next action will go exceedingly well or exceedingly poorly.) Cost: 50 LP.
Blinding Rush: Rank 1. Doubles speed and agility. Cost: 215 LP.
Skill Check: Rank 1. Examine the variables around you. (There is a small chance that your next action will go exceedingly well or exceedingly poorly.) Cost: 50 LP.
Inventory Slot: Rank 4. Store an item here to retrieve for future use. Current item: Satchel (Size: Extra Large).
Inventory Slot: Rank 4. Store an item here to retrieve for future use. Current item: Pistol.
Inventory Slot: Rank 4. Store an item here to retrieve for future use. Current item: Bow and arrow.
Transmigrated Spirit: Rank 3. Summon an otherworldly spirit to assist for five minutes. Cost: 444 LP.

“Aw, wait, you don’t have that [Super Hearing] card anymore?” Francis asks.

“I had to discard it right before I leveled up so that I could draw the second-to-last card that my use of [Foresight] yesterday showed to me.”

“…Can I get a non-nerd explanation of any of this?” Delta asks. “Also, you’re really keeping…. a giant backpack in your inventory?”

“I really must open the contents of that bag soon,” I say. “Remind me while we are on the train to reveal its contents to you. I figure that some of it may be magical in nature and help our journey considerably.”

“You don’t know what’s inside?”

I shake my head. “I was supposed to sell the entire bag to merchants and sellers, but I died before I could get the chance. Inside are the contents of the final mission I embarked on with Team Fanghook.”

The former Team Fanghook, who are no longer together…

I am so “bummed out” about that, as Francis may say.

“You should use [Skill Check] right now and tell us all the cool variables you see,” Francis says. “It sounds like the best cheat mode in Royals of Foreign Lands, where there’s a pop-up on the HUD for every single item around you. It takes a ton of CPU to run that without huge slowdown though.”

“You’re such a nerd,” Delta says. “I can’t stand that shit.”

“I can stand it,” I say. “I don’t understand it, but it heartens me to hear about it. I believe I say that often, but I mean it. Truly, I do.”

“Aw, thanks Eryk,” he replies. “Unlike Delta, you are actually a cool person who doesn’t suck.”

Delta jabs me in the side.

“Ouch! I was not the person who insulted you, you know!”

“I know, but you definitely deserve it.”

“That is perhaps true.”

“So you have lots of cool cards,” Francis says, “but which one is your favorite?”

“Besides the inventory cards? My favorite must be [Transmigrated Spirit,]” I tell them. “You can summon a spirit to assist you in life, and usually combat. However, the spirit is randomized to an extent, and it can be difficult to predict what will happen. A lot like destiny itself, if you ask me. I feel that the card is a good symbol for how adaptation towards circumstances and taking advantage of every aspect of one’s life is fundamentally the most important thing towards becoming a hero.”

“That’s… really nice reasoning,” Delta admits.

“Aside from cards, though, here is my current stat list:

Strength20 (+4)
Agility6 (+1)
Defense12 (+1)
Charisma6 (+2)
Power49 (+3)

“Wow, you have a whole lot of strength and power!” Francis exclaims. “Did you min-max it?”

“I have no idea what you mean,” I say as usual.

“Um…” Francis tries to figure out how to explain it to someone as silly and dumb as me. “It’s like you decide to have the best stats in one extremely specific way, at the expense of having the worst stats ever. In your case, you have super high [Strength] and [Power,] but your [Speed] and [Sturdiness] are pretty bad. Even though you’re pretty fast, I always thought…”

“Ah, no,” I say. “We cannot choose our destinies, so our stats are random, based on some obfuscated stat growth systems deep within our souls. Those that have tried to figure out exactly how we are set to grow has died or gone mad in the process.”

“Geez,” Francis says.

“What the hell is [Viscosity,] even?” Delta asks.

Before I can explain, though, the train pulls up. It is a beautiful creature of a vehicle, long and inviting and I am very pleased to see it here.

We enter the train, find our assigned car, and set down our bags in the assigned area.

Today’s new Amtrak Adventure… begins!

Chapter 48: Amtrak, Earbuds, and Little Debbies

The chairs here are so, so comfortable… I could fall asleep sitting up like this. What kind of fabric does Amtrak use for these seats?

I guess falling asleep with my current “Ghost projection on Mystix trapped inside a mysterious cave” predicament would be unwise, perhaps even ill-advisable. But I have to fight that temptation since it is very, very easy to accidentally sleep when you are in such a world of comfort.

Delta hands me a plastic packaging. “Here’s your breakfast,” she says. “Sorry we had to leave so early. The 6:15 is the last one until noon today.”

“What is this?” I ask.

“A Little Debbie,” she says.

“Little Debbie sounds like a name, not a food,” I say. “And this brown stick does not seem like it will be the most tasty thing in the world. It looks rather plain…”

“I wasn’t expecting you to complain about free food,” Delta says, her eyes narrowing. “You always figure out how to sink to new lows.”


“C’mon, Eryk,” Francis says, stuffing his mouth with two of the pastries at once. “You’ve had a Little Debbie before, right? You ate that cosmic brownie.”

“Oh! Right! The almighty cosmic brownie!” I exclaim. I immediately open the packaging and examine the plain-lookig item. “If this is of the same pedigree, then there is no chance of it being anything other than excellent.”

“Exactly,” Francis says.

“My mother-in-law near in the town where they make Little Debbies,” Delta says. “Some small town in Tennessee. She always brings a bunch over when she comes to San Fransisco. And then Francis steals it all every time he comes to our house…”

“I will admit to exactly that,” Francis says. “I cannot deny the plain truth.”

“But this one is special. It is called a donut stick. It’s like a donut, but definitely not as tasty or anything so don’t get too excited. But its secret weapon? Coffee.”


“Yes. Have you ever had coffee?”

I shake my head. “What is that?”

“Hmm… it’s a dark, bitter liquid that changes lives forever.”

“You’re always so vague when it comes to explaining things, you know,” I say. “Perhaps a little transparency would benefit me…”

“I… Okay, sorry.” Francis puts his hand behind his neck. “I’ll go grab a couple cups real quick.”

In just a minute or two, Francis comes back carrying a tray with three small cups filled with, yes, a mysterious black liquid.

“It’s very hot,” Francis says. “Too hot to drink right now, but the perfect temperature for donut sticks.”

“I see, I see,” I say. “So what do I do, dip the stick in the drink?”

“You’re catching on,” Francis says like a grizzled mentor who’s taught a thousand students the same material. “Try it and see what happens.”

I take the coffee, then I take the donut stick, and I make the motion.



The bread-based confection immediately absorbs much of the liquid, which softens it immediately. I fear that it will soon break apart as bread often does when wet, but instead it remains just firm enough to hold itself together. I raise the donut stick and place it in my mouth…

It’s warm, but not hot.

It’s sweet, but also bitter.

It’s soft, but not mushy.

This is the power of a Little Debbie donut stick.


[+1 DP.]

[Total: 43 DP.]

“I like it,” I say. “I like it… quite a lot.”

“Atta boy,” Francis says. “Embrace the power of snack foods for breakfast. Embrace the overwhelming authority of unhealthy sweets.”

“Yes!” I shout. “Unhealthy sweets!”

“Ssssshhh!” another train passenger responds.

“Sorry,” I mutter.

“Yeah, let’s keep it down,” Delta says. “Trains are like buses, but for really long trips. People hate loud talkers on trains.”

“I apologize to everyone I may have offended. Truly.”

“Tell that to them,” she says.

I start to stand up, but Francis grabs my arm. “She wasn’t being literal.”


I eat the rest of my donut stick and enjoy another scrumptious snack food. It is not a full substitute for a hearty breakfast of vegetables and grains, but in a quick situation, it can be consumed easily and likely includes most all the energy needed to survive the morning.

The coffee itself is… well, I can tell this is an acquired taste. It is certainly not as bitter as a haven root like the kind we grow on the rocks of North Spire, but in liquid form and heated as much as it is, it’s a bit hard to get down. It will certainly take time to get used to a drink like coffee.

However, about five minutes after drinking it, I am suddenly filled with a vigor unparalleled. It is as if I have triggered a [Kaio Mini,] and yet at no cost to my Life Points. I’m captivated by the effects this drink is bringing to my body. It is flat-out wonderful!

As Delta mentioned, this train is extremely quiet. There are people having conversations, but for the most part they fail to do more than cause a murmur throughout the train car. They are polite in a way I can hardly understand.

Back on Mystix, the only form of public transportation I know of is the ship. If you take a mighty vessel to sea and cross oceans to reach a new island, a new continent, you will be doing so in the company of dozens, hundreds, or even thousands in the case of the Mighty Slammer, the largest boat in the world. But even when you travel in a situation like that, you are not expected to remain calm and quiet. Ships are a place for jovial activity. They are a break from the normal everyday life, a pause from adventures and jobs and wars and the troubles of real life. Whether it is five days or five weeks, the time spent on a ship on Mystix are like a reprieve from all the stresses of the modern world.

Here, though, trains can cross nations in just hours. And for some reason, because of that, they are also not a site for socialization. People sit apart from one another, if there is room. They hardly chat, hardly speak. In fact, Delta and Francis both now have small bud-like devices inserted into their ears, devices that are attached by cord to their phones. From what I can gather, these devices knock out their hearing almost completely, because when I speak to them in a low voice, they do not seem to even notice I am talking, much less respond to me. I find it somewhat embarrassing, to be honest.

I am growing quite curious about these “ear buds,” by my own terminology. How do they work so effectively in canceling out the noise of the outside world, and how might I obtain one?

I tap Francis on his shoulder to gain his attention. He removes one of the buds from his ear. “Yeah, Eryk?” he asks.

“May I inquire as to the nature of the device currently lodged into your ear?”

“You mean my earbuds?”

“Yes, the bud-like objects in your ear.”

He giggles. “Oh, these are like… they trasmit sound directly into my ears. Normally my phone would make noise and play music and stuff, but these heaphones mean they are only going into my ears, and nobody else can hear it. It helps keep things quiet.”

“I… see. That sounds marvelous. Is this another miracle of elecricity?”

“Uh, kinda, yeah,” he says. “I was playing Royals of Foreign Legends Mobile, but, uh, do you want to listen to any music, maybe?”

“Portable music? Gladly.”

Francis grows a smile whose emotions I cannot quite interpret. He touches some buttons on his phone and presses a large triangle button. He hands me one of his earbuds. “Here. This is a kind of music called jazz fusion. I bet you’ve never heard anything like it.”

“I will be the judge of that.” I put the earbud in…

And a wave of sonic energy blasts into my ears.

This… this is the music of Earth? By The Goddess’s name, this is incredible.”

I sit back and relax to some of the most jamming grooves I have ever heard. Since the cords of the earbuds do not extend very far, Francis is forced to place his head on my shoulder so we can share the device, so that we can enjoy our music together. But in spite of that, I feel very happy.

So happy in fact, that…


[+ 1 DP. 44 DP Total.]

…That it turns out new music genres give me Destiny Points.

This will be a good adventure indeed.

Chapter 46: Time Well Spent

Okay, here I am overlooking a gigantic mountain.

A GIGANTIC mountain, I realize, as my full vision comes into view.

Holy Goddess! I can see everything!

In full 360 degrees, I see an entire continent before me. There is a large metropolis that stretches on all the way to the coast on one side. On the other, a deep canyon surrounded in an aura of red haze. Yet another side has a tower looming over everything around it, up so high that nothing else in the entrire continent can match it… except for the mountain I am currently on.

Miss M, in a much more modest outfit than usual, stands next to me looking out at the world with her binoculars. “What a time it is to be alive,” she says.


“I thought you’d enjoy this,” she tells me. “Great, ain’t it?” She smiles at me, but for some reason she doesn’t look quite as devilish and silly as usual. She’s still the same in appearance, a three-foot-tall imp like something out of one of Francis’s moving pictures, but it appears like… something has changed for her since the two minutes ago in my perception, when we last met.

“Where are we?” I ask.

“Top of the world, honey.”

“And why are we here?”

“Strategy,” she answers. “Very cold strategy.”

“Very cold—


“—strategy?” I ask. “What do you mean?”


We’re in a library, one so big that it seems like it goes on forever, even past the curvature of the planet. Miss M is facing the back of some giant ogre sitting at an extremely large desk.

“Shit!” she whispers loudly. “That stupid dragonsword again!”

The giant ogre’s head lifts, and then turns around to notice Miss M and myself.

“You cretin! You traitorous cretin!” the ogre shouts.

“What in blazes is going on here?” I ask.

“Trying to retrieve the Lost Book of the Four Trinities!” she shouts. “No time to explain!”

She takes off running from the ogre as it gets up from its chair, then she poofs her dragonsword out. Not a moment later, she reaches her hand out at me and poofs me into her inventory—


I see Miss M’s face, soft and weary as it peers directly at me. The woman wears a blanket over her body and huddles close to the warm fire burning directly below my ghostly visage.

“Do you want to talk?” she asks.

We’re in a small hut. From the looks of this house, it is actively occupied. Does this mean Miss M is… living here, wherever it is?

“Um, well…” The past few minutes of popping in and out of various places has been extremely confusing to me. It’s been so visually overwhelming, essentially teleporting from place to place for only seconds at a time. I’m having a great deal of trouble keeping up with all of it.

“It’s okay if you don’t,” she says. “I’m just a bit lonely these days.”

“I mean… Of course, I’m okay with staying here as long as you want,” I say. “You are always the one poofing me away, you know.”

She laughs softly. “You may be right. It’s all my fault for my selfish greed of trying to get you to the end of the line before you wake up. I just thought it would be such a hassle, and then ever since then… Well, you know. You only dream for about two hours a night, did you know that? I don’t know how long you’ve been awake for since we met in the forest all that time ago, but you could leave at any moment. And if something happens to prevent you from coming back…”

“You seem like you’ve had a lot of time to think about all these things,” I say.

“Yeah,” she answers. “It’s been a long time out in the wilderness. A lot of time to think.”

“Did you manage to retrieve the Lost Book of the Four Trinities?” I ask.

“The what?”

“The book, when you were being chased by the ogre or something. It only happened a second ago. Um, to me.”

“I don’t really—oh, THAT. That was ages ago. By The Goddess’s name, I hardly even remember that adventure.”

“Miss M… how long has it been since you came to the Vast Continent?” I ask. “You said it took you two and a half years to get to those caves way back when. And since then?”

She sighs. “Let’s not talk about that right now.”

“I… I see. What would you like to talk about?”

“I don’t know. I think I just need someone to talk to right now. About anything.”

“Miss M, are you… okay?”

“No,” she answers. “Not really, no.”

“Is there anything I can do to help?”

“Come a little closer.”

I nudge my ghost body close to her, as she sits on the floor with a blanket wrapped around herself. Once I get close enough, she wraps her arms around… well, herself. But her body phases through my translucent self. It is the closest thing to a hug I can give.

“I wish I had friends,” she says. “When I was a demon queen, I felt this way too. But when I was with Team Fanghook, even if it was short, at least I had people to talk to. At least I wasn’t so alone…”

“You’re a great friend, Miss M.”

“I’m not, that’s the point,” she mutters. “I’m a villain. A bad person doing a bad thing, and it’s costing me everything to get there. But I’m not even strong enough to reach them, you know Eryk? With this puny body and my B-Rank skills, I just don’t stand a match against the guardians.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Oh, The Goddess, please forgive me.”

“Can… I forgive you?”

“Not yet,” she says. “Not yet.”

She lets go of herself, or of me I guess, and says, “If I steal the potion, it’s going to destroy the temple’s only defense against the New Slayers. But if I don’t, then I’ll never be strong enough. What do I do, Eryk? What do I do?”

“New Slayers? What? Miss M, you really have to explain.”

She sighs again. “It’s good hearing another person’s voice, but I know I can’t keep you here. I’ll see you again some other time, Eryk Solbourne.”

“Miss M, wait. I really don’t unders—”



“You see this?!” Miss M shouts. Her voice is deeper than before, less pitchy and squeaky. “This is the entire destiny of Mystix! I will change the fabric of reality!”

I get a good look at her. Boy, she’s grown.

Now five feet tall, still pudgy and impish, but closer to the size of a true demon. Her hair is also significantly longer, as if she hasn’t cut it in years—a mess of curls and tangles. She holds up a dragonsword in one hand, and in her other her palm is extended, ruinc symbols floating in front of it as if she is about to cast a mighty thunder spell.

We are on a rickety bridge in the middle of a canyon. Fire consumes the ground below us. There is a massive battle going on down there, almost a mile down.


“The Goddess believes in me, for I am the demon queen Mestopholees,” she says. “Nothing you say will change that.”


“I may be, but I’m going to obliterate your entire race the moment I seize power again,” she replies.

I try to butt in. “Hey, Miss M, would you mind—”

“SO BE IT,” the booming voice says. Out of the smoky arena emerges a gigantic red eyed black dragon. It swoops in and breathes fire in our direction—

And then Miss M poofs me away before the flames get near.


The next time I come to, I’m in another cave, although this time it’s much lighter.

Miss M is covered in bandages, including her left eye. Her hair is again short, but at the ends of her hair are char marks, like it was burned off, not cut.

But unlike the past few times I have met her… she seems happy. Elated just to see my not-quite-face.

And I feel pleased just to see her happy.

“We’re almost there,” she says. “But… I have to go back.”

“You are really going to have to explain,” I say.

“No need,” she says. “We’re so close I can almost taste it.”

“And yet you’re ‘going back?’ I don’t understand, but I understand practically nothing, anyway.”

“I don’t have enough space in my inventory to carry everything,” she says. “Silly, isn’t it? I’m a level 6 A-Rank and I still don’t have enough inventory slots for the mission.”

“You’re… wait, you’re that high up? Wow!”

“It’s been a while, Eryk,” Miss M says. “I’m sorry for keeping you cooped up in there for so long. But now… I’m going to have to make you wait.”


“Yes. Please stay in this spot. I have to return to the beginning one last time to help a friend. It’s the right thing to do, and… I’m not going to keep taking the easy way out of everything.”

“Miss M. You’ve changed.”

“Not quite enough.” She pats me on the head. Or, rather, she attempts it, and then her hand sort of phases through me a little bit. “Stay here, and I’ll be back by the time you fall asleep again. Hopefully.”

“You’re asking me to wait for a whole day?”

“Yes,” she says. “Or longer.”

“Longer… How much longer?”

“If not a day, then something will have gone wrong. In that case… I don’t know. Wait maybe three or four days. If I’m still not there by the fifth day, leave me behind. Head down that cooridor and you’ll figure out the way.” She points down a hallway-like structure in the cave, seemingly carved out by hand and lined with torches. “Do you understand?”

“I do,” I say. “Thank you for all of this.”

“No, please don’t thank me,” she says. “You might live to regret it.”

“Miss M, don’t say that.”

“I’ve sacrificed so much to get here. But I won’t sacrifice you. No matter what, I am going to make sure you’re safe. I’m not going to abandon my friends anymore.”

And then, without turning to look back at me, she runs off in the opposite direction of the stone hallway.

I stay floating, keeping my thoughts steady.

And then…

I wake up.

My vision returns to normal.

And I’m staring up at the ceiling in Francis’s bedroom.

No alarm. No noise at all but the buzzing of the ceiling fan, and Francis’s occassional snores.

Tears form at the edges of my eyes.

Chapter 45: War in the Pocket

My field of vision has gone black.

Well, maybe “black” is not the correct way to term it.

It is more like my entire world has been turned off. Like as if I am a video game character that Francis is playing, and he has closed the game on his phone so he can check his text messages.

I see… nothing.

It is indescribable to me. I am sorry, but I simply cannot say what it appears as, because it is simply the concept of nothingness itself.

This is what being poofed into someone’s Destiny Card inventory feels like.

However, all is fortunate, because it lasts for mere seconds. Less than ten seconds pass, and everything around me comes into view once more.

The view of—

A massive battlefield?!

With my 360-degree view of the world around me, I see a gargantuan battle between four factions, each wearing brightly colored armor in sets of red, blue, green, or yellow.

All four factions are battling each other, with maces flying in the air, axes hitting shields, and absolute carnage in the level of violence. I should hope not to describe this senseless mayhem, lest I offend the more sensitive ears around.

And right in the middle, standing ankle high in a puddle of water left behind by some earlier rainstorm, is Miss M herself.

Her eyes are wide open and she is shrieking loudly.


Some soldiers by me, mostly wearing yellow armor but one member wearing green armor, see me and jump back in shock. One of them trips over his own feet and falls to the ground. He is knocked unconscious.


[+1 DP.]

So… I just gained a Destiny Point in the middle of a battlefield, while living as an undead, dreaming ghost on Mystix. The implications of this are horrifying.

I reach out to attack more of the soliders, but they run away from me too quickly for me to make any attempt. I’m not sure I can even do anything but phase through them anyway.

Miss M makes quick work of the unconscious soldier, and then looks at me sternly, hands on her pudgy hips. “You weren’t supposed to be out here! I was supposed to poof out my dragonsword! What in The Goddess’s name happened here?”

“Well, I—”

Before I can say even a word to Miss M, she reaches her hand into my transparent visage and everything disappears once more.


“Here we are,” Miss M says. “I knew that dragonsword was gonna be real finnicky again.” She’s holding the sword in her hand right now. “You two are linked real closely. Must be something related to the day you died, since this thing was made by the same dragon we defeated the day you died.”

“…What?” That is the first thing that comes out of my nonexistent mouth.

“Oh, sorry, you’re probably still out of it. I guess sentient beings usually don’t get poofed. Are you facing any sort of serious grogginess, or sudden delusions of grandeur? Or maybe, is your conscious fading as your mind locks up into nothingness?”

“Um, no.”

“Oh, well, good. That’s what normally happens when living beings are poofed into inventory,” she says.

Right now we are in some sort of dark cavern. Miss M is alone, and aside from the dying embers of her fireplace and my glowing, shimmering ghost form, there is nothing but blackness all around the area. She sits on a makeshift wooden stool with a sleeping mat behind her, while she is sharpening her dragonsword. By all accounts, this is the life of a solo adventurer, except for the fact that now I am here.

“Wait, wait, way wait,” I say. “Did you really put me, Eryk Solbourne, into your inventory? Just like that?”

“Yeah,” Miss M says. “You said you needed help getting to someone who could help us figure out what’s wrong with you, so I decided to take you myself. I didn’t know if you’d survive it or anything, but it was worth the risk.”

“You didn’t know I’d be okay?!”

Miss M shrugs. “If you died, that would be good revenge for stealing our loot. If you lived, I could show you to some close confidants of mine.”

“Fair… That is a fair reasoning.”

“Plus, it proves that your ghost is completely different than anything else I’ve seen before,” she says. “No sentient being, living or undead, can be put in an inventory. We all know this. It requires death to carry even the smallest bug back to a vendor to sell later. And with the workarounds people have tried, such as soul gems or transmutation, have resulted in almost immediate soul implosion once retrieved back out of the inventory. You survived it completely intact.”

“I don’t quite know if ‘survive’ is an accurate term here… But I understand. Rather, I understand none of it, but I understand that what happened here was revolutionary. I am a hallmark of science and magic.”

“Uh, yeah, whatever,” she says. “It’s all interesting, but I still haven’t actually reached any of the experts to get there. So save all your yammering until then.”

“Where exactly are we, anyway?”

“The Great Caves of Obsolescence,” she says. “I’ve been exploring them for, oh, maybe going on five days now? It’s hard to say because there’s no light anywhere besides the torches. It’s good I have some excellent night vision, I will say.”

“Wait, five days?! I’ve been in your inventory for five days?!”

“….No.” Miss M shakes her head.


“Not five days.”

“What do you… mean…?”

“Um, you’ve been in there a while. Since the last time I accidentally poofed you out, that is. The time since we met in the forest? Uh, let me think.”

“Let you think?!”

“Well, I did that adventure with the Pirates of the Neverrealm, and that was a bit, but we had to stop midway through because of the Bore War. Then that whole Beaver thing where I joined Team Illness for a while, but I got sick of it and went back on my own way. And then I came to the Vast Continent where we are now, but… Yeah, there was a lot of adventuring when I first got here, for sure.”


“So I’d say something about two and a half years, maybe?”


Two and a half…

Did she really just say…

For everything that has happened in this particular dream, I at least expected it to be over already. I found out I am a ghost on Mystix. I found out that Team Fanghook has split up. I found out that I am apparently enough of an intangible piece of matter that I can be put into someone’s inventory. All of that, and I still haven’t woken up yet.

Now she tells me… I’ve been in that inventory for two and a half years?!

“I feel like I’m going to puke,” I say.

“No, silly, that’s just inventory sickness. You’re probably about to shrivel up and your consciousness will crunch up into nothingness until you cease to have ever existed.”

“I… I was not being literal about my feeling,” I say. “I am simply shocked and appalled that you would ever do something so… careless!”

“Hey now!” Miss M shouts. “I’ve been taking you to my confidant all this time. I’ve gotten sidetracked here and there, but I’ve only done what I needed to survive. You don’t know what’s happening on Mystix right now; an intercontinental war is about to begin, piracy is at an all-time high, the colonizers on the Vast Continent are at war with the natives at every turn. The beavers have formed their own kingdom for the first time since the Great Partition… it’s like Hells out there.”

“I’m sorry for my insult,” I say. “It was very rude of me.”

“No! Don’t insult yourself either! You have every right to be angry at me. I’ve not explained even a bit of the plan to you.”

“But you will now?”

“No, sorry. I still have to keep you in suspense because of the very dramatic moment that you’ll face once everything is revealed. I must not keep you waiting. And by the sound of it, you aren’t experiencing any time while you’re in the inventory, right?”

“Right. Just a few minutes ago, I was in the forest with you.”

Miss M smiles. “Perfect. That means all of my theories are coming true,” she says. “By putting you in my inventory, I’ve severed the temporal link between Mystix and your new world. That means even greater things are possible than I ever expected.”

“Temporal links… Um, care to explain?” I ask.

“You know, every second on Mystix is one second on your world, your Ear planet or whatever. Time is synchronized across all the worlds, at least they are supposed to be. The Hells are like that, from my experience as a demon queen. But when someone can coexist in two worlds at once like you… Well, even though two years have passed on Mystix, once you wake up, you’ll be exactly where you left off on the Ear world.”

“You used me to break time and space?!”

“Maybe.” She giggles. “I have more theories now about what we can do. Perhaps I can even restore my status as a demon queen and take over all of Mystix for myself…”

“If you did that, I would stop you.”

“No you wouldn’t. But I’d let you try, at least.” Miss M poofs the dragonsword back into her inventroy, stands up, and stretches. “Anyway, I guess I’d better get back to bed. Unlike you, I’ve been up for a very long day.”

“And what about me?”

“Well, once I get out of the cave, I’ll be clear on my way to my destination. Once a true expert can see what has happened to you, I am confident that we will be able to fix all of this. I just have to hope that they’re still in the location I think they are…”

“Could you, um, leave me out of the inventory from now on?” I ask. “It’s not a great fee—”

Everything disappears once again.

I’m surrounded by nothingness.

Chapter 44: How is Everyone Doing?

Miss M, the three-foot-tall former demon queen in an imp body, holds up two scabbards in her hands. She holds them up and pulls them back as if she is about to charge right in my direction.

“Surely you aren’t…”

“You are an abomination,” she says. “As the demon queen Mestopholees, I hold legal judgment over the fates of souls. And if your soul is not at rest, but your body has long since dissipated into the etherflow, I am charged with the duty of putting you down.”

“But you aren’t a demon queen anymore, Miss M…”

“Shut the Hells up!”

She charges straight at me.

In an instant, she’s already behind me, her feet sliding against the dirt. In a single swift motion, one so quick it is imperceptible even to my ghostly eye, she has already sliced through me, bisecting my body.



I don’t have a body.

I can’t be cut in half because the lower half of me doesn’t exist in the first place; I’m a ghost floating in mid-air.

(I wonder what I look like? Perhaps there is a mirror somewhere nearby?)

Miss M huffs and puffs. That single masterstroke attack must have taken a lot out of her puny, ill-fitting body. What was once one of the strongest magical beings on Mystix is now an oddly shaped potato, and even with most of her power theoretically intact, she cannot wield it like she once could.

Her eyes widen. Her jaw slackens.


“What?” I ask.

“Why didn’t you…”

“Why didn’t I what?”

“Why didn’t you die?!”

I look around at myself and try to figure out what she means. “I am certainly fitting of all definitions of the word ‘dead.’ Am I not right?”

Miss M growls and snaps, “You know what I mean! Ghosts are vulnerable to magical damage just like any living creature. My [Speed Slice] should have wiped you out in one blow.”

“Perhaps it is destiny itself that is protecting me,” I suggest.

“No! Ghosts are low-level enemies, and you’re not going to somehow be an exception, you hear? You stole our loot, and I want revenge! I waited for two days for this!”

“You mean you didn’t wish to see me again? You simply wanted to avenge the items I unfairly whisked away from this world?”

“Exactly correct!” she shouts.

“I feel somewhat hurt by this…”

Miss M jumps up into the air in a somersault and slices her scabbards through my head, swiping my head clean off. Or, rather, it would swipe my head clean off if there was any head for her to even attack. Instead, it merely phases through my spirit.

“No, you DON’T feel hurt by anything, which is exactly the problem here,” she says once she lands.

“I’m just as confused about all this as you,” I tell her. “Every time I sleep, I come to this place. And now that I know this place is Mystix, that I am somehow tethered to my homeland even after death, I am even more baffled by everything.”

“And that means… I probably shouldn’t kill you, because you’re far more interesting as a specimen,” she says. She poofs away her scabbards back into her inventory and walks around me in a circle, trying to inspect me as close as her demon eyes can show her.

Of course, because my vision is a full 360 degrees, I can see Miss M the entire time she walks around me. It is a strange and unpleasant experience to be paced around and not even lose sight of the person walking.

“You’re a dream, and a ghost, and you’re invulnerable to all attack…” Miss M puts her tiny fingers to her chin and makes a most inquisitive expression as she continues to examine me.

“I would suggest taking me to somewhere with more experienced [Mages] who could look into my situation with greater detail than you can be afforded yourself,” I say. “It may be difficult for you to ascertain the truth.”

“Better idea: let’s never, ever make you public knowledge,” she says. “Do you know what your existence would do to the entire world order? Especially with the fact that you’re actually—um, nevermind.”

“Actually what?”

“I didn’t say anything.”

“You most certainly did.”

“Did what?”

“Say something. You certainly did say something.”

“I did not.”

“You did!”


“Fess up, Miss M!”

“No,” she says. She immediately changes the conversation topic. “I cannot let you become public knowledge, but I can definitely show you to some trusted confidants.”

“Like the other members of Team Fanghook? How are they doing, by the way? I would like to know how everyone is doing, especially the former love of my life, Malia. Is she okay?”

“We broke up the team,” Miss M says. “Losing you further strained the cracks in our team, and we could no longer remain together.”

“…What? Our team was strained? Since when?”

“There is a lot you were too naive to know about us,” she says. “We hid a lot from you because of your youth and inexperience. You were too kind, too simple to understand what Team Fanghook was going through.”


“My child, one day, if you ever had survived to reach B-Rank, or The Goddess forbid, A-Rank, you would have realized just the scope that Mystix truly held. Our adventures were not free. Everything we did came at a price.”

“I have no idea what you mean,” I say.

“And that is exactly why we didn’t want you to know any of it.”

“And so the others… What happened to them?”

“Hells if I know,” Miss M says. “We only broke up a few days ago, after we defeated the dragon and found you gone. Borguk has probably found a new team already. He’s good at that stuff. Thalia’s probably sailing back home as we seek. And Malia…”

“Malia… Yes, what about Malia?”

Miss M shrugs. “I don’t know. Last I saw her, she was in a bad way. She was convinced that nothing had happened to you, and you’d left with our loot and stole it for yourself. She even claimed at one point that you told her you’d like to abandon your adventuring and live off the grid forever, even asking her to run away with you. So as far as I know, she thinks you were a thief in a long con to steal all our stuff before we could sell it.”

“I… I did say those things, yes,” I say, “but that was so long ago. Back then I was young and inexperienced. I wanted an easy way out, and a way that would lead to enhancing my love for Malia. Now, I would never give up my adventures. I will journey to the ends of the world to achieve my destiny. And I would never abandon a friend.”

(Except for in my choice to abandon Mystix in favor of Earth. But I will not tell Miss M about that.)

“Well, maybe you should tell Malia that,” she says.

“Unless you bring her here, I obviously cannot. I cannot move fast enough, far enough in this ghostly form. I cannot control my body, or lack thereof, in any direct way. It is like I can only nudge it in any given direction. Sad, isn’t it?”

“Hmm… I may have an idea for that,” she says. “It may cause some major temporal issues for you and your entire other world, if my ideas about your spirit prove to be correct. But that will help us a lot.”

“Oh. Really? Could you really help me?”

“Yes. Just a moment; let me burn some extra cards in my Destiny Deck so I can get an extra slot.”

She spends the next several moments staring forward, with sparks flying around her when she draws or discards cards once every few seconds.

“Say, if Team Fanghook broke up, and if everyone already went their separate ways, how come you were still in this village to find my ghost in the first place? Aren’t we still in the same town where I died?”

“That,” Miss M responds once she breaks away from managing her Destiny Cards, “is something you should be able to answer by thinking about what a pathetic person I am.”

“You stayed behind drinking away your sorrows in the tavern?” I ask.

“Precisely.” She puts her hand on me… Or in me, I guess, but that sounds odd. “Hold still. If this works, you won’t even know—”

My field of vision disappears.

Miss M poofs me into her inventory.

Chapter 43: Remnants of a Forgotten Dream

“It’s you,” I say.

“It’s me.”

After all these hours, the figure from before stands before me just as tall as before, just as intimidating.


Tall may not be the right way to put it.

It is clear to me that, like every other time my consciousness has drifted off into the nether realms, I have ended up here, in this place. This place where the very image that haunted my previous dream again facs me.

“I’ve waited here for five hours!” the figure shouts. “You’re so inconsiderate.”

“My apologies,” I say. “I am dealing with many things on Earth.”

“What in the great hells is Earth?”


You see…

Right now, I am deep in a great forest. Its name is unknown, and its features are vague. That is similar, if not the same, as my personal predicament—my body is gone, and I feel like I am merely floating on thin air.

That is because I actually am floating on thin air right now.

The wild experience I am having right now must be a dream… It literally is a dream. But I know it is much more than that.

I am dreaming, and I am floating.

And I am…



It should have been so obvious to me this entre time. I am dead. My feelings draining from my body, asleep or awake, are not due to any normal phenomena. This is supernatural. This is beyond the grave.

Because I am beyond the grave.

Not on Earth…

But on Mystix.

“I’m a ghost,” I say.

My voice echoes slightly even with no effort on my part. It is quiet but reverberates like I am, well, a specter of the night.

“Yes, you are indeed a ghost,” the figure in front of me says.

“And I’m going to have to assume you brought me back and led me here to this deep part of the forest,” I say.

“No. Even I am not that powerful. You seem to have come back all on your own. That, or there is a force at work that even we don’t know about.”

“A force at work… I cannot think of any force but my own destiny.”

“And perhaps your destiny is all it is.”

I smile.

The figure smiles back.

“It’s good to see you again,” I say. “Miss M.”

The three foot tall imp, Miss M, is the figure in front of me.

The former demon queen, the short-tempered, devilish, ancient being who has been a member of Team Fanghook since before I even accepted the Destiny Deck system within myself.

She is the last person I would have expected to have met as a ghost wandering the forests of Mystix. She is, however, the first one to find me.

“I wish I could say the same,” Miss M says, “but I have not a positive feeling right now. I don’t know why you are back. It shouldn’t be possible.”

“And yet, it is,” I say. “I am a ghost.”

“But… people with the system can’t become ghosts. It’s one of the fundamental aspects of reality,” Miss M says. “It’s true, and yet what it means could change the laws of destiny forever. The Destiny Deck system is supposed to determine which Hell we are sent to. I myself once ruled over a Hell, you know.”

“Oh yeah, North Spirans don’t go to Hell or something like that,” I say. “The Goddess reincarnates us in a new world instead, I believe.”


“Yes. And I now live on Earth, a new world with no system at all. The only kind of magic is a force known as electricity.”



“You’re a ghost, but you’re also living, reborn, on another Earth?”

“Yes. And what’s more,” I say, “is that I kept my system when I was reborn, as well as all of my memories, and even my inventory.”

“You were reborn on a systemless world, with a system, and with all our loot that you essentially stole from us.”

“Um… Yes. I apologize for that, you know. I still have the monster loot with me. If you wish to have it, perhaps I could find a way to…”

“No,” Miss M says.


Miss M poofs into her hands her main weapons—dual scabbards. “An abomination like you must not live.”

Chapter 42: Backlash

“Absolutely not!”

“You can’t do it,” Francis.”

“But… No, I can!”

I sit inconspicuously in the corner of the room while Francis and his mother and father enter a bit of a tiff.

By tiff, of course, I mean a whole lot of yelling. An extraordinary amount of domestic conflict, in fact. I have been in a tumultuous family situation myself with my fathers and two of my very dramatic siblings, but usually that devolved into roughhousing and displays of honor, not this argumentative squabbling.

“Listen, Francis,” his father begins. “You—”

“No, listen here,” Francis interrupts. “I’m sick and tired of you acting like I’m some black sheep. I make just as much money as you and that’s without getting into huge debt for eight years at med school. I’m not going to suddenly become some poor loser just because I take a few weeks off.”

His mother scoffs. “What do you mean, ‘take off?’ Honey, we love you very much, but you don’t even have a real job. How are you going to take off from something you don’t have?”

“I have a Wikipedia page, you know.”

“And do your wikipedias pay the bills?”

“When the hell have I ever not paid the bills? I have so much in savings that I could take a year off no sweat, thanks to living with you. I’m so confused by all this.”

His father shakes his head. “If only you had a real job, maybe—”



When his parents don’t respond, Francis continues. “I love you very much, Mom and Dad. But you’re putting a stranglehold on my life that I can’t deal with.”

“A stranglehold…”

“You can’t be serious…”

“I already had to deal with Julie tonight and had an hour-long talk with her to tell her about what’s going on. So I’ve already had a lot of shit thrown at me and nothing you can say is going to be any worse than what she dealt. Sorry, but you two just aren’t Julie Rafati enough.”

This woman…

The more I hear of her, the more frightened I become…

At this comment, Francis’s father seems absolutely flabbergasted. “You’re saying…”


“Julie herself approves of your little adventure?”

“Well, ‘approve’ isn’t exactly the right word, but she didn’t murder me, and while she may not speak to me for the rest of the year, Delta is joining us just like we asked.”

“Well, if Julie says it’s okay, it can’t be TOO bad,” his mother says. “She’s got a good head on her shoulders about this sort of stuff.”

“You’re trusting Julie’s word over mine… You know, if you want Julie and Delta as your daughters, you should adopt them!”

“I don’t like this new tone of voice you’re raising with us, young mister,” his mother says as if Francis is an adolescent boy. “We’ll have you know we did everything we could for Delta when her parents kicked her out. And we’ve helped Julie since she moved to San Fransisco. We aren’t the bad guys here, as much as our children think we are.”

“Hey now, I’m not nearly as bad as you-know-who,” Francis says. “I mean, not that I’m bad. I’m doing just fine.”

“We don’t use that name in our house,” says Francis’s father.

“I didn’t use her name!”


“I’m not going to end up like her,” he tells his parents with heavy determination. “That’s out of the question.”

There is a lot more aguing going on in the Bacall family, but I begin to tune most of it out. The conversation goes around in circles with no side relenting on the idea that they are the morally superior one. It’s a bit exhausting, and worst of all, I don’t think this kind of debate is at all unusual for the household. For as loud and impassioned it is, it feels like just another day for the three of them.

It’s too much for me.

Francis’s father continues to refer to me as if I am not in the room, calling me a suspicious pink haired deviant and a sign of how far Francis could fall if he continues on his silly adventures across cyberpace meeting strange men and bringing them home. He does not seem to judge the blossoming relationship that Francis and myself—our newly forged friendship will be sung in the tale of the most powerful friendships to have ever friended—but he does seem excessively concerned for the well-being of his son. I believe sons should always be protected, but to the extent that they cnanot go on adventures? That is unthinkable.

Eventually, the debate ends with the acceptance that Francis, Delta, and I will indeed be beginning our Amtrak Adventure starting tomorrow. The two parents unceremoniously go to bed, and the father even says he won’t be awake in time to see him go.

It’s confusing, but I try not to dwell on it too much. There is a lot on Earth I do not understand, and it will take a very long time for me to come to that point. If I reach S-Rank too quickly and ascend above everyone else, I may never spend enough time to figure out what life on Earth is really like. So part of me almost wishes my journeys here would be a lot longer than they look to be.

After everything, Francis and I head back into his bedroom. Without saying anything to me, he gets to work. In a huff, he pulls out a large suitcase and begins packing clothes and video games and computers as if he is going to leave this house forever.

“What is it you are doing?” I ask.

“I’m packing for our trip,” he tells me. “This is everything I’m gonna need for a few weeks around the country.”

“All of that?”

“Well, yeah. I mean, we aren’t…”

“You surely can’t take all of that,” I say. “That’s an incredible load that will prove extremely inconvenient for you. Have you ever travelled for long periods of time before?”

“Yeah, when I was doing my big college trip in high school, my parents and I went to the Northeast… in our car…”

“Cars are like carriages,” I say. “They are a misleading way to overestimate the amount of items you will need on any given adventure. You don’t need a suitcase that large. In fact, I’m not sure my inventory slot could even hold something so big.”

“Inventory slot… Oh, wait a minute, if I packed a smaller suitcase, couldn’t you just store it in your inventory? Don’t you have three cards for that?”

“That’s a good idea,” I say, “but two of those slots are open for weapons. I need to pull those out at a moment’s notice. The third is—Oh, in The Goddess’s name, I completely forgot.”


“I have a large back filled with monster loot and other items simply sitting in my inventory. It’s from all the way back on my last day on Mystix.”

“Monster loot?!”

“Yes. Perhaps… Well, maybe that is something worth investigating later on, eh?”

“Yeah, let’s deal with that tomorrow. For now, I’ll try and pack only the essentials. For you and me both. One small suitcase, and maybe a backpack too.”

“That sounds a lot more reasonable.”

Francis sighs. “I wish my parents understood me… My fans on my stream are going to understand, I’m sure. But them…”

“They are very strict parents.”

“They just want the best for me,” he says. “But they think you and I are… Well, they think I’m going to get hurt, and so they’re overreacting a bunch about it.”

“Perhaps, Francis Bacall, you use your streaming fans as a surrogate for the accepting parents you wish you had,” I say. “It seems obvious to me that with your sister’s death and your parents’s doting attitude and your best friend concealing a pregnancy plan from you, the anonymous denizens of the internet are the safest people for you right now.”

“….Gosh, Eryk. That hits really hard. What the hell?”

“Oh, sorry.”

“Wait. ‘Sister’s death?’ My sister isn’t dead.”

“Oh, from the way you discussed her, I just assumed…”

“No way. Taylor’s alive and kicking. And, unfortunately, you’re probably going to meet her during our adventure. She ran away from home after she got pregnant at fifteen and it turned into this huge ordeal and now… Well, it’s a story for another time. A really stupid story.”

“I’d like to hear it.”

“And I’d like to see all that monster loot,” Francis says. “For now, we need to finish packing and then we can go to sleep.”


The night draws to a close, and I’m left wondering just what it is that makes my dear friend Francis tick.

Chapter 41: Good/Not Really

“You made it. You actually friggin’ made it.”

The man, our driver from a few days ago, is absolutely elated to see us. I think his name is Kumar? I can’t quite remember because it’s been a little while…

Either way, he’s embracing Francis as if they are long-lost lovers, and Francis is clearly uncomfortable with all of it. I feel obliged to step in and tell Kumar to “back the hell off,” as Delta always says to me, but I decide it might be a bit rude.

The building here, one named Riff’s Cafe, is a dark restaurant with sparse lighting, mostly directed to one big stage in the center of the room. It’s structured so similarly to the fight club from earlier in the day that my body instinctually tenses up.

I sure did defeat a lot of opponents back then, didn’t I…

“Yeah, I sure am here,” Francis says. “You’re Kumar, right?”

“Yes I am! God, I can’t believe Francis Bacall knows my name!” Kumar shouts. “Bro, you gotta hear my gig tonight.”

“What was your band again?” Francis asks.

“Good/Probably. We’re the top upcoming pop punk band in all of San Fran. Hey, drop an RT on us and we’ll send you a shirt. I know you’ve got some hella tight followers on your platforms.”

“Heheh, yeah…” Francis nervously laughs.

“Okay, just take a seat in the VIP area right here,” Kumar says, beckoning us to a random empty table in front of the stage, “and sit back while you enjoy the friggin’ show.”

He leaves us as quick as he came. The three of us sit down and Delta immediately presses the button to call a server over.

“Why did we choose to come to a place like this?” I ask. I look over the menu, which consists mostly of cold sandwiches with names that appear to be puns, but since I don’t understand any of them it is hard for me to know for certain.

“Remember the whole evil Persian Mob thing from like an hour ago?” Francis asks. “We had to find a place to let things cool off for a while, somewhere they’d never look for us.”

“And this restaurant is that place? How come?”

The server arrives at the table. “Welcome to Riff’s cafe,” they say. “What’ll ya be getting?”

“Whiskey, bottle service,” Delta says. “Rocks.”

Francis tilts his head to the side. “Delta, I wasn’t really planning on—”

“Just for me, don’t worry.”


Francis and I order soft drinks and something called “chicken fingers.” I was not aware that chickens had fingers on this world, let alone that they were considered a delicacy enough that people would eat them in a somewhat low-key restaurant such as this one.

Our chat now turns to the most important subject there is: What to do next.

“I want to fight a lot more people,” I say. “Bring me as many gangsters as you can locate.”

“No,” both of them say at once.

“Wh…Why not?”

“We don’t want to die,” they say, again in unison.

“Okay, so then, what do you propose?”

“Well…” Francis lowers his head and sighs for a moment. “It’s not a certain thing yet. I still need to convince Delta’s wife about it.”

“And I still need to face the fallout for it,” Delta adds.

“But we might both be taking a couple weeks off work to help you with all this. In fact… I’ve already looked into all the Amtrak train schedules.”


“Um, a really big vehicle that transports many people across entire regions.”

“Like a caravan, but powered by the magic that is electricity…” My eyes glimmer with the possibilities that electricity can bring. For all of the wondrous creations I have laid eyes on thus far, what more is there in store for me? Just how splendid a land is this place we call Earth?

“Yeah, and if the plan goes well, we’re going to take you around the United States. We’ll tour around the country, show you all the cool sights and tasty food that will help you level up. Then after we’ve done as much as we can… Uh, that’s as far as we’ve planned out for you.”

“So what you’re saying is…” My heart can hardly take hearing these words. It’s beating so fast.

Delta raises an eyebrow. “Is…?”

I take a deep breath. “So what you’re saying is… We’re going on an adventure?!”

“Yes,” Francis says. “An adventure of a lifetime.”

“Yes! Indeed, this is the greatest thing I have heard in ages. This calls for a huzzah!”

“Huazzah!” Francis shouts.

“Huzzah!” I shout.

We both stare at Delta, and she gives a look that suggests she would rather perish than join in our celebrations.

The server comes back and lays some glasses and a bottle of liquor on the table. Delta puts two small cubes of ice into a glass, fills the rest with alcohol, and downs the entire thing. She wipes her face and says, “Huzzah.”

“Yeah!” I shout.

“Julie’s going to kill me, but fuck it, huzzah.”

“But before we can go on any adventure,” I say, “we need a team name.”

“No,” both Francis and Delta say.

“Yes,” I say back. “Yes we do. We cannot thrive without a team name. This is a demand from yours truly.”

Delta sighs, then pours herself another glass. “Alright. But don’t make it something shitty.”

“I will do my best,” I say. “We need a team name that evokes just how important Destiny is. How we can seize our fates and make great things of ourselves, as long as we believe in the Heart of the Cards. Team… Heart of the Cards…?”

“You are the only one with the system, though,” Francis says.

“Ah, that may be putting too much spotlight on myself,” I say. “It would be unfair, then, considering you two are systemless.”

“Systemless…” Francis’s eyes go wide.

It clicks in my mind as well. “Oh. Systemless. I see, I see…”

Delta is now a quarter of the way through the bottle of whiskey and now wears an unsettling smile on her face. “Systemless? I know the perfect team name,” she says.

“Me too,” Francis says.

“As do I.”

“Well then,” Delta says. “I guess we’re about to go on an adventure as…”


All three of us shout it at once:

“Systemless Squad!”

“Systemless Squad!”

“Team Normals!”

Delta and I stare at Francis until he lowers his head onto the table.

“I thought it was a good name…” he mutters.

Now that we have christened ourselves the Systemless Squad, I take a celebatory swig of whiskey and start to feel really great. The chicken fingers are great (I gain a destiny point for them, too, so now I’m at 41 DP), the atmosphere is lovely, and Kumar’s band finally comes out to play about halfway into our meal.

“Welcome to Riff’s Cafe, and we are Good/Probably!”

They’re terrible.

But none of that matters, because the Systemless Squad is about to begin a real adventure!

Chapter 40: Level Up! It Only Took Three Extremely Long Days To Accomplish It!

Okay, I’m finally going to decide what Destiny Cards to scrap out of everything I have, so I can safely draw one more card without dying.

I am down to [1,756/15,000 LP.] Not good by any stretch of the imagination, I’m sure.

But the limit for drawing a new Destiny Card in sacrificial Life Points is between 500 and 1500, at least at D-Rank. Higher ranks increase that range, but for now, at least for a few seconds, I can endure the maximum damage and still get one extra card.

I really want that [Clone] card that I saw with [Foresight] earlier today…

Actually knowing all the Destiny Cards you are going to draw ahead of time is a bit boring. It’s almost flat-out dull in a way. Aside from the fact that it’s incredibly useful for planning out strategy, I almost regret doing it. Because there is sadly only one card that I will ever be drawing with this next one.

Anyway, as for my current hand, which is full at the moment:

Super Hearing: Rank 1. Increase sonic perception abilities dramatically for five minutes. Cost: 70 LP.
Blinding Rush: Rank 1. Doubles speed and agility. Cost: 215 LP.
Skill Check: Rank 1. Examine the variables around you. (There is a small chance that your next action will go exceedingly well or exceedingly poorly.) Cost: 50 LP.
Inventory Slot: Rank 4. Store an item here to retrieve for future use. Current item: Satchel (Size: Extra Large).
Inventory Slot: Rank 4. Store an item here to retrieve for future use. Current item: Pistol.
Inventory Slot: Rank 4. Store an item here to retrieve for future use. Current item: Bow and arrow.
Transmigrated Spirit: Rank 3. Summon an otherworldly spirit to assist for five minutes. Cost: 444 LP.

I have to scrap one of these cards. Just one. I could use one, too, I guess, but that costs Life Points, something I am dangerously low on at the moment, obviously.

For the maximum amount of Destiny Points, obviously aside from the inventory slots which I absolutely will not sacrifice for any reason, is [Transmigrated Spirit.] Scrapping the [Transmigrated Spirit] card, since it is a rank 3 card and scrapping gives half the rank back in Destiny Points (rounding down), would give me a total of 2 new Destiny Points.


I kind of like [Transmigrated Spirit.] The spirit you get is determined by a great many obscure and confusing factors, but overall it is a great way to mess up a combatant and even get a fatal blow in if the spirit is powerful enough. If you are lonely, the spirits are usually good to chat with as well.

Not that I would ever be lonely with my dear companions Francis and Delta by my side, but still…

Instead, there is only one logical card for me to scrap. It is one that I have held in my reserve for a very long time, but have been unable to use this entire time.

Yes, I am referring to:

Super Hearing: Rank 1. Increase sonic perception abilities dramatically for five minutes. Cost: 70 LP.

What a poor card. It is so useful, the Life Point cost is fairly low, but… I just never found a use for it.

I pull the card over on my HUD to the Destiny Deck itself, where I drop it in the swirling vortex and it crumbles into ash.


[+1 DP.]

[66 DP.]

At least rank 1 cards still give 1 Destiny Point, instead of half a point or something ridiculous.

Now I can draw my final card with Life Points.

Here it does—


[-1337 LP.]

[417/15,000 LP.]

That is the lowest I have ever been in my entire life with Life Points. I feel like my life force is draining from me even as I merely look at it… Augh…

Well, here’s my new card, at least…

Skill Check: Rank 1. Examine the variables around you. (There is a small chance that your next action will go exceedingly well or exceedingly poorly.) Cost: 50 LP.

I will admit that, even when I knew exactly what card was coming with all of this, I am still incredibly disappointed to be so near literal death and to have drawn such a generic and boring card.

But now I’m only one card away from drawing [Clone.] I can’t wait to use that someday!

My physical state must be deteriorating rapidly, because Francis has grabbed me by both my shoulders now.

“Eryk! Eryk, are you okay? Talk to me buddy!”

“The idiot actually drew another Destiny Card, didn’t he?” Delta asks.

“Don’t… Worry about me…” I mutter.

I say this like I’m in serious danger, and technically I am, but I have 66 Destiny Points right now. That’s over halfway to a third level-up—I’m nearly invincible right now!

I use 25 Destiny Points. They drain out of me and surround my spirit like a sparkling aura.

[-25 DP.]


I start to sparkle more brightly than even the glitter on those costumed women from the fight club.

Francis is dumbfounded. “Eryk…”

“Don’t worry; this takes a few seconds,” I tell them.


I am now a Level 18 [Adventurer,] at D-Rank. And let’s see what stat bonuses I’ve gained:

Strength20 (+4)
Agility6 (+1)
Defense12 (+1)
Charisma6 (+2)
Power49 (+3)

Wow, that’s pretty impressive stuff!

It took a long time for me to level up, but here it is. One step closer to reaching my ultimate goal.

[+15,000 LP.]

I am also fully restored as well.

I hop up on the bench and do a little dance. It’s called my “I leveled up and am now extremely happy about it” dance. I do it every time I go up a level, but this is the first time I’ve done it on Earth!

“You did it!” Francis shouts. “You actually did it!”

“Yes, I did it,” I say. “I am now level 18, which means I am a mere fifty Destiny Points away from leveling up enough to increase my rank to C-Rank!”

“Wait a minute,” Francis says. “This calls for a celebration.”

“A celebration?” Delta raises her eyebrow. “Don’t you think the Persian mob is probably actively looking for us like, right this instant? Shouldn’t we get the hell out of here?”

“No way!” Francis shouts. “I know a place where we’ll be safe. Somewhere literally nobody will ever think to look.”

I stop dancing. “Oh? Where might that be?” I ask.

“An indie pop-punk show.”

Special: Eryk’s First Adventure on Mystix

Eryk Solbourne was not always a hero in Team Fanghook. He was not always an [Adventurer] who explored Mystix and fought villains of various sort.

But for the past six months, he has been a part of the Dstiny Deck System, and he has been training up his skills as best as he can. And this training is about to lead to his first-ever adventure. He has recently joined the Adventurer’s Guild, and on a trial basis is being brought along by the [Warrior] Borguk on a journey that will soon prove to be utterly formative to the rest of his life… And his next life as well.

With 18 Destiny Points in hand, he is almost to the next level. Soon, he will reach past F-Rank and become an E-Rank [Adventurer.] The Achievement Board will finally become active to him, and he will be able to gain more Destiny Points and more Destiny Cards even faster.

Eryk has been waiting for this moment for a very long time. Since he was a child, since the attack on North Spire, he has dreamt of becoming a hero that could avenge his homeland and bring glory to his people.

Or, nominally it would bring glory to his people. In his heart of hearts, there is a much simpler, much easier explanation for why he wants to achieve these goals: he wants the glory. He wants to be the one who succeeds, who gains the fame and fortune that comes with being the world’s greatest hero.

He wants his name, the Solbourne legacy, to be etched in the history books forever. Even if he won’t admit to his passions beyond simply avenging his homeland, it is clear how he truly feels.

And so with that in the back of his mind, Eryk trains outside his tent, practicing the art of swordplay and keeping each of his forms steady and solid.

He stares at the sunflower in front of him. Imagines it as a vicious enemy, perhaps a werewolf or a vampire, or even a mummy. Gets a grip on his handle. Slices. Sheathes it back as quickly as he can.

The quick draw sword slice.

The sunflower in front of Eryk splits in half vertically, its two sides bending down by the stalk and then snapping away from each other.

He bends down and collects the sunflower seeds he has gained by defeating this mock enemy. They make for a scrumptious meal. But not as scrumptious as another Destiny Point would be.

Malia steps out of the tent and stretches, letting the full brunt of her body be exposed to the rising sun. The morning light bounces off her elven skin and she glows like no human ever could.

Eryk tries not to stare. He attempts to glance away… but finds himself unable to avert his eyes.

Malia catches him, shakes her head, and smiles. “Do you like the view?” she asks.

“Your beauty never ceases to amaze me,” I say. “I don’t know if it’s your whole race, or if it’s just you, but… I can’t help but stare. I apologize if that is upsetting to you in any way, but you are simply radiant.”

“Oh, it certainly isn’t upsetting to me,” she says to him. “Gaze on me and give me the company I so dearly crave.”

And so Eryk lays down his sword. He sits down in the grass and watches her perform some morning stretches. The sun rises, and so does the young man’s spirits as he looks on the most beautiful woman he’s ever laid eyes on.

The people of North Spire hold a prejudice to those who marry or sire children with those from outside the North Spiran towns. An elf would be so far away from that that it is no longer a human that he would be dealing with.

Eryk would probably never marry anyone but a North Spiran. But the fact his mind diverted itself to such a thought is a sign of just how deeply she cares for the woman in the apple of his eye right now.

“Every moment I see you, Malia, you seem at peace,” he tells her.

“Is that so?”

“It may be my love that has blinded me.”

She looks at him, keeping her neutral smile but with a twinkle in her eyes suggesting something more. “Love, you say?”

“Yes, love, I say,” he says. “Out here in this grassy plains, overlooking the Furtherfelt Mountains and the Felthand Lake, I could rest here forever with you. I wish nothing more than to stay sitting, watching you exercise and seeing your glistening body against the sun’s glimmer. If I could keep you here in this moment for the rest of time, I would take it. Therefore, I will consider my feelings love.”

She chuckles. “Eryk, you have such a strange manner of speech.”

“It’s the North Spiran accent. My apologies.”

Eryk knows it’s a lie, all he said just moments ago. He knows his ambitions for the glory of becoming the first S-Rank hero in a millennium far outstrip any feelings he holds towards Malia, no matter how strong they may be at the moment. But he can’t help but say it anyway, because a part of him truly does hold the opinion that the current status quo would be perfect.

If only he wasn’t a part of the Destiny Deck System and a member of the Adventurer’s Guild, he could abandon everything in an instant.

Of course, Malia was too. Perhaps the two of them could become an adventurer duo, exploring only the outlying areas around the Furtherfelt Mountains and fighting the monsters that take roost here across the four seasons.

It would never work, but it is an interesting thought for Eryk to ponder on. A fruitless fantasy is all it will ever be.

“Do you know when the others will return from their scouting trip?” Eryk asks.

“No, I do not,” she answers. “I expected them back last night. But it seems we will have the area to ourselves once more. Will you spend the day training again?”

“Perhaps,” Eryk answers. “Or perhaps I will spend the rest of the day soaking in my affection for my companion.”

“You know,” Malia says, “just because I am letting you look on my body does not mean we are lovers. It does not mean I will let you sleep with me.”

“I figure it is merely a matter of time,” he says, “before my tremendous strength and compassion win you over.

“Unlike Thalia I have some sort of standards when it comes to men.”

“I will strive to meet those standards, then,” he says. “Tell me what they are and I will conquer them.”

“Make me some breakfast and I’ll consider it,” she says.

“Right away.” He gets up and start back towards the tent to gather supplies.

“Wait,” she says, “I need to get some clothes on first. I’ll follow you in.”

Eryk and Malia enter the tent together.

After a moment of discussion, they decide to stay in there a while longer.

And they end up missing breakfast entirely.


“Hey, Eryk, what’s that over there?” Malia asks, pointing to a distant object in the sky.

Eryk squints his eyes and tries to make it out, but it seems like merely some sort of vague fuzzy square floating in the air to him, to his human eyes.

Malia notices how hard he is trying to make it out and kisses him on the cheek. “I’m teasing you,” she says.

“What? Why would you do such a thing?”

“It’s funny seeing you try things,” she says to him. “You’re always trying so hard at everything you attempt. You never give anything less than the full amount of effort you have in you. That’s probably why we’re here together now, you know. Besides Borguk, nobody on Team Fanghook wanted a new F-Rank hero to babysit. But as team leader our orc friend won us over and now here we are. You refused to give up and now…”

“And now I’ve shared every part of me,” Eryk says foolishly. He thinks he’s being romantic, even though he comes off more as an insecure child. Malia finds it endearing, though.

The two of them sit not too far away from the grassy field, on top of a large stone that overlooks a large hill. At the bottom lays a crevice that leads to a small river. In one direction, that river leads off to Goddess knows where, somewhere vast and unexplored, most likely. In the other direction, it leads to the Furtherfelt Mountains, where at this moment a great war is brewing between Dwarves and Yostians. The full-scale battles have not yet broken out, but anyone informed with the news is well aware of what is going on now.

The full-scale battles are of no concern to the two [Adventurers] sitting on a stone in a grassy field as insects buzz by, however. They are concerned only with getting to know one another more closely.

“Thank you for joining Team Fanghook,” says Malia.

“You’re welcome for allowing me on Team Fanghook,” says Eryk.

It is difficult to ascertain what is going on in Eryk’s mind right now. Is he proud of everything he has accomplished so far? Embarrassed for how weak he still is compared to his teammates? Guilty for how he is holding them back? Too overwhelmed by his passions for the woman beside him to care about any of those things? It is hard to tell, because the only look on his face is a crooked smile.

“Tell me your favorite color,” Eryk says.

Malia is taken aback. “Favorite color?”

“Yes. What color do you like the best?”

“I didn’t really know adults could have favorite colors,” she says. “I don’t think I’ve thought of a question like that in decades.”

“Well, think about it now, then tell me.”

“Hmmm…” Malia seems lost in thought. Perhaps she is genuinely considering his question, or perhaps she is considering what kind of a man would ask a woman her favorite color. Either way, she finally answers, “Teal.”

“Teal? Why that one?” Eryk asks.

“You seem shocked. Almost offended.”

“No, I’m just curious.”

“Well then, if you must know,” Malia says, “I like green because of its gentle, natural feel, and I like blue because of its cool, refreshing feel. Teal is the combination of both those things.”

“So it’s cool and natural?”

“Gentle and refreshing.”

“I see,” Eryk says.

“What’s yours?”

“Pink,” Eryk answers immediately. Malia giggles, but Eryk merely tilts his head to the side. “What? Pink is my favorite color. Is there anything wrong with that?”

“Well, it’s not exactly unexpected, but…”

“It’s okay to like pink,” he mutters. “Just because I’m… doesn’t mean…” He begins to sulk.

Malia pats him on the back. “You know, let’s switch to a new question. My turn.”

His head perks up. “Oh?”

“What did you want to be when you grew up?”

“Oh, that’s easy,” Eryk says. “I want to be the first S-Rank Hero in generations. I want to become the best there ever was.”

“You misheard me. I asked, what did you want to be? I mean, when you were a child, what dreams or ambitions did you have? What were you dead-set on becoming before you grew up?”


“Yeah, do you understand.”

“I do. That’s… that’s a bit of a tough question, though. I may have to ponder on it.”

“Oh, well then, I’ll start,” Malia says. “I wanted to be an architect. My parents were both architects in the elven city of Thy’lia, and so I wanted to follow in their footsteps. Up until the time I became an adult, which in elf years is about age fifty, I tried as best as I could to become an architect who would change the world with her artistic buildings.”

“What stopped you?”

“I’m very bad at math…” Malia sighs.

“What’s math?”

Malia sighs again.

“So, do you remember your childhood well enough now?” Malia asks. “What did you want to be when you grew up?”

“Well, the difficult part of answering that question is that life on North Spire is a bit different than the typical one. We are almost entirely farmers, as you recall. And our family traditions are very strong when we are in those that are not farmers. My fathers had already planned out my entire life from the moment I was born. I was to be a civil servant who managed the crop inventories and moved product from city to city. That was to be my sole task in life, and so most of my childhood was centered around tasks of physical strength and endurance, for I would be the one who physically carried all of that product.”

“Wait, ‘fathers?’ You have two fathers?”

“No, I have six,” Eryk says, blushing from embarrassment. “I, well, I am aware that North Spiran culture is not the same as other places, but this is one area I do not usually like to bring up because of some of the prejudice involved…”

“No, don’t worry, I’m okay,” Malia says. “I don’t know much about your people, I will admit. I apologize for my ignorane. Could you explain?”

“Of course, he says. “The family clans on North Spire are large and do not necessarily follow any blood descent. They consist of a group of fathers who raise the younger generation and take care of the older generation, with one Forefather who represents the entire family in larger North Spiran affairs, sometimes being held as a ceremonial hostage at the capital town. Men and women and others alike can become fathers, so long as they are selected by the others and then elected by the adults of the family. Some families only have two fathers. Some have many. It simply depends.

“The Solbournes are a special family in that all of our fathers are men. It is not necessarily romantic or sexual in nature, though I always had my suspicions about some of my fathers. I found the entire Solbourne patriarch to be a stifling experience that drove out many of the young women I called sisters. They found other families to join, to marry into, or even struck out on their own. Rarely did they stay Solbournes.

“And so that’s all I have to say. North Spire is an interesting place, and sometimes people dislike it, but it is the only family I have ever known… at least until Team Fanghook.”

“Aww,” Malia says. “I don’t think it’s that weird.”

“But you do think it’s weird in part…”

“Well, it’s not the same kind of culture I grew up in, that’s for sure. But life is different when you’re in a race that lives for 350 years, huh…”

“I guess we’re both different in our own ways.”

The two begin to hold hands.

The sun is cresting, inching closer to sunset as every moment passes. The two are not yet a couple, nor will they be for some time after this day. But their romance surely blossoms now.

Malia leans in and nestles her cheek against Eryk’s. He giggles and puts a hand through her hair. The two of them are so far apart, in age and combat prowess and culture and even favorite colors. None of that stops them from being together here and now.

They remain silent in their own way, watching the not-yet-sunset in the afternoon skies.

“What IS that thing out in the distance, though?” Eryk asks, finally.

“Oh, yes, you humans and your poor eyesight,” Malia says. “That there is a flying mollusk. It’s a gigantic shelled creature that floats around the skies and eats small microbes and the occasional bird.”

“That… that’s an animal? A beast? I had suspected it was merely a persisent cloud, but… By The Goddess’s name, that’s a real living creature?”

“It’s harmless unless you’re flying in the air. Or unless you make it angry.”

“It appears to be coming this way, though…”

“It’s also a very slow creature,” she adds. “Even if it’s headed this way, it won’t be to this spot for another… maybe day? Could even be longer if it decides to linger.”

“Well, what shall we do then to pass the time?” Eryk asks. He kisses Malia on the neck.”

“Here? on this rock? No way.”

“I didn’t mean to suggest…”

“When are our companions ever going to return?” Malia asks. “I’m almost starting to worry about them.”

“I like to think The Goddess is intervening, giving us plenty of free time to hold down our place and seek out more information about the region.”

“So you’re saying we should be exploring,” Malia says. “You might be right. While the others are out there doing, well, whatever it is they’re doing right now, we should be doing more than sitting around and training. We need to harvest some plants. Find long-lost treasure. Maybe find some skeletons with armor and weapons left behind.”

“Ah, yes,” Eryk says. “The [Adventurer] way. We will traverse the lands and uncover as much profit as there is to be found in such a place as this.”

“You’ve already adapted to our lifestyle, I see.” Malia laughs. “Why don’t we begin our little mini-adventure?”

“It is a more promising thing than simply sitting on this large stone for the rest of time.” For all his talk about staying here forever with Malia, it was clear that his heart was set on adventure and growth. For he was a true [Adventurer.]


“We sure got a lot of stuff,” Eryk says, carrying an oversized backpack filled with loot of all sorts on his back. It is so heavy it would break a normal man’s back just by putting it on. However, Eryk has trained his whole life for this sort of job. He is a North Spiran whose job was the public service of all the farms in the town. with the Destiny Deck System inside of him, his power is even greater than ever before. He is strong enough to carry all of it. He could carry even more if he wanted.

Malia is very good at treasure gathering, it turns out. She has so many talents. It’s quite incredible, Eryk thinks.

“Yeah, we found more junk than I ever thought some random grassy plains would ever have. I wonder if there was a war here long ago, or even a small village. These golden coins… I don’t recognize the insignia on them at all.”

“We’ll hopefully fetch a lot more coins than those once we trade in all these items to the Guild office, right?” Eryk tries to look back and catch a glimpse of all they have found, but fails to move his neck far enough back.

“The Adventurer’s Guild always offers a bad rate for rare items,” Malia says. “Especially for the kinds of things that aren’t in their yearly catalog. Regular treasure and monster loot, yeah, the flat rate is probably better than hawking your wares around to every shopkeep you encounter, but I’d never sell, say, that stone tablet we found, to the Guild office and get the generic ‘ancient artifact’ rate.”

“The Guild offices are convenient, but not optimal. I see,” Eryk says. “I am still a novice at all of this. Thank you for informing me of it.”

“It’s not a problem at all. Team Fanghook is one of the savvier teams, you know, so it’s good we found you first.” Malia inserts another item into Eryk’s bag. “We’re not exactly SUPPOSED to be selling our loot to third-party vendors in large amounts, but hey, as long as we’re a little discrete about it…”

“What was that that you put in my bag?” he asks.

“A plant root I found a moment ago. The flower looked pretty. I want to take it to an herbalist and have them [Generate Seeds] on it.”

“Are you thinking of starting a garden? As a travelling [Adventurer?]”

“No,” Malia laughs. “I’m just starting a seed collection. Whenever we stay somewhere long enough, I like to plant some of the seeds and tend to them until we leave. Maybe the seeds sprout, maybe they die, I don’t know. Either way, I’ve left my mark and if The Goddess wills it, a pretty flower or two may grow.”

“That’s nice.”

“You know, Eryk, if that bag is too heavy for you, I can put it in my open inventory slot.”

“Oh!” Eryk shouts. “I have one of my own, actually!” He poofs the large backpack into his inventory slot. It disappears with its only trace of existence being a tiny cloud of smoke that dissipates in seconds.

“What is your hand like, anyway?” Malia asks. “I don’t think we talk shop all too often so I don’t know.”

“Talk shop?”

“That means talk about our work directly. About the Destiny Card and system stuff. I mean, how far along are you?”

“I’m still F-Rank, so I only have five cards in my hand right now…”

“What are they?”

Eryk pulls up on his HUD the list of Destiny Cards he has in his hand right now:

Super Hearing: Rank 1. Increase sonic perception abilities dramatically for five minutes. Cost: 70 LP.
Blaze Up: Rank 3. Creates a flame aura around the user. Cost: 300 LP.
Fireball: Rank 1. Shoot a fireball. Cost: 10 LP.
Inventory Slot: Rank 4. Store an item here to retrieve for future use. Current item: Backpack (Large).
Skill Check: Rank 1. Examine the variables around you. (There is a small chance that your next action will go exceedingly well or exceedingly poorly.) Cost: 50 LP.

“…and that’s all of them,” he says after he finishes listing them all off.

“Wow, you have a long way to go, don’t you?”

“I very much do. But for someone with only 5,000 LP, using Destiny Cards at all is quite dangerous for me.”

“But aren’t you like Level 55 already?” she asks. “Why don’t you just rank up and get double the Life Points?”

“I’m trying to gain better stats while I can. Leveling up is very easy still, and I’d like to keep it that way.”

Malia shrugs. “Whatever works best for you.”



“Say… isn’t that large mollusk thing supposed to be a day’s journey away from us or something?”

Malia looks off in the sky and sees what Eryk is referring to. “Yes… Um, that’s not supposed to be coming that quickly.”

“How long do you think it will be at this point before it arrives over here…?”

“It’s looking like…” Malia gulps. “Maybe ten or fifteen minutes. It’s coming kind of quickly.”

The creature looms in the distance, but now with more of a grasp on it, Eryk can see just how massive the sky mollusk is.

And how tiny he is in comparison.


Eryk holds up his blade.

Malia holds up her bow and arrow.

The mollusk makes a loud screeching sound that reverberates throughout the entire field. It is already angry. For all the reassurances Malia had about the beast, it appears that it has practically no sense of ease about it whatsoever. It is aggressive, angry, and its many tentacles are writhing about like it is about to attack at any moment.

Such a large creature normally feeds off only the tiniest of animals. It is a bottom-feeder in anything but location. The sky’s quadrillions of microbes make for a tasty food source for this flying shelled creature, and in the best of times it is not the kind of creature that would even consider floating this close to the surface, let alone actually attacking anything. But little did Malia know when she made her statement earlier, but the rainy season has been unusually weak this year in this specific region. It is nearing a drought, and the lack of water in the atmosphere has kept the number of microbes much lower than most years.

This mollusk here, this one looking at the young human man and the elven female and imagining them to be a tasty snack, has not fed to satisfaction in almost a month. It has begun the starvation process and is feeling a great deal of pain.

At this moment, the mollusk either wants to be put out of its misery, or it wants to end its misery with a great feast.

And these two large sacks of meat look to be exactly the kind of morsel it so desperately craves right now.

Malia takes a step back, then fires an arrow. It bounces off the mollusk’s shell and shatters in the air.

“That armor’s too strong for arrows,” she says.

Eryk takes a look at the creature. He recognizes its familiar look of hopelessness, of great ambitions but with little ability to realize any of them. This mollusk must be feeling a lot like Eryk does right now, he thinks. Even in the middle of a battle with the monster, he forms some sort of kinship with the monster, almost like it is a sibling of his own.

In Eryk’s entire childhood, he had twelve siblings. Most were far older, adults who even had kids of their own. His older sisters had mostly left and formed their own clan called Solbirth, where four sisters acted as the family fathers and raised a competing branch of produce carriers. After all of them, Eryk only had two siblings worth truly considering siblings in the more traditional sense of the word.

The mollusk lashes out with its tentacles. Eryk jumps out of the way. The large whip-like limbs thrash against the ground and tear up all the grass. Eryk lands and skids on the dirt, just in time to make another jump to avoid being smashed aside.

The mollusk emits a loud screeching sound. It is completely unlike a roar, utterly dissimilar to anything Eryk or Malia has ever faced in combat before. They have fought dragons, they have dismembered Dwarven Spiders, and they have decimated entire armies of Scream-Pigs. And yet the mollusk is wholly unique in its high-pitched, unsettling voice.

Eryk ducks and avoids another tentacle. Malia fires another arrow, but it is quickly blocked by a quick turn that leads to the arrow’s metal colliding with the thick chitin of the monster’s shell..

All this time, Eryk holds his sword tightly. He holds it with delicacy, but with enough firmness that it would crush the throat of any human neck held with int. His sympathy with the mollusk grows even deeper as he sees just how far the beast is willing to go to satiate itself. He is going to kill the monster, but it will take an emotional gut punch to do it.

Eryk had two sibligs back in North Spire. One was a brother his same age named Vince. He liked sports quite a lot. Rollball was his favorite one; he loved rolling balls and spinning them around the rollball courtyards when he was done with his daily chores. He loved forcing Eryk to play against him even though Eryk was terrible at sports. Eryk’s strength was always his strong suit, but in rollball, when the goal was to kick and toss with precision and aim towards a specific target, he could not even muster a single victory against Vince.

The two were close. Quite close, in fact. But Eryk was much closer with his other sibling, a child named Rare. They were born under mysterious circumstances to a father whose identity was somewhat uncertain. The blood relationship was irrelevant, but still a source of bickering and controversy for years to come. Rare didn’t have many friends growing up due to the stigma about their uncertain family status, and the Solbourne family’s reluctance to fully accept them. But Eryk was quite fond of them. Their interest in books and learning was something that Eryk never fully related to, but it was something that reflected upon him regardless.

Eryk learned how to handle loss and competition with Vince. But he learned how to read, learned how to anaylze and predict things with Rare. Vince and Rare were never very close, but Eryk was close with both of them.

Then after North Spire was attacked, both of them were conscripted into the militia to avenge the region and destroy the enemies who raided and killed so many North Spirans.

And then after less than two months, the news about the two of them was revealed.

Vince had been killed in a botched invasion attempt. He was the only survivor of his squad after the fight had been lost, but upon retreating back to allied lines, he was hit by friendly fire.

One Solbourne gone.

Rare had been pushed away from the front lines due to low physical ability, and they were put on guard duty most nights. One night, around the exact same time as Vince’s death, Rare disappeared. They went absent without leave. They never showed up again. To this day, nobody has ever found any trace of Rare’s existence, even with the distinctive and incurable physical marker that all North Spirans possess with their hair and eyes.

Two Solbounres gone.

Eryk, then the youngest surviving member of the family of his generation, was thrust into a status he never wanted. He was content with a life of civil servitude and simple living that used his strength for what it was worth economically. Now he was being expected to learn the rituals and mannerisms of a future Forefather. Without inter-family adoptions, something quite frowned upon in North Spiran society without a marriage involved, the Solbourne family would have to rely fully on Eryk’s abilities to lead the way for the years to come, once the current crop of fathers aged out of their statuses.

For what it was worth, Eryk tried. He attempted to understand what it meant to be a leader to a family of dozens, tried to fit into the role of someone who was proper and masculine, parenting and compassionate. He did not succeed, however. He failed more miserably than a beaver reminiscing about the Great Dam War after too many drinks at the local pub. And unlike that hypothetical beaver, Eryk did not have anyone else to ramble to about his worries. With Vince and Rare gone, it was up to him to do everything, and he had no friends to speak of that he could trust far enough to divulge his most inner of worries.

It should have been Eryk, he always thought. It should have been him who was sent to war, not him who was tasked with staying behind to keep the family business afloat during difficult times. His only strength was his strength. He had no ability to be a good leader. He had no cunning or intelligence to speak of. In fact, he was quite dumb, even for a North Spiran. He had absolutely no business becoming the Forefather for the Solbourne family, and everyone knew it.

So Eryk Solbourne reached an agreement with the family. He would depart. He would not renounce his family claims, and would instead embrace them. He would leave with the pretense of a cultural ambassadorship to enrich the cultural understandings between North Spire and the other regions of the continent. However, he knew, and his fathers knew, that he had no such intentions of spreading the good news about his culture to the rest of the world. He didn’t truly have any intention of even returning to North Spire until he was old, fat, and long ago having proven himself as a hero.

That was when Eryk discovered a sorting scepter. That was when Eryk accepted the Destiny Deck System within himself. That was when Eryk Solbourne began his journey towards becoming an S-Rank [Adventurer,] the likes of which Mystix has never seen before.

And all of that history inside of Eryk Solbourne is what has led up to this moment. This battle between the giant sky mollusk on one side, and Eryk and Malia on the other.

Eryk knows that he is not praised by many. He is a disgrace to some, a failure to most. He has spent over six months lingering in F-Rank, something few to no heroes would ever do, and now in this particular battle he is at a significant disadvantage.

Even with a few [Minor Heals] consumed just yesterday, he still only has 4,100 Life Points at his disposal, thanks to the extremely low cap for F-Rank heroes. A few well-timed and deadly strikes by the mollusk could end his life.

And yet Eryk is not at all worried about it. He is even smiling.

Malia fires off arrow after arrow, each one of them breaking upon impact. It’s quite useless, but she is hoping to gain the attention of the monster just long enough for Eryk to strike.

He has not swung his sword yet. In this entire fight, he has simply stood and jumped and dodged, for that is the thing that is currently keeping him steady.

He waits for the final strike. The only strike he needs.

The mollusk is a pitiful creature. Perhaps nearly as pitiful as Eryk himself. He would never, ever admit to himself that he is a weakling and hates himself, but in his heart of hearts, in the invisible and inaccessible Destiny Card that makes up the contents of his soul, Eryk has a deep and unceasing hatred for himself. It is the kind of burning and passionate hatred that simmers like an ember below a boiling pot and doesn’t go away for years. Doesn’t go away for decades. Because of this hatred he sets goal after goal for himself, setting his ambitions to succeed in realms that are so far beyond his reach that he will surely fail them.

Of course he couldn’t become the next forefather of the Solbourne family.

Of course he couldn’t become a C-Rank Hero in six months or less.

Of course he can’t become an S-Rank Hero, is the thought that refuses to enter his conscious mind, but that swirls through his subconscious at every non-waking moment.

If the mollusk is anything like Eryk right now, it is crying on the inside, and its screeching is merely a simple plea for help.

Eryk decides to put the creature out of its heavy mystery. He figures out the correct angle, understands how to get past the tentacles, and how to strike it down in just one blow.



He sends out a weak magical Destiny Card skill that blasts into the mollusk’s shell. It burns it, but does no serious damage other than shocking the beast into a moment of stun.

And with everything set, Eryk leaps forward.

He moves his sword around like a conductor’s baton, tracing the correct motion he has trained for for ages.

Eryk Solbourne is no hero, not yet. But he is at least strong enough to slice off the mollusk’s tentacles and stab it in the face.




All in one swing, in one motion, he has ended the mollusk’s life.

When Eryk lands, so do a dozen tentacles that were disconnected from the attack. They were not even the target; merely a distraction from the real target—the mollusk’s brain. Brains are the only thing that can keep an animal functioning, after all. It doesn’t matter how dumb or smart it is, if its head is gone.

The mollusk loses its ability to float and crashes onto the ground. Its body is still stuck to the enormous shell. The shell rolls around for a second before collapsing on its side. The body then oozes out slowly.

“Ew,” Malia says. “That’s really gross.”

Ding! [+1 DP.]

All of that, and they only got a single Destiny Point each out of it… Eryk shakes his head in disappointment.

He does not know this, but he has entered a new stage of his life with the events of this day. With his first act of real romance with Malia, and his furious victory at the hands of the sky mollusk, he has forged a new destiny for himself. The Destiny Deck of his life has been reconfigured.

But the adventure isn’t quite over yet.

Soon, the other three members of Team Fanghook arrive. Thalia, with her magely books and low-cut dress and snide looks at everyone around her. Borguk, with his towering height and brotherly demeanor and gigantic axe hoisted on his back. Miss M, with her short stature and demon’s tail and grumpy glare as if she is extremely tired and ready for a nap.

They are finally back from their recon mission, and now the real mission is ready.

“What in The Goddess’s name took so long?” Eryk asks them, holding in no regard any idea of courtesy or politeness. He does not defer to the added experience that these three hold over him. He wants answers and that is what he will obtain.

“We got involved in some nasty stuff,” Borguk says. “These beasts in the sky kept attacking us everywhere we went. We could barely reach the castle in time for the summoning to begin.”

“Plus, there’s some war between the Dwarves and Yostians out in the mountains,” Miss M adds. “They’re real jerks! They’re planning some big battle and it’s getting in our way big time. We’ll have to find a brand-new way around the mountains so we can avoid getting smushed in the crossfire.”

“The only one who’ll get smushed is you, short stuff,” Borguk says with a hearty laugh.

Miss M crosses her arms and huffs.

“I see that you two have been keeping busy,” says Thalia, pointing to the carcass of the sky mollusk. “This is the same sort of monster that kept attacking us, too.”

“Very strange…” Malia says, putting her hand on her chin in deep ponderance of the confusing situation they find themselves in.

“Well, hopefully we killed enough that they won’t be coming around these parts anymore,” Borguk says.

“I certainly hope so,” Malia says. “This one was a real pain to fight.”

Does Eryk feel the same way?

No, not really, he realizes.

He doesn’t wish to see fewer and fewer of these sky mollusks, even if they are rampaging beasts unlike anything he has ever seen before. This one was hardly a difficult opponent, and its attacking seemed more akin to an untrained child than a real combatant. It was desperate, hungry, and lonely.

All of those things applied to Eryk too, in a way.

If they hunted the sky mollusks to extinction, there would be nothing left of them. They would become a memory. Is that all the weak are made to be? Cannon fodder for those stronger than them? If so, Eryk needed to claw his way out of this. Eryk needed to become stronger, more capable, more of a hero.

In all of this, Eryk makese a declaration to himself never to harm creatures clearly weaker than himself. It is beneath him, and even if it earns him Destiny Points, it would harm the world of Mystix overall if people were to kill too many of these weak creatures and lead each of them to a permanent extinction.

Of course… Eryk does not keep the promise he makes to himself at this moment. He forget he ever makes it, in fact.

All he remembers about this day is what he and Malia did, and then the thing he is about to do:

Rank up.

Eryk uses his Destiny Points to level up one more time, then to increase his rank. The process is long, colorful, and not worth remembering except for itse end result. Eryk is now an E-Rank Hero and that is what matters to him now.

10,000 LP.

Six Destiny Card slots.

The ability to use Life Points to draw Destiny Cards.

He has it all now.

And because of that, the memory of the poor mollusk fades from his mind. The promise he makes to avoid harming innocent creatures disappears into the obscurities of his unconscious, the same place where his self-hatred squirms around in dark corners.

Who cares about any of that when you’re an E-Rank Hero?


Later, deeper in some woods off in the distance from the Team Fanghook camp, two figures stand in relative silence.

These two figures are Malia and Miss M. Miss M, usually content to let her low height be the laughing stock of her party, now floats in the air so she will be at eye level with the woman across from her.

They do not smile.

They do not make small talk.

They simply get right down to business.

“Tell me what happened with Eryk these past two days,” says Miss M. “Has he performed well?”

“He’s done extraordinarily,” Malia says. “Better than we could have predicted.”

“The mollusk was threatening enough, wasn’t it? I tried to make it look as menacing as possible, but give it a bit of a sad side to it,” Miss M says. “Conjuring monsters at that short a notice is very hard, though. You gotta give me a further notice.”

“I’m sorry,” Malia says. “I wanted to give him a pick-me-up. He seemed a little down lately.”

“Well, now that he has finally reached Rank E, I guess he’ll be out of moping mode for a while, eh?” Miss M does a little twirl. “We’re doing a good thing, right?”

“Good is not something we can decide. We only do what we must, and history will judge us. Whether we are good or bad is for our descendants to decide.” Malia lowers her head. “He doesn’t have a clue. I promise.”

“My mind wipe worked? Completely? Absolutely? I expected no less of myself, but I’m still shocked it was so successful.” Miss M chuckles. “If you really think this was the right thing to do, then we can try it again the next time something happens.”

“I feel terrible about it,” Malia says, “but it’s the only way to ensure the survival of Mystix.”

“The only way to ensure The Goddess does not take her wrath out on all of us.”

“The Goddess will be the least of our worries if Eryk Solbourne remembers the truth,” Malia says.

And with that, their meeting is over.

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