Book II - Chapter 36

Chapter 36

 

Snake Report:

 

It’s been a few hours.

Night’s here, now.

I was forced to take control of the situation. That, and what came after.

Really, I think Dren would have been the much better choice to handle it, but his hands were shaking too much to even hold his weapon.

That was after he finished throwing up.

I suppose it makes sense.

I’m surprised I didn’t throw up, too.

Wouldn't be very Great One-like, if I did.

Still.

The smell...

The screams...

God.

God damn it.

Eveth was half-dead, and Imra… well, Imra being Imra. I had to do something.

Considering my track-record and lack of local knowledge, I think I managed.

I found us an inn.

Picked one at random.

Easy enough to do, if you're spending someone else's money.

Since then... I don't know.

Thinking about it, I guess. About a lot of things. The alley... that was the easy part. It's the hours after, which have been more trouble.

Sitting quietly and waiting, while the messages ring out in my skull.

Messages?

Oh, yeah.

They're back.

After such a long period of silence, it felt a lot more intrusive with their sudden arrival. I was starting to get used to things as they were, but now...

[Level up – pending:]

 

Should I only happen to try to look at them. Everything that has recently floated to the surface, all lined up and patiently bobbing in my mind's eye.

Just like us, they're just sitting and waiting.

Quietly, for the most part. Dozens of them, scrolling on by, silent reminders...

All, except for this last one...

[Level up – pending:]

There it goes again.

This one's silent, but not so silent. An odd combination.

It's like a silence that could be... shouting? Kind of a difficult sensation to explain.

The lack of noise isn't really something that someone else can hear, and the message isn't something someone else can see. Even if they could, I doubt anyone would be able to provide a decent description for this weird lack of noise, but I'll simplify the concept as best I can.

I’ll just say it rings out like a gong.

Over and over.

[Level up – pending:]

It repeats.

[Level up – pending:]

Proclaiming loudly, with all its cryptic glory. What's more, if I pay even the slightest bit of attention to it, the message expands-

 

[Level up – pending: Progress – 12/100]

[Skill points - pending: 12,000]

[Title - pending: Servant of the World]

[Accept: Y/N]

 

There.

That's what it says.

Simple enough.

I think under different circumstances, I might have already moved on.

Typically, I don't interact with these things, anyways. Or, I didn't after [Voice of Gaia] came onto the scene. I'd wait for a better time to deal with them, and pull it back up manually.

Who needs to interact with a short and temporary [Level up] screen menu, when you can just deal with it later?

Ssss...

Well... that's part of the issue.

[Voice of Gaia] hasn't spoken to me in a while now, but even if it did, I'd leave this be. Let this one fade away forever, and never speak of it again.

This isn't reminder I want to interact with. In fact, I'd much rather it disappear.

But, it won't.

[Accept: Y/N]

It's been over an hour, and the messages still won't go away.

[Accept: Y/N]

It seems non-answer is not something that will be accepted.

I have two choices here, not three.

[Accept: Y/N]

I don't like that much.

Despite the obvious similarities, this life has never been much like a game.

That's not to deny there are occasional similarities. This level-up menu, for instance, has always been one of the more obvious. The reward system seems to indicate additional reinforcement to that, but it's still not quite the same.

These similar qualities aren't enough to put me into a false sense of blissful security.

This life hasn't been like a game.

[Accept: Y/N]

Not to me.

In a game, no one actually gets hurt.

Games are for fun.

[Accept: Y/N]

The truth of the matter is that I liked those. Really, in a post-industry society there isn't much else to do, ignoring work. I probably played more than my fair share of them in my past life, but this... this isn't fun. This isn't enjoyable.

And if this is a game, the rewards system is all sorts of messed up.

[Accept: Y/N]

Yes or No.

The "menu" if that's even a good term for this incessant hallucination, is locked down. I can't get past it, under it, or around it: I have those two choices to interact with and nothing else.

I have to choose.

There is no freedom in this. I need to pick one, and soon.

The urgency of this demand is only getting more intense.

 

[Level up – pending: Progress – 12/100]

[Skill points - pending: 12,000]

[Title - pending: Servant of the World]

[Accept: Y/N]

 

My head hurts.

It's a quiet type of pain. Like pressure, but not a physical pressure: a mental pressure, built up and waiting as if ready to burst.

Every single time this message rings at me, it gets worse.

[Accept: Y/N]

And worse.

[Accept: Y/N]

I'd very much like for it to stop.

[Accept: Y/N]

The message won't go away.

[Accept: Y/N]

Stubborn as I can be, no matter how long I wait this just won't go away. While the other notifications slowly fade off into whatever oblivion they came from, this one just gets worse.

[Accept: Y/N]

It's so loud.

[Accept: Y/N]

It's so loud, and I can't get around it.

[Accept: Y/N]

[Voice of Gaia] still won't answer. I tried.

A dozen times, I tried.

This choice exists regardless of [Knowledge] magic. It's off on its own, a natural part of things.

[Accept: Y/N]

Not that I even need [Voice of Gaia] to understand it.

[Accept: Y/N]

I know what it means.

[Accept: Y/N]

It's just like how it was way, way back at the start of all this. Like that very first message, deep in the dungeon where I first woke up.

This is a choice I have to make to continue, and nothing more.

Persistent.

Irrational.

Completely alien.

But still, a choice.

Some outside force, or maybe just some weird quirk of this reality. Floating in my mind's eye, no matter where I turn it follows. Haunting me.

It won't leave, it won't stop.

It demands an answer.

[Accept: Y/N]

Are you taking the reward... or not?

[Accept: Y/N]

It's not even really a question, it's telling me: "Take the reward."

[Accept: Y/N]

Take the reward…

I can see it there, on their faces.

Eveth across the table, and Dren to her right. They're watching me from beneath their hoods, as much as they're watching the door of this inn.

I recognize those expressions.

[Accept: Y/N]

An uneasy truce is in play, here in this corner booth.

Seated with our hoods up and stone walls to our backs: we've been left alone. Sitting, waiting, listening to the sizzle of bubbles in the mugs of ale, counting specks as they pass us by.

Waiting for something to happen.

For someone to make a move.

The barmaid weaves around the tables, the regular patron eye us with passing curiosity. Drinks get poured, glasses get passed, and the hearth on the far corner gnaws at whatever fuel is keeping it alive. To everyone else here, we're just the strangers in the back of the room: nothing more.

No one else has tried to attack us, and no one here looks like they're about to.

I don't know who in their right mind would try.

[Accept: Y/N]

Fear.

I see it there, seated uncomfortably across the table. White knuckled grops settled on those false-wooden mugs of ale, their eyes now looking anywhere but at the thing which scares them. Eveth is much more subtle about it than Dren is, but every time I move, they flinch.

They're nervous.

Even with Imra...

I can feel it, however slightly. There's this distant sense of terror, wrapped up in the tangle of loyalty.

She's stuck, in some ways. Trapped and tied to the nightmare that slithered its way up from the underworld.

I'd be scared.

[Accept: Y/N]

I am scared.

[Accept: Y/N]

It was so... easy.

So simple.

The kind of simple that makes a person stop even thinking about the action itself, their mind casually skipping past it and onto the next.

[Accept: Y/N]

I killed people.

A lot of people.

With the effort it might have once taken me to snap my fingers, I ended them.

Lives that screamed, begged for the pain to stop, as the flames swallowed them whole. Lives that didn't just disappear, but howled, flailing as they crumbled off into cinders and dust.

[Accept: Y/N]

So easily.

It was so easy- too easy to take.

To steal...

To take and take, and take...

To steal.

I won't.

You must.

[Level up – pending: Progress – 12/100]

[Skill points - pending: 12,000]

[Title - pending: Servant of the World]

[Accept: Y/N]

[Selection received]

[...]

[...]

[...] [!]

[...] [!] [!] [!] [!] [!] [!] [!] [!] [!] [!] [!] [!]

[Level up – LOCKED: progress – 12/100]

[Skill points: -12,000]

[Title: Servant of the World – Declined]

[...]

[...]

[...]

[Title awarded:]

[ENEMY OF THE WORLD]