10 - Realization

Bruises.

Lots and lots of Bruises.

Jones was covered in them. From his face, to his arms, to his back and chest, and legs... He'd been beaten, badly. Much worse than when he and the others had gone to get food the first time, it seemed a miracle he could even walk.

Linda was furious. Hell, I was furious- but I wasn't sure what could be done about it. Jones didn't seem thrilled, but he said it was worth it, which was the only thing that kept Linda from marching over to Kepler and screaming at him.

Apparently, this was to earn a skill.

[Tough Skin]

Jones said it helped reduce injury from minor sorts of attacks, and slightly reduce more dangerous strikes. He said that the skill description told him some, and that Kepler filled in the rest. If the skill ranked up enough, it could even stop a knife or a sword.

But, to earn it, you really had to earn it.

Apparently, because of our Hero titles, we can acquire skills much faster. We'd been told as much, early on. When people were brought into this world, they came with that "Summoned Hero" title, which made them- us, a valuable asset. Usually, according to what Jones knew, it took several weeks of beatings for a soldier to maybe earn the ability, but Jones got it in one afternoon.

Hearing all this right from Jones' mouth, I had to admit it made a lot of sense. We were here to be turned into something of value. Or, we- as in our group of "classless washouts" (as Kepler seemed to habitually refer to us as) were here to be salvaged.

We didn't gain a class that was useful to the people in charge, so we were being put through the motions until we did. Or, until we died.

Putting all this together, instead of relying completely on guesswork, put my mind at ease. At least, for a few moments. I finally felt as though I could put my feet down on something: a foundation for which all the craziness since coming here, made sense.

Then, I realized that the uncaring, somewhat-spiteful, ruthless [Squad Leader] we'd been tasked with, had done Jones a huge favor.

"You think, maybe Kepler's not so bad?" Mike asked, quietly. "He helped you."

"Are you fucking joking-" The sounds of protest from Linda and the others took a moment to settle.

"He's not bad, he just..." Jones raised a hand, but struggled to find the word he was looking for. "I think Kepler has seen a lot of people die." He stated, eyes serious as he looked out over his bruised and puffy cheeks. "We're definitely not the first group he's had under his command, and I think they give him the people who aren't-" He stopped.

Looming behind him, an unpleasant expression stared down at the rest of us.

"Up, you lot." Kepler was glowering. "Time to train, not talk. That's an order."

We obliged.

That day, perhaps properly motivated, Scott and Kevin managed to gain the Soldier class. Both also received the same [Hardy] ability that Jones had spoken about.

After that, it was only myself and the girls still without a class.

As I went out to train, alone yet again, since Mike earned his [Spearman] class, I felt a nagging sensation.

I had all the information I needed at this point, but the list came up into a daunting sum.

I was an asset to be used: whether or not I lived was, clearly, optional. There was no running. Battle was coming, and we'd be fighting. Likely (as Kepler honestly considered a majority of us to be dead, already) surviving would be difficult. The only way to possibly avoid my fate was to train and secure any, attribute, skill, or class I could, only I had nothing of value in any of those categories.

I had no combat skill, my combat-related attributes were dramatically lower than Jones, or any of the others I'd heard- even the girls, and I was still without a class.

All I really had, was what I'd started with, and unfortunately [Identify] would likely not help me in a warzone.

So, the feeling had quickly settled back into something similar to when I was in the castle, but worse. Not anxiety, or that something was wrong, because I knew already: Everything was wrong. Our whole little group... we were essentially slaves. "Assets" Jones had called us. We were being built to serve a purpose, and if we didn't? Too bad. From what it sounds like, they'd find more.

So, no: it wasn't that something was wrong. That wasn't what was bothering me as I swung the spear. What had me in its grips, was that I finally recognized the truth of it.

In less than a week, there was a battle. One, which would be involving this entire massive army, spread out for what might well be miles in every direction. A real battle, where abilities and magic and statuses were going to decide who got to survive.

Kepler was honest, right at the start.

If something didn't change: I was going to die.