Finn was watching his new spell, grinning, as he lay in his bed. It was a bit after midnight, Sam and her family had left half an hour ago or so. They had been the last to go, and now he could finally get some rest. But sleep evaded him for now, and he took the time to marvel at his new spell.
His self made spell.
Looking over the grammerie, he felt proud. He had made this, not the system. He had thought out, planned, tested, and extrapolated on his knowledge. And he had made a new spell himself. He felt amazing. The whole system was amazing that it allowed Finn to do this, to create things in this way.
He used the spell on his scar, but as expected it did not work. The wound was healed as far as the spell was concerned. But Finn was sure that, in time, he would be able to create a spell that could heal even scar tissue. It was only a matter of expanding his knowledge. Of growing his Glyphorium.
He still found it a fun word to pronounce, but since creating his own spell, his grammerie and cultivation had both leveled up again. This had given him access to a new place in the system. His own Glyphorium. It was a sort of mind room where he could visualize all his known glyphs and made the whole visualization process more natural as well. He assumed it had other benefits as well, but he hadn’t been able yet to actually test it out properly. But he could already see the potential it had as a staging ground for new spells that he could create.
Tomorrow he would go out, he had already told his parents that he would go on a hike, and then find a remote spot where he could cultivate and study the new glyphs that were uncovered by the level up in Grammerie. Maybe he could get some training in as well if he found a suitable environment. Thoughts kept Finn up for most of the night but sleep eventually caught him.
He woke up early and was out for his parents was fully awake. He felt a bit smashed, with far too little sleep, but he was excited and motivated again. He still wasn’t sure what he would do with Sam. If he would tell her or not. But he had decided he couldn’t let that stop him from progressing. This system, it was amazing. And he wanted to find out exactly everything that it could do.
He took his bike and just headed out. He lived in a small town, and there was a park nearby, but that wouldn’t suit him. So he planned to bike to a forest area further away. He also planned to approach it from an industrial area, making sure he would have as less chance as possible to meet other people. Or have others run into him when he was training and experimenting. The only company that worked in the weekend was also on the other side of the industrial era considered to the forest as well.
His plan was solid.
And so he went without worry. Perhaps a bit too less worry. Because just as he finishes his first session of Cultivating, and as he was moving through the interface of the system. He was roughly woken up and startled by Sam’s voice.
“You know, you seem to be doing that often, whatever it is. But your eyes get all weird. Like you are looking at something in the distance, or really closeby. But like, I never see anything here?”
Finn, startled, blinked a few times and pinched the bridge of his nose as he started to look around and then managed to focus on Sam. Her auburn hair was done in a single, long braid that went over one of her shoulders and dangled in front of her chest. Why did she always have to be so pretty?
“Oh! Hey.. Sam. What erm.. are you doing here?” Finn managed to get some words out of himself. This was weird. Well, he never had tried to rush out of the interface or speak directly after being in it. But he never assumed it would make his head fuzzy like this, or impend his speech.
“Is that what you are saying? Not happy to see me here, are we?” She said. Finn panicked at first, but he saw her coy smile soon enough and realized she was teasing.
“Not at all it is… good to have you hear. After all, we haven’t seen each other in ages. It would be weird for me to not want to see you right now, wouldn’t it.” Finn chuckled as he swore internally.
“Yeah, yet, you leave early in the morning after the day we returned. Without telling me at all about this little trip. Luckily your mom knew where you went. Else I wouldn’t have been able to find you at all.”
Finn made a mental note to not tell his mom the exact locations of where he was going next time.
“Yeah, sorry, I guess I really haven’t thought about it. I just assumed you wouldn’t want to get up this early to get out here you know.”
“Well, you thought wrong. What is up without here by the way? I mean, what did you come to do here? Stand still like a weirdo? You clearly are not hiking.”
Finn gave her an odd look and then looked away, fidgeting with his fingers.
“What is it?”
“What do you mean?”
“You clearly are not telling me something, so what is the matter?” Sam’s voice and tone had changed, and Finn knew she was getting more serious now. He could even tell she was hurt a bit. He understood, he would be hurt as well in her position. But knowing that didn’t make anything easier.
“Yeah, you are right, there is something that I haven’t told you yet. But I don’t really know how to.”
“Oh, that is easy,” Sam perked up. “You just do it. You just say it.”
Finn sighed and took a deep breath. Could he? Should he? Deep down, he knew he wouldn’t be able to go on with his life and never tell this to anybody. And Sam was probably the person in the world that already knew so much about him.
“Well, okay. Something happened to me.” Sam looked at him, curious. Nodding her head for him to continue. All he noticed was how lovely her braid jumped up and down along with it.
“When I turned 21,” Sam butted in. “Yeah, some weeks, happy birthday by the way.” She winked at him.
“Thanks, but when I turned 21, I started to see something in the corner of my eyes at times. I never could really put my finger on it, but I assumed it was one of those blurs you sometimes see across your vision right? But this was always in the same spot and well. One time, I tried to focus on it. And well… it kinda revealed to me I had gained some sort of power, I guess you can call it?”
“Power?” Sam frowned. “What kind of power? Like superman power stuff?” Finn grumbled.
“Do you remember when we used to play Runescape in the summer vacations?”
“Yeah, lots of fun. But what about it?”
“You remember how we had skills and levels and magic and all that stuff? Like what makes an RPG game an RPG game?”
“Yeah, Finn, for God’s sake. Where are you going with this?”
“I have that.”
“The whole damn system. I have skills and levels. I have spells and can do magic. I can level up these skills. And when I focussed on the blur, it revealed to me this entire system. It like, appears in front of my mind or something, or perhaps it is more how AR works? I don’t really know. But I have these menu’s and info dumps, and it is all amazing, and I wish I told you immediately, but I don’t even know yet if this is all real or I am going mad. And if it is real, is it even safe? What am I saying it isn’t I got attacked by that demon dog and..”
Sam cut him off by pushing her hand roughly on his open mouth.
“What are you saying Finn, this is a joke, right? Or did you knock your head or something?” A grin curled around her lips. Damn it. She really thought he was joking. Maybe that was for the best, how would he even be able to convince her anyway?
“Haha… yeah. You know what? You are right Sam I ha-“
Finn suddenly stopped talking as all of his body tensed up, and his senses were barraged by an overwhelming sensation of impending danger and doom. Before Sam could ask what the matter has, Finn suddenly spun around on one leg and ducked down, pushing one hand forwards. Multi-Colored mist gathered around his hand as he charged the spell. At first, he did not see anything, and all he did was paying close attention. The sensation had given him a very rough and broad sense from where the danger was coming from, but he could not spot it.
Behind him, Sam was yelling things at him, but he ignored it, all his focus going to this. Then he saw it. Only a hint and only for the briefest of moments. But he saw it and recognized it. How could he not? The image of that Hellion would be burned in his head forever. And what he just had seen was the jutted spine of one of those creatures backs.
This was bad. He had barely escaped alive his last encounter with one. And now Sam was also here, and he would have to protect her. He was a bit better off now, though. He knew what the thing was, he knew the extent of his own capabilities. And he had an extra spell.
He also came prepared. He reached behind him, into his pack and pulled out a small, steel bat. It was a smaller model, but the steel made it sturdy and durable. This would not break like the branch he used last time, and he hoped it would do more damage as well. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he registered that Sam had stopped talking and was now asking what he was doing in a very soft voice. But his main consciousness did not pick that up.
What were the beats doing here, though? Unlike last time he had gotten no notification, and as far as he knew, he did nothing wrong or bad that could incur whatever it was that did it, to send a demonic dog after him. He pondered over it more as his eyes traced the motion of the beast. The leaves that rustled here and there. A small part of it that came into vision for the shortest of moments now and then.
What was it doing? It did not come straight for them. Instead, it looked like it moved in a straight line, passing them. Had it not noticed them yet? Or was it here for somebody else, and would it ignore them and only go for its mark? Did it work like that? Finn sighed and cussed. He knew too damn little about all of this, and it frustrated him.
“Finn seriously, I don’t know what’s up with you bu-” Sam stopped in the middle of her sentence as she finally saw the Hellion. The creature had suddenly stopped, sniffed the air and seemingly finally noticed the both of them. And as it did it changed course immediately and rushed at them.
Finn swore while Sam started to scream hysterically. He understood, he knew how much he was frightened the first time. Hell, even seeing the thing for a second time was terrifying. It was grotesque. Vile. It emanated evil.
But he knew the thing. He knew how it fought, and he knew he could beat it. He rushed at the beast as well, trying to push the close combat fight as far away from Sam as possible. But he also took a gamble. Last time the thing had rushed him and made a leap at him. He planned to attack it while it was in the air. He had luck on his side as the beast jumped at him. He used all his strength and smacked it right on the head with the metal bat. It made a sickening, cracking noise, followed by a high pitched wail that went through marrow and bone. The Hellion fell to the ground with a hard smack and clearly was hurt. Finn felt a sting of spite and remorse for a moment. He couldn’t handle animals getting injured. And in a way, this was still an animal. But he pushed the emotions away, used his adrenaline, his hate, his fear. And slammed it again with the bat, back on the skull.
The beast whined and rolled around, foaming at the mouth. The moment it revealed its belly, Finn fired his fire surge, coating its soft belly in flames. Then he brought down the bat again, on the beast’s throat. He fell things break and tear. And after a few more spasms and gurgles, the beast remained motionless. Finn grabbed the bat with both hands and started smashing on the beast’s skull. He only stopped when its head was turned into a greasy mush.
Panting heavily, he stepped back slowly, looking at the Hellion. Some notifications appeared in the corner of his sight, but he ignored them. He spun around and saw Sam. Crying, panting, hyperventilating. He quickly ran over to her and held her, trying to calm her down.
“It’s okay. You are safe. It’s over now.” He hugged her tightly and patted her back and held her head, she grasped him firmly, as if her life depended on it. For a long time, they stayed like that. Hugging tightly, with Finn gently assuring her and just holding her. When Sam finally calmed down, her voice was a bit raspy.
“Finn, what the fuck is going on?”
“My life got a lot more complicated. I’ll tell you all about it if you want Sam. But I don’t want to drag you into this shit.” She smiled at him and gently rubbed the line of his cheek and chin.
“That’s sweet but since I am already knee-deep in this shit, fill me in on the details please.” Finn chuckled and then looked at her for a few heartbeats.
“Fine, but let’s get out of here first.” Sam happily agreed.
The sun sat low in the sky, already the light of day was retreating, and everything began getting darker. Oswald did not care, Mountebanks like him tended to prefer the night over the day anyway. Fewer people looking meant he had it far easier to use his “tricks” as Jennifer called them. He groaned, whenever he thought about Jennifer, it usually left a sour taste in his mouth. He understood what his master saw in her, her potential was undeniable. But by the Lord, she was unbearable. Juvenile and simply had too much attitude for her own good. He was happy when she proposed herself to split up and look for trails. Although he had a vague idea, she would be putting far less effort into it than him. It did not matter. All he had to do was his best. Her efforts, or lack thereof, were not of his concern.
He just finished working another Glimmer. A small working, a spell Jennifer would call it, but to Oswald, it was a divine working. A gift bestowed upon him by the Lord. The Glimmer had created a small cloud of colored mist, softly humming in a pandemonium of colors. After some time it finally ended in a crescendo of bright yellow-green light.
Oswald sat on one knee, crouching down, looking at the mist and groaning.
“That is… odd.”
“What is?” Oswald swore in his mind.
“What are you doing here?”
“Checking on you Oswald, your habit of making me explain why I do stuff is getting pretty annoying, you know.” Jennifer’s voice was off. Oswald knew this particular deviation in her tone.
“You were to look for clues and tracks. Not to go out and drink.” His voice could not carry more vehemence even if he wanted it.
“I did both, they are not mutually exclusive you know,” She giggled and then added. “Well, they ain’t if you are not a boring, pious man of God.”
Oswald sighed as he got up and slowly let the Glimmer fade away.
“Very well. What did you find out?” Jennifer pouted.
“Now I feel attacked Oswald. What did you find out, huh?” Oswald sighed.
“You annoy me to no end woman. They were here, for a short while only. Then they left again, I assume heading North or North-East.” Jennifer giggled again, this time more in a mocking manner.
“What?” Oswald’s voice was dry and low.
“He, he is male, you know, was here indeed. He picked up a young woman, presumably a friend. Then they left together, by car, heading down the main road, and headed for the highway. He is young, probably a college or uni student. Judging by the amount of baggage, both of them were heading home for the summer as well. Unclear if she has awakened as well, but my guess would be no.”
Jennifer looked smug at Oswald, grinning. Oswald looked surprised, and after a long pause, finally managed to speak.
“How? What magic can tell you this?” Jennifer giggled again.
“The kind of magic that occurs when a very mediocre looking, single and lonely security admin meets a lovely looking woman who asks about his boring job and uses him to review some footage of bank cameras. I have to admit, it was thanks to your initial guess that they had been here somewhere that I knew where to look and for what. But sometimes we should simply use the mundane means of today’s age. Don’t you agree, dear Oswald?”
Oswald groaned but got up slowly.
“Fine, you have me here. Fine work, Jennifer.” It almost physically hurt him to say those words. “Let’s go.”
“What now? It is twenty past midnight!”
“So? They have at least several days on us. We need to try to keep up with them.” Jennifer blinked at him, dumbfounded and then sighed.
“No, what I need is sleep. Also, Oswald, they are students. Going home. Once they are home, they ain’t moving. We have time.”
“Maybe they go on a vacation or a trip. Or-” Jennifer cut him off, her voice annoyed.
“Then we go as well. Please, Oswald. At times you are unbearable. I am going to a hotel now and get some sleep. We will continue in the morning.”
And with that, she left Oswald alone. Grumbling to himself. But in the end, he sighed and had to admit she was right. They did need sleep. He hated it when she was right.