This fall was much shorter, but paradoxically much more painful, as it didn’t seem like the fall was enough to knock him unconscious for the worst of it. Instead, he was forced to deal with every jolt of vicious pain from the knife stuck in his calf.
More concerning, the slimes appeared slightly stunned, and otherwise unaffected, and began climbing over each other to cover his face.
The next few minutes were a series of desperate struggles, grasping at the cores and squishing them, which became increasingly easier. It was around the time that most of the slimes were gone, that Simon was finally able to give attention to the series of small blue screens that had popped up.
Congratulations! You have learned the Skill Bash Resistance Lvl 1!
Congratulations! Bash Resistance has increased to Lvl 2! You have gained 1 PP. A PP is gained every time you gain a level in a skill. Look in your path screen to use PP.
Bash Resistance has increased to Lvl 3.
Bash Resistance has increased to Lvl 4
Congratulations, You have learned the skill Stab Resistance Lvl 1!
Congratulations, you have learned the skill Blood Clotting Lvl 1!
Based on your skills, you have gained access to the “Hearty Constitution” Path!
Blood Clotting has increased to Lvl 2.
Congratulations, you have learned the skill Crushing Grip Lvl 1.
Crushing Grip has increased to Lvl 2.
Bash Resistance has increased to Lvl 5.
Crushing Grip has increased to Lvl 3.
Crushing Grip has increased to Lvl 4.
Crushing Grip has increased to Lvl 5.
With a thought, Simon dismissed his notifications, finding himself in a pool of dissipating slime and sweat with-
A woman’s dead body. Still and dead, killed by the slimes or by him pushing-
Simon stumbled to his feet, his heart pounding, his lungs opening and closing at a rapid pace. So fast that he started to feel faint. He struggled to his feet, then stumbled forward. Where the building ended, a street began, and Simon walked out onto the street and vomited.
Then Simon was forced to spin around, as there was suddenly a strange grumbling noise. What he found was a miniature version of a hippo, perhaps the size of a large dog, with strange, red skin. It eyed him for a second, then opened its mouth, revealing a circular maw, lined with jagged and broken teeth, more like a shark than anything else, rumbling again.
Simon once more vomited, this time hitting the strange creature. It’s eyes flared wide and it bellowed, rushing forward, mouth open. Now there were screams everywhere, and those instincts of Simon’s that had somehow urged him to move slowly died.
All of the apartments were dim, cut off power. He imagined being alone in the dark when those slimes swarmed, unable to see the cores, unable to think from panic…
Simon felt something click, and his hands fell to his sides as the creature made to devour him. He pissed himself, for all the good it did him. But he just couldn’t…. If the world was like this… it would probably just be easier to-
And who was he kidding, a guy like him would never survive-
Simon was shoved out of the way, as the woman he had pushed off the building scrambled forward, interposing herself between Simon and the monster. Their eyes met, once more, hers hard and determined, his scared.
The monster bit down, ripping almost her entire forearm off, before throwing its head back and forth, tugging her around like a ragdoll. Screaming, she collapsed.
“Why…” Simon began to ask, but the words wouldn’t come beyond the first, just the swell of nausea in his chest as he watched the creature maul her. His calf twinged painfully, and belated, Simon reached down to remove the knife.
He immediately felt numb as blood began to spurt out, quickly pumping onto the nearby street. As he straightened, he froze, because he saw a child, no older than 8, backing away from three of the strange red hippos, as they advanced towards him. Forebodingly, the woman’s scream fell to a whimper, and then she went silent.
The child spotted Simon, and flailed towards him, tripping over his own feet and falling. “Help! Help!” The child screamed.
Simon, limping as best he could, his pants damp with his piss, turned and fled, heading away from the apartment building, towards a field that had apparently been transplanted nearby. Luckily for Simon’s guilt, as he hurried away, the child’s screams were very quickly eclipsed by the revving sound of an engine, and Simon saw, out of the corner of his eyes, a hummer hurtle down the road.
A series of wet thumps, followed by the silence, slowed his hasty retreat, so Simon surreptitiously turned around. His eyes were empty and hollow as he gazed, for only a second, at the scene. Then he turned around again, continuing into the field. There was nothing remaining on the road but red piles of gore that he didn’t dare look too closely at.
For what felt like an hour, Simon rushed away, but his breathing was growing heavier and heavier, his limp more pronounced. Feeling dumb, and embarrassed, and torn in 1000 different directions, Simon stopped, taking off his hoodie, wrapping it as best he could around the wound. Was it too late to do something about blood loss..? His Blood Clotting Skill had increased to 7 while he had been running, but…
Then, not sure what he hoped to find, Simon continued to run. After all, if he didn’t find something this way…
He had left that boy for no reason.
Not that it mattered, that hummer asshole had-
Simon stopped, leaning up against a tree, sweating, dry heaving. But there was nothing in his stomach anymore to throw up. It took a few minutes, but it seemed that his body slowly calmed down, allowing him to continue, the dull aches in his joints becoming more and more prominent. But he still stumbled forward.
Finally, there was a soft dinging, and Simon forced his bleary eyes to focus.
Congratulations! You have discovered an exceedingly rare world variance! The power of Aether concentrates here, forming “The Golden Lily Spring”. As the first person from your world to find a world variance, you have gained the “Blessed Child” Path.
“....Blessed….?” Simon said, his voice hollow. Then he stumbled forward, listless. The field had turned into a lightly wooded area, and sure enough, as he pushed through a particularly thick clump of trees, he found a small dip, where there was a pool, filled with golden lilies.
The change in elevation proved too much for Simon’s weary legs, and he tumbled down, landing at the bottom of the small hill, rolling until his arm splashed into the water. Weary, Simon Bliss felt the edges of his consciousness fade away, and he slowly fell into fitful rest.
After waking up, Simon slowly reoriented himself. To distract himself, he opened up his path menu and threw himself into familiarizing himself with this new “System”, trying his best to forget the sound of the child’s screams.
Even though nothing he would have done could have changed it, the image wouldn’t leave his mind. Nor the image of the red sludge on the ground afterwards.
Over the next week, Simon continued to learn and grind skills, slowly growing stronger. Occasionally, he ventured away from his spring, mostly to fight small groups of slimes that he found. However, he never dared approach the hippo creatures, which still filled him with fear.
After finishing the Bubble Path, he learned the offensive skill Bubble, which threw bubbles of compressed air at opponents. This made it simple to blow away the slime, revealing the core. After finishing the Blessed Child Path, Simon earned the Soul Skill “Chosen of the Golden Lily Spring”. Higher and higher he trained until…
Until the day a pillar of light appeared in the sky, telling him he could go to that location and receive a Class. But still Simon hesitated. He had made himself a nice little hut in the past week, gathered different foods from nearby houses, surviving on water from the spring. There were even strange berry bushes growing up now. If he left this place…
So Simon stayed. Even when, around two or three weeks later, another pillar of light appeared, in the same direction. Still, time was relative. Where he once just had Mana Bolt and Bubble, Simon furiously grinded his skills, improving to Water Jet, Mana Shield, and Healing Palm. In Simon’s mind the image of that boy wouldn’t desert him, so he resolved himself to become a support, healing type of mage.
Almost as if the world had heard his wishes, Simon received “The Water Mender” Path and was able to learn the skill Mending Stream. Now Simon Bliss had made contact with some of the survivors in the neighboring areas, as he explored, but he was terribly afraid of them. Both because of how he had seen those on the road die, and also…
Someone had been driving that car. Someone had saw the child and pressed on the gas. Hard.
Still, Simon wasn’t a fool. Mutely he would meet with them, trading supplies for his healing water. It wasn’t as fast acting as the healing potions that cropped up, but it lasted longer, and healed more overall. Better, in a long drawn out fight, to have a bottle of Simon’s Healing Stream.
Simon also began to learn some basic Herbalism and First Aid, mostly guided by System hints, swiftly becoming a source of medicine to the surrounding regions. It was almost surprising, how many people showed up at his little spring, once they heard about the aid he could bring. Because most of the injuries that people dealt with were not Health related, but rather poison, paralysis, or missing limbs. Those didn’t heal very quickly, even with the new System, if at all.
But Simon’s water did.
As the people around him grew more organized and strong, so too did Simon grow more skilled in his healing ways. He also had improved his offensive spells to the point that he no longer feared those red hippopotamuses. Weeks turned to months, and Simon found himself barely able to remember that boy who screamed on the road.
But Simon never forgot that he turned away from someone in need.
On a rainy day, filled with a strange conviction, Simon went alone into their den and massacred them. It took him four long days of grinding away, but he finally killed the last of them, and received a golden coin. Nonplussed, he gave it to a leader of the nearby area, an athletic 20 something with close cropped hair and piercing eyes.
Soon another golden pillar came down, this one much, much closer, and Simon understood that that man had used it to found a village. Almost as if that had been a signal, soon three more pillars came down in quick succession, in the surrounding area. They were all very close together, and Simon had another difficult decision to face; he was very interested in obtaining a Class, but which of the Villages should he use to do it…?
The obvious choice was from the man who he gave the coin to, who Simon thought would treat him well, but leaving his spring…
There was another Village, located quite close to his spring, after all.
But a new notification kept Simon preoccupied and worried.
Warning! A Tier III Raid Boss has spawned within your Zone! All other Villages in the Zone have lost the ability to connect to other worlds. Once this Raid Boss has been slain, there is an exceedingly rare chance that other Tier III Raid Bosses will spawn in the entirety of the Zone. In addition, upon the death of the Raid Boss, your Zone will move onto the next portion of the System acclamation. Be prepared.
...which seemed extremely ominous, didn’t it?