Naffur stumbled to a stop. Very slowly, he blinked. His hands rose, almost unbidden, and felt at the wound in his shoulder. Blood poured out of it, staining his shirt. Or it would have, had the shirt not already been soaked in mud and blood.
Gasping, Naffur collapsed to the ground. His breathing was uneven and he found it difficult to focus. After a great struggle, his forehead hit the ground. His eyes flickered and then were closed.
Congratulations! You Skill Feign Injury is now Level 98!
The six giant crows that had been chasing Naffur for the past hour cawed out their laughter, gleefully circling his “corpse”. They didn’t even bother to land, preferring instead to nip at each other playfully while singing their strange birdsong of victory.
Naffur suppressed a sigh. Some grass was into his partially opened mouth and it made his face twitch. But there was nothing that Naffur could do. These roaming birds were each Level 51. One was even Level 52. He was nowhere near the Stats to stand up to monsters at that level.
Luckily, these monsters weren’t after Naffur to eat them. Although not all monsters eat their prey, there was a significant portion of them that did. Naffur had learned this lesson painfully in the past month since he had left the Orchard. Whereas the solo monsters seemed to have no need of Naffur’s scrawny body, the group of kobolds that Naffur had encountered had only been too happy to drag him back for a stew.
That had been someone hairy to extricate himself from, but Naffur had made it.
That was all he could say about the past month: he had made it.
After about ten minutes, the crows fled, seeking more amusing targets for their attacks. Another half hour later, Naffur finally stirred. That was another thing that he learned. While he didn’t think monsters expected him to be feigning his death, some did wait around by his body for a while afterward.
What they wanted was to lure other monsters with the scent of his blood.
There was a strange balance among the ecosystems of the monster communities in Zone 1 which Naffur had slowly discovered as he wandered… well, he thought North?
Hard to keep track...
Sitting up, Naffur spotted a small flower blooming next to the spot where he had smashed his face into the ground. Mareen would probably-
Naffur froze. Very methodically, he annihilated the thoughts he had in the past ten seconds by blasting the thought of ‘WHITE’ over and over again at himself.
Only afterward could he calm down, feeling strangely numb. Naffur brushed himself off and stood. No reason to stay here. The monsters that used him as a lure were right; others would hunt based on the scent of blood.
So he fled further in the direction he had been walking and bedded down for the night in the hollowed out portion of a fallen tree. It wasn’t the most comfortable hiding spot, but it was at least away from the sky.
Naffur was still in a section where Ghost’s drones patrolled at night, finding and killing monsters that were overly active. But after a month of aimless wandering, Naffur had grown to resent the drones much more than he feared the monsters.
The monsters were predictable. They did the same thing every day, living a twisted life, but a life.
But the drones were different. They emitted a terrible buzzing as they operated, and the sounds of them ripping through the monsters was the stuff of nightmare. It was all cracking bones and the flaying of wet flesh.
Plus, they were a reminder of… before Naffur had come here.
Naffur’s heart hurt as he remembered his past life. He was such a fool. He was…
WHITE. WHITE. WHITE.
Naffur had a few berries from some time spent gathering this morning and ate those as a small meal. His stats had risen a great deal since coming into the wild away from cities, but even with heightened Endurance meals were satisfying. It reminded Naffur that he was still just a human.
Yawning, Naffur made himself comfortable and tried to fall into a fitful slumber.
He dreamed, that night. In his dream, a horrifying monster that was all bone and teeth stood over Naffur, watching him.
“You are sad. I do not like the sadness,” The monster mumbled, talking with Neveah’s voice. “So… a gift. I think it is fine for me to give it, yes?”
Naffur didn’t answer, because he was frozen in fear. The monster reached down and pressed its hand to Naffur’s chest. At first, there was nothing. Then there seemed to be an explosion of violet color in his chest. The sensation began as hot, but as the feeling intensified, Naffur realized it was freezing cold. And he was someone drowning in this terrible feeling of-
Gasping, Naffur woke up.
Instantly he quieted himself. Even if he was indisposed, that didn’t mean those that would eat him would be. Much safer to remain as quiet as possible for as long as possible and leave his hiding space slowly.
Strangely, as he scuttled out of the old log, the feeling in his chest didn’t go away. It was cold and then it was hot, and for the first time in a month, Naffur felt something. He reached up and gently felt the skin of his collarbone, under which the feeling originated.
But then Naffur heard the grumble of what could only be a giant boar and he dashed away like lightning.
As he meandered North, Naffur occasionally encountered monsters or other people. He often would avoid both. Right now, Naffur wasn’t in any sort of mood to talk to anyone. He didn’t need that. He was changed. He was changing himself. Out here in the wilderness, he could be-
He could be strong-
That thought haunted him until he was walking across a game trail and spotted a Level 22 Grey Wolf napping in the sun under a tree. Its eyes were closed and it snorted fitfully as if bothered by dreams. Strangely, Naffur felt an instant connection to the wolf. Dreams were a problem he had struggled with immensely. A few days ago, he had dreamed-
WHITE. WHITE. WHITE.
Naffur crept closer to the dozing creature, his breath coming hot and fast. He had changed. He was much stronger than he had been when he left the Orchard. Now, he didn’t doubt at all that he would catch the eye of someone at the Lottery. He was the only member of the Order Ducis. He could kill a wolf of this caliber.
His Stealth Skill had increased to Level 82 in the last month, as Naffur relied on it constantly. And it seemed like that would be enough for this wolf as well.
Eyes blazing, Naffur raised his hand and prepared to strike.
Congratulations! Your Skill Intrepid Hammer has increased to Level 63!
Congratulations! Your Skill Cheap Shot has increased to Level 79!
But the small rush of air must have alerted the wolf because its eyes shot open and it lifted its head slightly. It was a small movement, and the wolf was still clearly groggy with sleep. But it was enough to shift the target of Naffur’s strike from the monster’s skull to the tip of its nose.
Even though Naffur missed, his fist smashed the thing's snout. And such was the force that Naffur felt its jaw crack audibly as it reeled backward.
The wolf raised its head and managed to get off a howl before Naffur struck with another Intrepid Hammer and silenced it permanently. For several seconds, Naffur stood stock still. His Perception hummed, as he hoped…
Naffur sighed with relief.
The return howl of the wolf’s pack sounded out, filling the afternoon. And worst of all, the noise came from several directions.