“Run!” Stepan said in a barely audible whisper, his eyes full of fear.
“Step back,” I said quietly, but making sure that everyone could hear me.
“Look who we have here,” a joyful old voice echoed throughout the ruins.
“Who the hell are you?!” Anton growled and summoned his whip.
“Take it easy,” the old man said cheerfully. “Put your weapons away, I’m not going to fight you.”
The entire situation looked scary, to be completely honest. A thin, wrinkly old man in an old-fashioned black raincoat and a hat of the same color smiled at the sight of our frightened faces. The gray-green zombies with dead eyes were standing slightly apart, hunched over and slightly bent at their knees. They were emitting a stench so nasty that Lena threw up. I was close to doing the same myself, even though I thought that I had gotten used to almost everything in this world.
“I understand, the smell is unpleasant,” the old man nodded and sent his undead minions away from us with a barely perceptible gesture.
Age: 853 days
That’s all? No matter how hard I tried to see, no additional information appeared. I had apparently been staring at him for too long as the old man noticed my gaze. His glare was piercing, so much so that I even staggered back.
“Victor Petrovich,” our new friend introduced himself, grinning from ear to ear and flashing his well-kept teeth. “Forgive the old man. I’m a bit old-fashioned and prefer to be called by my full name.”
“Vasily,” I answered for some reason, although I was sure that Osipov saw my name.
“Nice to meet you,” he calmly nodded.
The air around was saturated with tension. Anton was breathing noisily behind me, while the others seemed to be pinned to the ground. I was feverishly thinking about how dangerous our situation was and what we should do. Although Lena noticed them in time, it was my fault. Lost deep in my own thoughts, I became careless. But why is this old man’s face so familiar to me?
“I assume,” Osipov continued in the meantime, “that your leaders finally dared to visit the Forbidden City.”
“It was our decision,” I replied. “We heard that we could find some good stuff here, for which the merchants would give a good price. Extra stat points would be of great help.”
“Cat, what are you doing?” someone mumbled near me. Stepan, or maybe Anton. “What are you doing? We should kill him and run away as quickly as possible…”
Yeah, as if we could just kill an old man of an unknown level that’s accompanied by two zombies. No. As long as he doesn’t show aggression, we should remain still and pray that everything goes well. If everything in the world was to be decided by use of brute force, the world would cease to exist.
“Smart,” the old man said. “But I think that you’re lying. I still think that you were sent here by one of the detachments located nearby. Judging by your low levels, you aren’t highly developed, and therefore, your leader decided to go all-in. Smart, I must say.”
“Excuse me,” Lena’s trembling voice suddenly joined the conversation, “who are you?”
“I think I’ve introduced myself,” the old man flashed his teeth again. “Osipov. Osipov Victor Petrovich.”
“Forgive her, Victor Petrovich,” I said, trying to hide my confusion. “We didn’t expect to meet other people in the Forbidden City. She is just scared.”
I hoped that he would buy that pathetic excuse and just leave. I really didn’t like him. I could, quite literally, see through the others when using Full Mind. As for him, well, you saw. I got more information even from the merchants. Was the old man that strong? He must be using some kind of a special skill or amulet. The worst part was that I didn’t know what to expect from him.
“I understand,” Osipov answered complacently. “You must be scared because I’m wandering around the Forbidden City alone.” He hesitated for a while, then chuckled and added: “In the company of two restless creatures instead of a detachment of living people.”
“It’s unusual indeed,” I admitted. Where had I already met him?
“There are many people here,” he said, biting his lip thoughtfully. “This city is forbidden, but not secluded. Everyone who has been here long enough knows about it. It attracts them with its secrets and... As you have noticed, decent gear.” He laughed with a slight sneer.
“Arrgh!” I heard a high-pitched shriek that turned into a roar.
Lena screamed loudly, the guys cried out in surprise, and Stepan and Anton swore simultaneously. My heart was beating violently, but I managed to pull myself together. One of the walking dead got tired of standing away and decided to rush at us. The old man reacted almost immediately. A slight, but sharp, gesture of his hand made the zombie’s head split open with a nasty squelch, splashing out its yellow-green contents. The creature’s arms and legs hung lifeless, and in the next few seconds, its body froze, collapsing onto the ground like a sack of potatoes.
A few moments ago I was sure that this old daredevil had two real men next to him, though turned into zombies, but still men. After that leap, full of primitive rage which contrasted the cold-blooded execution, I started to doubt it. Could a zombie disobey its owner? If these were ordinary monsters, then what kind of a monster was in front of us, given that he managed to subdue one of them without so much as breaking a sweat?
“Shit, shit, shit,” Osipov shook his head, and took a handkerchief out of his pocket with which he wiped the nasty slush off of his hand. “This hasn’t happened in a long time.”
“Damn it!” Cyril said quietly but clearly. The zombie’s unexpected aggression clearly threw him off his game.
“What was that?” I asked, looking cautiously at the second zombie and its owner. They were no longer moving, so I tried to assess how likely it was that the recent incident wasn’t an accident.
“Sometimes they go crazy in the Forbidden City,” Osipov calmly explained.
“Why bother taking them along instead of actual people?” Stepan suddenly exclaimed.
“I need a replacement,” harshly replied the old man, staring at him.