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The shabs were finally drawing close.

“Din-dins, Leechy,” Jason told the pile, which started undulating slowly in the direction of the shabs. “I’ve got to come up with a better name.”

The approaching shabs hadn’t regrouped after their fall from the sky, so were coming at Jason individually. The first one gave up its side-shuffling as it spotted Jason, turning its shark head to face him. He had time to really take a look at the creature. A shark in a purple and red shell, with legs halfway between a spider and a crab. Above the mouth full of jagged teeth it had tiny crayfish eyes; black orbs waving back and forth on short stalks.

“You certainly are creepy.”

As the first shab approached, it seemed to lock onto the leech pile in its path. It lunged with both pincers, which dug into the pile with little effect. Instead, the pile slithered over the pincers and up the arms, which it started shaking to get them off. Some were tossed away, others crawling over the shell in search of the gaps hiding vulnerable flesh. The remaining pile made for the creature’s legs, crawling up and all over it. Some leeches were squished between sections of shell, but more and more found something soft to sink their teeth into and the monster started shrieking.


  • [Sanguine Horror] has inflicted [Bleeding] on [Shab].
  • [Sanguine Horror] has inflicted [Leech Toxin] on [Shab].
  • [Sanguine Horror] has inflicted [Necrotoxin] on [Shab].
  • [Bleeding] already in effect, [Bleeding] is refreshed.
  • [Sanguine Horror] has inflicted [Leech Toxin] on [Shab].
  • [Sanguine Horror] has inflicted [Necrotoxin] on [Shab].

The notifications came thick and fast as every leech that found purchase started delivering the same bleed effect Jason used, plus two different kinds of poison.


  • [Leech Toxin] (affliction, poison, blood, stacking): When [Bleeding] is negated, an instance of [Leech Toxin] on the target is consumed to reapply [Bleeding]. Additional instances can be accumulated.

On top of inflicting damage through blood loss, the strength of the bleeding affliction was that it soaked up healing, negating its effect. The leech toxin would reapply the bleed, requiring even more healing to eliminate it. He didn’t think the shab had any rapid healing ability, but it would be useful against monsters with the power to regenerate. So long as enough of the leech toxin was applied, it would refresh the bleed over and over, leaving any healing stopped cold.

The other poison the leech inflicted was much the same as Jason’s dagger.


  • [Necrotoxin] (affliction, poison, stacking): Inflicts ongoing necrotic damage until poison is cleansed. Additional instances have a cumulative effect.

Unlike Jason, the leeches didn’t require an external source of necrotic damage. They were a tiny army of ambulatory poison daggers.

Jason was going to move in on it, but the shab was already in bad shape. He felt a little pointless compared to his familiar. His inexorable doom spell was already on the shabs, but compared to what the leeches were doing, his spell adding a few more afflictions was barely relevant.

The second shab was drawing close and Jason went forward to meet it. He tried to move around the pincers to get his knife into one of the leg joints, but met with immediate difficulty. When not restricted by a tunnel, a shab could easily skitter sideways to keep its savage mouth pointed right at its prey. The defensive potion slowing Jason down didn’t help.

A pincer came at Jason. He avoided it clamping down on him, but took a glancing blow to the head. His skin might have been hardened by a potion, but it still rang his bell, sending him stumbling back. He glanced over at the first shab, which was woozily staggering back and forth, covered in leeches.

“I think my familiar might be stronger than me,” Jason said. “Good job, Leechy; see if you can’t catch that next one.”

Leeches started dropping off the stricken shab, and Jason continued to square off with his own monster. Realising there was no going around the pincers, he tried a new tack, moving straight in.

A pincer shot out to grab him and he raised his left arm, letting the pincer have it. The sharp pincer broke through even his toughened skin, applying crushing force to his arm and trying to drag it into its mouth.

For the price of letting the pincer grab his empty-handed left arm, his knife-wielding right was free to strike. With Jason’s arm in its grip, the pincer was no longer jerking about. Jason slammed the point of his dagger into the joint of the pincer.


  • Weapon [Night Fang] has inflicted [Umbral Snake Venom] on [Shab].
  • Special attack [Punish] has inflicted [Sin] on [Shab].

The creature shrieked, releasing Jason’s arm. He stumbled back, the dagger sliding free of the creature. The shab lashed out with its other pincer and Jason gave up the injured arm again. Whether from the previous injury or the rage of the monster, the pincer clamping down was much more agonising. He screamed at the pain, but fighting through it, savagely stabbed with his knife, again finding the joint of the pincer. It was the monster’s turn to shriek as it once again released Jason’s arm.


  • Special attack [Leech Bite] has inflicted [Bleeding] on [Shab].

Jason stumbled away from the shab, his left arm hanging limp and dripping blood. Unlike his familiar, Jason couldn’t pile-on the afflictions rapidly, but now all he needed was time. The inexorable doom spell would live up to its name, escalating the curse and the poison until the monster was overcome.

So long as he could stay out of the creature’s reach, its defeat was inevitable, but Jason wasn’t done. The shab might be quick side-to-side, but just by jogging backward Jason created distance. Then he stopped, held up his good arm and chanted a spell.

“Your blood is not yours to keep, but mine on which to feast.”


Ability: [Feast of Blood] (Blood)

  • > Spell (drain, blood)
  • > Cost: Moderate mana.
  • > Cooldown: 30 seconds.
  • > Current rank: Iron 0 (00%)
  • > Effect (iron): Drain health and stamina. Only affects targets with bleeding wounds or who are suffering from the [Bleeding] affliction.

Red life force shone out of the shab. Some of it started streaming out from the wounds Jason had inflicted and into his waiting hand. Jason felt the healing sting in his wounded arm, but the life force drained was limited. Unlike his blood harvest spell, feast of blood didn’t take all the life force, but he could use it on living enemies. Jason’s arm was still far from healed, but at least now he could move it a little.

The shab let out an ear-piercing shriek, driven to madness by the effect of Jason’s spell. The red glow retracted back into the shab, which seemed frantic at Jason plucking away its life force. It scrambled madly, but was not physiologically designed for pursuit. If anything, its panicked movement was slowing it down. Jason was easily keeping out of reach as his afflictions slowly overtook it.


  • You have defeated [Shab].
  • Defeat [Shab] 1/4.

Jason glanced at the shab the leeches had left behind. It was an emptied-out shell, collapsed on the ground. He looked around for where the leeches had moved to intercept the third shab. Spotting them, he slapped an exasperated hand over his face. The third shab had apparently seen what the sanguine horror did to the first one and was trying to avoid it.

The leeches moved slowly, but the shab was apparently unwilling to take its eyes off the leeches long enough to crabwalk away. The result was two monsters shuffling around in an awkward circle.

“When I said ‘see if you can’t catch it,’ I didn’t actually mean for you to not catch it!”

Jason couldn’t get past his own shab to intervene, being forced to wait out the ridiculous display.


  • Defeat [Shab] 1/3.

The number of monsters he needed to kill dropped by one. Looking back over the channel, he saw a bloody and weary Hiram standing over a fallen shab.

“Good for you, mate.”

Jason’s own shab finally collapsed and he was able to corral the last one into the sanguine horror, which made short work of it.


Quest: [Protect the Village]

  • Objective complete: Defeat [Shab] 3/3
  • [Oasis Bracelet] has been added to your inventory.
  • Quest complete.
  • 100 [Iron Spirit Coins] have been added to your inventory.

Jason had noticed that his quests were a lot less lucrative than killing cultists, at least in terms of spirit coins. There was the other item, but he could check that later. On the far side of the channel, Hiram was bloodied but triumphant, standing with one foot on a dead shab. He waved broadly at Jason, who waved back.

Using his blood harvest spell, Jason drained the remnant life force from the three shabs, healing himself back into pristine condition. He ran a hand over the bloody, but fully intact arm that had not long ago been badly mangled.

“Not bad. Not bad at all.”

He looted the shabs, reabsorbed the sanguine horror and made his way back across the channel. When he got there, he tried to loot Hiram’s shab.


  • This monster kill was not yours. You are unable to loot this monster.

“Hey Hiram,” Jason said. “Can I loot this corpse?”

“Sure,” Hiram said.

Jason tried again.


  • [Monster Core (Iron)] has been added to your inventory.
  • [Water Essence] has been added to your inventory.
  • 10 [Iron Spirit Coins] have been added to your inventory.

Jason raised his eyebrows at the loot message. From his adventuring companions Jason had gotten the impression that essences were fairly rare, in spite of his own experiences. He took the essence out of his inventory, a shimmering blue cube reminiscent of the aperture. He held it out to Hiram.

“Is that what I think it is?” Hiram asked.

“Water essence,” Jason confirmed.

“I can’t take that,” Hiram said. “Do you know what they’re worth?”

Jason looked at Hiram, then down at the shab. He pointed toward the mountain.

“The monster came from over there,” Jason said.

He pointed in the opposite direction.

“The village is over there.”

He pointed at the ground.

“You stood here, right in between them.”

He shoved the cube into Hiram’s chest.

As Hiram stared disbelievingly at the cube in his hands, Jason took out another object he looted from the shab. It was a monster core, which he had seen before, but this one was iron rank, compared to the lesser ranked ones already in his possession. It was teardrop-shaped, like a lesser core, but slightly larger and a more vibrant red.


Item: [Monster Core (Iron)] (iron rank, common)

The magic core of an iron rank monster (crafting material, magic core).

  • Effect: Common component for ritual magic and magic item creation. Can be absorbed directly to advance essence abilities.
  • You are able to absorb [Monster Core (Iron)]. Absorb Y/N?

Jason’s eyes went wide when he saw it could advance his essence abilities. He was tempted to try it immediately, but decided to ask Rufus and Farrah first. He didn’t want to wind up with any strange side effects.

Hiram and Jason sat down on the grass for a well-earned rest. Hiram’s eyes didn’t shift from the essence in his hands.

“I can probably help you out with an essence ritual for that,” Jason said. Essence rituals were one of the most fundamental magical practices and the knowledge Jason got from the skill book was more than sufficient to perform one.

“No thanks,” Hiram said. “I’m saving this for when my granddaughter is old enough. An essence makes you an important person in a village, which is why I’m in charge of watching over the aperture.”

“How old do you have to be to use an essence?” Jason asked, earning a strange look from Hiram.

“I’m from a very isolated area,” Jason said. “We don’t really know anything about magic there. I’m just starting to learn this stuff for myself.”

“Must be pretty damn isolated,” Hiram said. “If you try and absorb an essence too young, there are problems. Never seen it myself, but I’ve heard it's bad. There’s a simple test to see if your body’s ready. It’s usually at around sixteen or seventeen, but it can go a year or two either way.”

“Thanks,” Jason said. “I still have a lot to learn.”

“Well, I owe you,” Hiram said, getting to his feet. “So does the village. I don’t want to think about what would have happened if four of those things got in there.”

Jason likewise stood up.

“I’m sure it would have been fine,” he said. “If they made it to the village my adventurer friends would have seen it and stepped in. That’s what adventurers do, right?”

“That’s right,” Hiram said, putting a hand on Jason’s shoulder. “That’s what adventurers do.”

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Shirtaloon

  • Australia

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