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The next instant I awoke somewhere else. The first thing I saw was the sky. It couldn't be real! An enormous bottomless pit showered in stars. Three moons swam in the darkness. The smallest one that resembled our Earth-moon most of all had a yellow glow about it and loomed just overhead. Two others: Green and Crimson, were playing hopscotch across the horizon. 

The air smelled of forest freshness. And horse sweat. Rough pants and an uncomfortable shirt rubbed against my skin. The ropes that bound my arms and legs immobilized me. ROPES!?

You are bound in ropes, movement is restricted.


This notification swam in front of my eyes, in the corners of my field of view I noticed two bars: a red one and a blue one. The next thing I felt was a slight shaking. I was being taken somewhere. I started fidgeting a little trying to get comfortable on a thin layer of straw. Suddenly, a head encased in a metal helmet appeared over me, giving me an ugly smile, drowning me in the stench of garlic and sickness. The goon spat out:


"Oy! Look who came around! You feeling lucky, cuss?"


"Who the hell are you?" I stared at the head, examining the rotten teeth, the ugly pock holed face, a pair of deep-set eyes.

"A soldier of the Glorious Baron Gorring, Shnirk's the name. And you're his too, but you ain't no soldier, you're property. Soon we'll reach the Castle, we will. Bring you in for sorting. You gonna go to the Lord Mage for experimentin', or to the slavers, In which case you'll be sent to the market, come mornin."


I jumped upright in my cage. The soldier recoiled and nearly fell off his scared horse. Course laughter erupted from the other soldiers around me. This is getting weirder by the second. The cart I was in was part of a weak convoy and was being followed by a crowd of people, all of which were tied to a single long rope and wore leather collars, most of the women were carrying children. I counted a dozen soldiers surrounding the caravan, When I kept looking at one long enough, I saw a notification: Soldier for Hire, Level 20, HP 680.


"Why the hell do I belong to the Baron?!"


"Because, Cuss, you ain't supposed to be walking around the Baron's land with no papers. This ain't the free Baronies. And look at your clothes -all worn and torn. You must be a hobo! So don" go causing any trouble and be quiet! The guards have put down worse scum than you, they have."


"You're telling me that all of these people were walking around the Baron's property without travel vouchers too? You must be joking."


The crowd really didn't look like they were homeless at all. Some were dressed decently, and some of the women's clothes were torn.


"Them folk's our neighbor's, Baron Zagrald's peasants. Well, they was anyway."


The fellow started laughing and steered off somewhere to the side. In a few minutes, the castle gates passed over me and the caravan started to pour into the courtyard.
Along the walls scuttled the skivvy. I smelled manure and horse sweat. Ten-foot walls were patrolled by crossbowmen. I kept studying my surroundings. The Castle didn't impress me with its size. A tower over the gate, three more on the corner, a donjon encircled by small buildings also in the corner. Open-aired stables, a forge, and a well were scattered across a trampled courtyard. Left of the gate, I caught a glimpse of wooden barracks. Next to the donjon rose a wooden platform, upon which stood a man garbed in rich clothes and surrounded by knaves. I took a closer look: A noble face, a sharp chin, thin lips, his shinny dark hair braided.


Baron Gorring Junior.
Lvl 25.
HP 500.


The slaves to be were herded into an uneven file. A soldier in leather armor with a battle-ax at his hip dragged me off the wagon. I took a bad fall, landing on my back. I feel that with a little less luck, I could have snapped my neck then and there. He proceeded to cut the ropes that bound my feet, jerked me up, and kicked me towards the end of the line. I really wanted to fall into hysteria and start a massacre with the total annihilation of everything within a ten-mile radius, but a couple of things made that sound like a foolish idea.

First of all, my bound arms were going numb. Secondly, the watchful eyes of the crossbowmen, not to mention such an insignificant detail as a group of armed men in the courtyard. A man in a mantle descended from the platform, parchment in hand. He walked along the line of prisoners accompanied by a large man armed with a huge two-handed great-sword. The pair was examining the peasants: the soldier was groping for muscles, counting teeth and asking questions. The servant was scribbling something down on the parchment, turning to the Baron with questions from time to time. Soon they were done with the men at the beginning of the line and approached the women.


"Your Grace! What do we do with the children?"


"Send the infants to the Magician's Laboratory, and those who can walk – to the slaves."


This was said in such a bored and trivial tone that the hair on the back of my head stood up. A  wave of horror, rage, and panic from the common folk engulfed me. The archers raised their weapons, ready to suppress any possible source of resistance. Suddenly a notification flew up in front of me:


Complete assignment Honor of the Beast – protect the kidnapped children from any possible threat.
Reward: None.
Failure to comply will result in the following: Coward's Curse (All penalties increased x3). Attention: curse will be lifted only upon completing a special quest.


Right, this is what I call being between a rock and a hard place. What the hell happened to quests like" deliver a letter to the Grandma across the road" or" Bring the medicaster some magic flowers." A castle full of high-level soldiers, an evil mage hiding somewhere within, no weapons, bound hands, no hints whatsoever, a level 1 douche bag, and a severe penalty for failure. It looks like something changed drastically in the online gaming industry over the last 4 centuries. Hardcore clusterfucks like this were only popular during the verge of game design practice.

And the situation itself… who the hell could come up with all this?! How can a normal person react to an order implying experiments on infants!? Shit like this happened only in cannibal tribes, or in China, and I nearly forgot the Nazis. I feel the rage building, a veil of fury begins to blur my vision, my heart is pumping up every cell of my body with elephant doses of adrenaline, I fell my teeth grind. Suddenly I was drowned in a tidal wave of madness from the depths of my being.

Another notification:
Current effect: "Holy rage" (all characteristics increased x3, your pain threshold is increased by 15%. Duration: 1 minute).


The storm within me suddenly turned into calm. There were only a crystal clear conscience and a target: the Baron on the platform. Someone is going to change his mind. At that exact moment, the soldier loomed up in front of me.


56


With one swift move, I step toward him and place my hands on his face, all he does is tremble slightly.

Soldier of the Baron's elite squadron.
Lvl 34.
HP 1020.


I whisper: "Submit."


You have cast a critical spell! Activated incantation "Will of the Forest Bird," Duration: 56 seconds,  - 100 manna points (used both hands). Attention! As long as the spell lasts, all the XP earned by the victim will be transferred to you.
Achievement unlocked: Absolute Submission level 1.
+2 Intellect +2 Wisdom +1% of successfully casting this spell on beings with magical protection, 4 submissions of beings 30 levels higher than you to reach the next level.


51


"Cut the ropes," The soldier produced a dagger and cut my bonds with empty glass eyes. I took the blade from him and stepped back in line. Luckily all of this was hidden from the archers behind my victim's broad back.


47


"Approach the largest group of soldiers and slaughter em."


After I said this, he turned around and calmly strode towards a group of his ex-comrades. The pen pusher with the parchment approached me. He gave the guard a bewildered look and called after him:


"Hey, Brooks! What's with this one? "


40


Several things happened next. Brooks finally reached the 10 soldiers who were watching the prisoners, drew his sword and easily brought a direct vertical strike down on his former ally's collarbone. The poor bastard's armor didn't do him any good, the sword went through the rib cage and stopped somewhere near the loins.


You have killed a mercenary!
Earned 2000 XP!
Level Up! Level up! Level Up!
You have killed an enemy 20 levels higher than your rank
Achievement unlocked: Slayer of the Strong Level  1
Kill 4 more enemies(10 levels higher or more) to unlock the next level
+2 Strength +2 Endurance +3% Damage inflicted on players stronger than you. +1% inflicted damage
Attention! Unlocked Achievement Tree "Titan killer": Reach level 30 By killing enemies 10 or more levels stronger than you. Reward: Unique Ability.


I changed my grip and stabbed the servant in the liver, swiftly jerking the knife to the side and slicing through his stomach. His insides spill at my feet. Well… the graphics are top-notch, I'll say. Even the smell suffices. A scream fueled by horror and pain tears through the courtyard. Let the mayhem begin!


37


Brooks pulled the sword out of the slumping body and lunged forward, twisting his body and dealing a circular blow. The sword took off another soldier's head, the mailed collar made no difference, another guard tried to dodge instinctively, it almost saved him, He wasn't beheaded, The blade just tore through his throat.


You have killed a mercenary!
You have killed a mercenary!
+4000 XP
Level Up! Level Up! …


I was running in a zig-zag towards the platform, I hear an arrow whistle by. It looks like the archers finally came to. I cut a servant carrying a pail of water across the eyes and shove him aside. Another scream joins the chorus.


30


By now, everybody who was armed drew their weapons. Most of them ran towards Insane Brooks, who was covered in blood from head to toe. The menacing sword was still dancing in his arms and delivering death right and left. With his next strike, he chopped off a leg, evading a blow to the head from a war hammer. An upward cut ripped the attacker in two.


You have killed a mercenary!
Earned 2500 XP!


Brooks was fighting like a legendary berserker, ignoring two bolts sticking out of his back. But the creepiest part was that he did all of this without making a single sound.
The rest ran to intercept me. But, by now, I was too close to the platform. I burst forward, and I'm on top, two mailed guards greet me with their steel drawn. Following some inner feeling, I lounge to the side, and a crossbow bolt misses my head by an inch hitting the soldier closest to me. He silently slumps to the ground.


21


Brooks lets loose another soldier's arm. But an incoming Morgenstern shatters his knee. The warrior collapses, throwing his sword at his attacker with his last breath. The blade hits the guard with the Morgenstern right in the face, and an ax descends on Brook's head.


You have killed a mercenary!
You have killed a Soldier of the Baron's elite squadron!
+6000 XP
Level Up!


Only one man at arms left between the unarmored Baron and me. I shorten the distance in a matter of milliseconds and deflect the sword with my knife. It didn't go as well as I hoped, and the sword left a deep gash in my arm, and I lost my dagger. I grab the guard by the arms. My fingers start to sink into his armor. Deeper and deeper. I realized that I was growing talons and that my hands are transforming into bird claws. An arrow hits my thigh. My HP bar goes almost empty. So… This is it, Now I'm gonna find out what respawning is like around here.

But I'm not going to be the only one: I head butt the guard and go for his cheekbone with my teeth. I jerk my head back, and a chunk of meat goes down my throat and sink my teeth into his face again. The beak digs deeper into the cheek, another sudden yank leaves the bones bare. Beak!?

Another mouthful of meat. I see the Manna and health bars replenish rapidly. My beak punches through the temporal bone, and I swallow an eyeball. Another Bolt enters my back, puncturing a lung. Ripping out the second eye with my health bar full, I toss the mutilated corpse aside, dive under the Baron's sword and come out behind him.


You Have Killed the Barons Bodyguard.
+ 6000 XP
Level Up!


Achievement unlocked "Man-eater 1" to unlock the level 2 achievement taste the flesh of 4 more sentients. Consuming the flesh of stronger opponents can give you increased characteristics
Warning! High rankings in Man-eater achievements will set a bounty on your head!
+2 Agility


03


"Freeze! Or he dies!"


The soldiers stopped in their tracks. This must have been a horrible sight. A creature with bird-like appendages and a giant owl beak instead of a nose and mouth. Its clothes and face covered in blood with three bolts sticking out its body. This monstrosity has its claws wrapped around the throat of a man in rich clothes, with its second hand tugging at the Baron's braid, rendering him helpless. Armed men who stand among the dead and injured surround the dais. The air is filled with groans and screams.


"Release the Prisoners!"


The guards kept silent and uneasily glanced at each other. About fifteen archers held my hostage and me in their sights.


"Did I stutter!?"


My claws started to squeeze around the Baron's throat, till droplets of blood began to grow and crawl down his neck.


"Do as he says!"


The Baron gave a thin shriek, which soon quickly drowned when I continued to crush his neck. A few soldiers reluctantly began to cut the ropes that bound the peasants. I sharpened my senses. The prisoners were seething with terror; the soldiers smelled of fear mixed with anger and uncertainty. I focused on the peasant's emotions: their hope of obtaining freedom was diluted by primal horror. Yeah, I don't exactly look like your typical savior… The last ropes fell to the ground.


Instantly, the system notified me, that the effects of the Holy Rage just timed out. I was losing strength fast and growing more tired by the second. Nobody should notice this. Otherwise, I'll actually find out how the respawn works.


"Open the gates and release the captives! Let them take the horses and wagons!"


In a few minutes, the crowd of would-be slaves fled the castle gates. It was suddenly a lot less crowded in the courtyard.


Assignment "Honor of the Beast" Completed Successfully!


Stalemate…

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TzarNik

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