I found myself back at the square of the poor section of Blackport. I noticed the Butcher sitting on a stack of crates beneath his pavillion. He looked bored. Most of the meat that had been on the counters earlier in the day was gone. However, that was the only change from almost ten hours earlier.
Stopping next to the butcher shop, made the Butcher look at me with interest. He gave a half hearted wave, which I returned; a bit more energetic though. Pulling out the table, I started setting up my impromptu barbecue, without the barbecue sauce. Next item I fished out of inventory was the managrill. It was a large thick stone plate with runes all over it. The grill took up the width and half the length of the table. There were two sections of runes, one for cooking and one for keeping an item at a constant temperature, a hot plate.
Whoever had made it had chosen a flaming sword as their rune or symbol. The way Runesmithing worked, it could have been a wolf or an ice cube, and still have the same effect. How the visible symbol looked would not change the effect of the rune. The real magic runes lay hidden within the finely ground manastone that formed the visible runes. It was something that my past’s runesmiths had both celebrated and hated. Because it made it impossible to see what runes were made to make a magic item work, it meant that no one could steal your designs. On the other hand it also meant that you could not steal other people’s designs.
There were two indentations for manastones. One for small and one for medium sized manastones. The grill would run off mana. If I used a normal manastone I could run the grill for ten minutes per mana spent. If used a fire manastone I would be able to get twenty minutes per mana.
When the time came, I would just use the normal manastones, the fire manastone I had bought was just to valuable. And I would need it to run my alchemical cauldron, if I wanted to make potions, because the alchemical cauldron could only use fire manastones.
Though I pulled out one of my manastones, it was not the time to actually insert it. First I needed to prepare some of the rabbit meat. Grabbing a handful of pieces, I started dicing them into cubes. While a set of knives meant for cooking would be better in the long run, I just used my dagger. With a simple meal like a rabbit skewer, it would not end up making much of a difference in the long run.
After the meat was diced, I pulled out a pile of wooden skewers I had bought earlier, and finished preparation by skewering the diced meat. After dropping the manastone into place, and placing the first rabbit skewer on the grill, I earned the all to familiar prompt of unlocking skills. I accepted it and learned my tenth skill, Cooking. I immediately pulled up the overlay to look at the state of things.
Cooking Level: 0
Recipe Used: No
Lowest Quality of Materials: Below Average
Highest Quality of Materials: Below Average
Average Quality of Materials: Below Average
Combined Crafting Points: 15
Highest Crafting Points of the Materials: 15
Failure - 68%
Flawed - 20%
Success - 10%
Exceptional - 2%
Brilliant - 0%
Master Work - 0%
Base Experience: 10 XP
Despite the grill could easily accommodate fifteen skewers, I choose to make one at a time. First I needed to get the precise timing down. When cooking with manual mode, it was very easy to make a mistake by over- or undercooking. Which would lower the outcome by a tier. The second reason was that if I was cooking that many skewers at a time, I did not have time to distribute the crafting points, so I needed to set up the recipes. If you waited too long after the food finished, you were unable to distribute the crafting points. It was one of the drawbacks of cooking without a recipe in manual mode. Something a lot of players failed to recognize without first ruining a few finished meals.
After putting it on, I started cutting up more rabbit meat, making sure to turn it after a minute. The total cooking time would be less than three minutes. It would vary depending on the mana grill. As when I butchered my first rabbit, I had a bit of beginner’s luck. The first one turned out to be a flawed success, leaving me with 11 crafting points to distribute.
While there were all kinds of awesome effects you could choose, like buffing stats, health regeneration and many more. I was only interested in filling Satiety. Something the rest of the players would learn to hate when they hit level five. At level five, the Satiety and Hydration stats would be enabled.
I found myself thinking about other things than the task in front of me. Each crafting point placed in satiety, raised the score by one. Meaning a flawed skewer would sate a person by 26 points. I saved the recipe; internally calling it “Filling Rabbit Skewer”. After putting the flawed success on the hot plate, I put up another five skewers. Which yielded me four failures and a normal success. The only difference between the flawed and normal success was four points. Nothing to get excited about.
After cooking half the meat I had on me, I started eating one of the skewers and turned around to look. I saw quite a few people looking at me, quite a few of them seemed to stare at me with anger or hostility. I also spotted two of smaller children, a boy and a girl, looking to be between six to eight years old. They looked like they could be siblings, but it was hard to tell, because their features were slightly obscured by a layer, or ten, of grime. Pointing to them I called out, “Hey kids, I got a job for you.”
Of course this earned me even harder glares from the onlookers. A distrusting bunch indeed. I understood them of course. Here comes a stranger, basically rubbing their faces in the fact that he has food, and they don’t. Then he picks out two of the community’s children. Yeah, I would be suspicious as well.
After a minute of hesitation, the kids came over. I had noticed, but choose to ignore the fact that some of the burlier Natives had moved closer to where I was standing. Smiling at the two kids, I held out two copper coins, “Hi, my name’s Damian. I’m new around here. You could say I’m new to this world. I’m a traveller, and wanted to practice my cooking skill.
“However, I’ve run into a bit of trouble. I’ve got all this prepared food, and was about to throw it out. Then I realised, I don’t know where to get rid of it. I certainly don’t want to litter and get in trouble with the guards. So I was wondering if you could handle this small problem for me? I’ll pay each of you two coppers. One now, and one when I’m done cooking. Deal?”
The two dirty kids nodded their heads vigorously and snatched the coins from my hand. As I turned back to the grill and saw them starting to grab a few skewers at a time. I had purposely placed the table and grill in such a way that I could not see what happened in the square when I was cooking. It might sound weird, but it was a decision I had made after thinking about it for a while.
The main reason was that many people are prideful and suspicious. To most people accepting charity from others was degrading, and many people would be suspicious if a person who gave away food for free. By cooking it in front of them, and eating one of them, I showed them that there was nothing nefarious being done to the skewers. And by hiring the kids to get rid of the “waste”, they could accept my charity without acknowledging it. It would still hurt their pride a bit to accept my charity, but I would not be rubbing their faces in them. I would not be forcing them to thank me, and thus acknowledge their current lack of means to support themselves.
As I started cooking up the next batch, I heard the girl say in a high pitched whisper, “One fer ye, granny.”
It was followed by some shushing, but I resisted the urge to look back. Instead I studied Blaine the Butcher. He was observing me with a calculating look on his face. Whether it was good or bad, I could not say.
Soon the two kids stood in front of the table, waiting for more skewers to become available. I looked at the two of them, “So, since you’re now my employees, what are your names?”
The girl blushed shily, and looked at the ground. The boy puffed out his chest, “I’m Barauk and this is my younger cousin Firan.”
“Ye’re only older than me by a day!” the girl, Firan, protested.
“Still older,” Barauk stuck his tongue out. Which earned him a glare that could kill.
“Pleasure to meet you Firan and Barauk. Do you have some friends who want to earn some money as well?”
Firan nodded eagerly, starting to count on her fingers with a thoughtful look. Barauk on the other hand pouted, “I’m sure we can handle anything you need.”
“I’m quite certain of that as well, you’re already doing a good job. However, I need someone to run to the east gate. My friends are hunting rabbits there,” my explanation drew an audible growl from one of the nearby watchers.
“We’re not allowed outside, anymore,” Firan frowned.
“I’m not asking anyone to leave town. Just run up to the gate and shout that you’ve a message for Ed. And when he comes over, give that message to him.”
“I can do that,” Barauk volunteered immediately.
“I’m sure you can, but I need you here to help me get rid of the waste,” I sternly said, “I also need someone to deliver a message to the Temple. So do you think any of your friends would like to do that for a couple of coppers?”
“Evie is the fastest runner,” Firan stated.
Barauk immediately countered, “No. That’s Bolmor.”
Firan stamped her small feet, “No it’s not!”
Before it could escalate further, I immediately said, “Well seeing as I got two messages to deliver, it doesn’t matter which one is faster.”
They both looked at me as if I was a moron, a look that said “Of course it matters”.
“Well, why don’t you get rid of these skewers, and then bring Evie and Bolmor over here,” I said with a tight smile, suppressing the urge to groan. Kids had a certain way to view the world, and while most of the time it was refreshing or cute, other times it left you frustrated when they got caught up in the details that did not matter.
A few minutes later another boy and girl came over. They looked to be a few years older, maybe ten or eleven. They were also less dirty than Firan and Barauk. I sent Bolmor to the east gate to tell Ed where I was, and the easiest way to get here. Evie was sent to find Kira at the temple with the same message. Though both recipients knew that already, I figured it was a way to give a little money, without making it charity.
It took me another fifteen minutes to finish cooking the last of the skewers. The 54 failures bothered me, but with a total of 84 attempts it all came down to the percentages. The theoretical chance of not failing was 32% and I had gotten somewhere around 35 or 36%, so it was better than what the system had predicted. By a very small margin.
And while it had cost me 101 coppers in meat and skewers, I thought it was money well spent, since I had earned 671 Cooking XP. Which put me well on my way to a level up. I thanked the four kids for their help. After packing the grill away, I started to butcher the carcasses I had in my cart.
Instead of six rabbits before I had to take a break, I was able to butcher eight of them. Together with my increasing familiarity with the task of butchering the horned rabbits, I could still manage to do two rotations in a single hour. Hopefully, I would be able to decrease the time further. One minute to butcher and pack away the loot of one rabbit was the goal I was aiming for.
The loot from the rabbits was what I expected, though I was sad to see my lackluster luck turned two of them into Poor quality. And of course it was two of the rabbits I rolled a lot of loot on. Sometimes the Mother loves you and other times she just dump you in a nest of snakes; alone, helpless and defenseless.
One good thing did come from my downtime between batches of bunnies though. I managed to level up my Meditation skill. Unfortunately it would not provide a lot of extra benefits. Only an extra mana every five minutes. I pulled up the skill information just to be sure I remembered correctly.
Meditation - Level 1 (Beginner)
Using this skill allows the user to regenerate mana.
Recover 5 points of mana every 60 seconds
Recover 1 extra point of mana every 300 seconds
XP Gain: 1 XP per mana regenerated
Progress: 21/2000 xp
Levelling up meditation further would only increase how much mana was regenerated extra every five minutes. The change in the mana regenerated every minute would not come until I was able to upgrade the skill tier to Apprentice. Then it would be twenty mana every minute. At least it brought me one skill point closer to level 2.
Pulling out the first of the seagulls, I stared at it, trying to figure out the best way to go about it, when a shadow fell over my table. Not the shadow of a building, but of a person. Looking up I saw the Butcher looking at me, “Interesting way you go about helping my neighbours.”
“Interesting good, or interesting bad?” I inquired.
To which he just gave a noncommittal grunt. Instead he pointed to the seagull, “Pluck the feathers of that one, then chop off the feet and head. And then it’s finished.”
“Thank you,” I managed to say before he turned around and walked back onto his property. The seagulls would not provide a whole lot of items. A quarter kilo of bones, one piece of meat and feathers. At most one seagull would provide feathers for ten arrows. Since it was a new process, it took me almost twice the time to butcher the eleven seagulls, than it would have taken me to butcher eleven rabbits.
At the time I was done and was packing up, I could see Ed and the others were coming down the street. Kira was nowhere in sight though. Ed seemed stoic as usual, but the three others seemed to be dragging their feet a bit. Especially Blaze. He seemed downcast for some reason.
“What’s wrong?” I asked after greeting them.
“Those fuckers has been harassing us the entire evening,” One-Eye grumbled, “And they even killed Blaze.”
“They attacked you?”
“They lured a herd of rabbits to attack him,” Robin was the one who answered.
Blaze’s hands shook, “It really hurt, being blasted by several fireballs at once is just— I don’t know if I can do this.”
“Blaze, we’ll take care of them somehow, but right now they outnumber you, and there’s not much we can do. Sometime tomorrow they’ll start bleeding money left and right,” I said.
“Why would they do that?” One-Eye asked.
“Because they’ll be hitting level five very soon, and I’ll refuse to sell them food.”
“We don’t need to eat or drink. Nor sleep for that matter. Despite having been active for almost sixteen hours now, I’m as fresh as when I entered the game,” Robin commented.
“Aye, would be great if it was the same in the real world,” One-Eye agreed with her immediately, and then launched into a detailed explanation on how much better sports would be, with always fresh athletes who could train non-stop.
“Why would they need food?” Ed asked quietly as not to disturb One-Eye.
“Because when you hit level five, the satiety and hydration system unlocks. You’ll see that soon enough, and the food the NPCs make will be more expensive than mine,” I answered with a smile, and started leading them towards the square; hoping to run into Kira on the way. The sky was starting to darken, meaning it was almost night in the game, so it was time to find an inn and logout.
Waking up inside the pod was always a bit disorienting. Even for someone who had been doing it for six years. The worst part was that the suppression of bodily functions ended, meaning I really needed the bathroom. Which had me rolling out of the pod as soon as the lid opened. Certain expensive pods could take care of that, as well as feed you. Making them perfect for long term immersion.
After attending to those bodily needs and getting dressed in a newly acquired training outfit, I left my room carrying a bag with a towel and fresh set of clothes. The corridor I entered had about as much personality as a plain piece of cardboard. A dull metal grey colour and texture lined the walls. The floor and ceiling was an off white colour; almost shining. Light was provided with too bright light fixtures in the ceiling.
Up and down the curved corridor I could see multiple doors on the same side as the door to my room. A few meters to my left on the opposite wall was a door, which was the only thing that broke the monotony of the wall. It would lead to either the gym or the dining area. With a few keystrokes on the holographic keyboard of my wrist device, I had pulled up the floor plan. The door almost in front of me led to the dining area.
With that settled, I headed right and soon after I had gone around the bend, I came upon another door leading to the dining area. A total of three doors led to the dining area, while only a single door led to the gym and pool. As I continued on my path, I saw one of the doors up ahead open. Robin, no Ainsley, stepped out into the corridor, ‘We’re in the real world now, not the game world. Going to be hard keeping the names straight. And then we log back in, and I need to switch back. Would be easier if they had done like me and Edward.’
“Hey Ainsley, how are you feeling?” I asked as I took in her outfit. It seemed to adhere to the less is better fashion trend. Or maybe it was the inducing heart attack trend. There were too many to keep up with.
“Confused,” she answered with a weak smile, “Even though we use a replica of our own body, it’s still slightly different. A difference in strength, balance and so on.”
“I know, it’ll take some getting used to,” I patted her on the shoulder as I caught up with her, “Now imagine if you had made a body different from yours. Taller, shorter, or maybe even a different race.”
“Ugh, I’m getting nauseous just thinking about it.”
“Nauseous about what?” Kira called out from behind as she came racing down the corridor in her wheelchair. She was dressed in a modest bikini, clearly designed for fitness use, but nonetheless, it was still revealing.
“Thinking about how hard it must be to acclimate to your own body, if you had played in a body vastly different than yours,” Ainsley irritately pushed a blue lock of hair out of the way. It must have slipped out of her ponytail.
“Yeah, I can imagine. I miss having legs though. It’s funny how used to having them again you can get. I actually tried to stand up when I was getting out of the pod. Of course that ended with me getting really well-acquainted with the floor.”
“Ouch,” Ainsley sympathised. We lapsed into silence until we approached the door to the gym. Liam and Edward was already there. Except for a slight widening of his eyes, Edward showed no other outward signs of noticing the girl’s attire.
Liam on the other hand, “Wow girls, you’re really putting the sexy into foxy. I’d fu— Ouch, what’d you do that for?”
His inappropriate line of thought was interrupted by a slap to the back of his head by Edward. Instead of answering him he just shook his head. Ainsley looked about ready to murder Liam, while Kira chose to ignore him and wheeled up to the door.
“What about One-E— I mean Masuro?” Ainsley asked.
Kira waved the arm with her wrist device, “He sent me a message he’s already in there. He got the room right across from the gym.”
“Eddie, did you see how sexy the girls are? dayum!” Liam whispered, failing to lower his voice much, “I’d like to thro— Ouch, stop hitting me.”
It was reassuring that Liam or Blaze would be the same no matter where he was, though I wished he would tone it way down. Edward had reverted to his shy persona, though he still tried to rein in Liam. I followed the girls into the gym, and saw that the room was empty, except for Masuro who was using a treadmill. Which was the only exercise machine in the whole room. Three doors. Two of them would lead to the showers, one for each gender, while the last would lead to the pool.
Instead of exercise machines there were blue lines drawn out on the floor, creating twenty or so squares. When you walked into one of the squares, the gym’s AI would connect with your wrist device, and you could choose from hundreds of different exercise machines. In less than a minute, the machine would appear from the ceiling.
“Okay, Ed and Damian, please don’t take offense at this. But both of you are horribly out of shape. So we’ll start lightly. Mostly just walking on a treadmill, jog for a while every once in a while, and some time in one of the rowing machines. Followed by twenty minutes in the pool, understood?” Kira took a commanding tone.
“Sure thing Kira,” I answered. No response from Edward.
“Good, and I’m not going to hold your hands. You wanted this daily hour of training to be part of the contract Damian, so you all will be responsible for doing your own work. I’m just telling you what to do, to get back into shape.”
“I understand,” I answered with conviction. A conviction that flagged several times during the following hour of torture. I was about to quit every two minutes, but I knew that if I wanted to change the future, I would have to start with myself. Edward showed no signs of discomfort, but then again, he rarely showed anything.