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Eryk Solbourne was not always a hero in Team Fanghook. He was not always an [Adventurer] who explored Mystix and fought villains of various sort.

But for the past six months, he has been a part of the Dstiny Deck System, and he has been training up his skills as best as he can. And this training is about to lead to his first-ever adventure. He has recently joined the Adventurer’s Guild, and on a trial basis is being brought along by the [Warrior] Borguk on a journey that will soon prove to be utterly formative to the rest of his life... And his next life as well.

With 18 Destiny Points in hand, he is almost to the next level. Soon, he will reach past F-Rank and become an E-Rank [Adventurer.] The Achievement Board will finally become active to him, and he will be able to gain more Destiny Points and more Destiny Cards even faster.

Eryk has been waiting for this moment for a very long time. Since he was a child, since the attack on North Spire, he has dreamt of becoming a hero that could avenge his homeland and bring glory to his people.

Or, nominally it would bring glory to his people. In his heart of hearts, there is a much simpler, much easier explanation for why he wants to achieve these goals: he wants the glory. He wants to be the one who succeeds, who gains the fame and fortune that comes with being the world’s greatest hero.

He wants his name, the Solbourne legacy, to be etched in the history books forever. Even if he won’t admit to his passions beyond simply avenging his homeland, it is clear how he truly feels.

And so with that in the back of his mind, Eryk trains outside his tent, practicing the art of swordplay and keeping each of his forms steady and solid.

He stares at the sunflower in front of him. Imagines it as a vicious enemy, perhaps a werewolf or a vampire, or even a mummy. Gets a grip on his handle. Slices. Sheathes it back as quickly as he can.

The quick draw sword slice.

The sunflower in front of Eryk splits in half vertically, its two sides bending down by the stalk and then snapping away from each other.

He bends down and collects the sunflower seeds he has gained by defeating this mock enemy. They make for a scrumptious meal. But not as scrumptious as another Destiny Point would be.

Malia steps out of the tent and stretches, letting the full brunt of her body be exposed to the rising sun. The morning light bounces off her elven skin and she glows like no human ever could.

Eryk tries not to stare. He attempts to glance away... but finds himself unable to avert his eyes.

Malia catches him, shakes her head, and smiles. “Do you like the view?” she asks.

“Your beauty never ceases to amaze me,” I say. “I don’t know if it’s your whole race, or if it’s just you, but... I can’t help but stare. I apologize if that is upsetting to you in any way, but you are simply radiant.”

“Oh, it certainly isn’t upsetting to me,” she says to him. “Gaze on me and give me the company I so dearly crave.”

And so Eryk lays down his sword. He sits down in the grass and watches her perform some morning stretches. The sun rises, and so does the young man’s spirits as he looks on the most beautiful woman he’s ever laid eyes on.

The people of North Spire hold a prejudice to those who marry or sire children with those from outside the North Spiran towns. An elf would be so far away from that that it is no longer a human that he would be dealing with.

Eryk would probably never marry anyone but a North Spiran. But the fact his mind diverted itself to such a thought is a sign of just how deeply she cares for the woman in the apple of his eye right now.

“Every moment I see you, Malia, you seem at peace,” he tells her.

“Is that so?”

“It may be my love that has blinded me.”

She looks at him, keeping her neutral smile but with a twinkle in her eyes suggesting something more. “Love, you say?”

“Yes, love, I say,” he says. “Out here in this grassy plains, overlooking the Furtherfelt Mountains and the Felthand Lake, I could rest here forever with you. I wish nothing more than to stay sitting, watching you exercise and seeing your glistening body against the sun’s glimmer. If I could keep you here in this moment for the rest of time, I would take it. Therefore, I will consider my feelings love.”

She chuckles. “Eryk, you have such a strange manner of speech.”

“It’s the North Spiran accent. My apologies.”

Eryk knows it’s a lie, all he said just moments ago. He knows his ambitions for the glory of becoming the first S-Rank hero in a millennium far outstrip any feelings he holds towards Malia, no matter how strong they may be at the moment. But he can’t help but say it anyway, because a part of him truly does hold the opinion that the current status quo would be perfect.

If only he wasn’t a part of the Destiny Deck System and a member of the Adventurer’s Guild, he could abandon everything in an instant.

Of course, Malia was too. Perhaps the two of them could become an adventurer duo, exploring only the outlying areas around the Furtherfelt Mountains and fighting the monsters that take roost here across the four seasons.

It would never work, but it is an interesting thought for Eryk to ponder on. A fruitless fantasy is all it will ever be.

“Do you know when the others will return from their scouting trip?” Eryk asks.

“No, I do not,” she answers. “I expected them back last night. But it seems we will have the area to ourselves once more. Will you spend the day training again?”

“Perhaps,” Eryk answers. “Or perhaps I will spend the rest of the day soaking in my affection for my companion.”

“You know,” Malia says, “just because I am letting you look on my body does not mean we are lovers. It does not mean I will let you sleep with me.”

“I figure it is merely a matter of time,” he says, “before my tremendous strength and compassion win you over.

“Unlike Thalia I have some sort of standards when it comes to men.”

“I will strive to meet those standards, then,” he says. “Tell me what they are and I will conquer them.”

“Make me some breakfast and I’ll consider it,” she says.

“Right away.” He gets up and start back towards the tent to gather supplies.

“Wait,” she says, “I need to get some clothes on first. I’ll follow you in.”

Eryk and Malia enter the tent together.

After a moment of discussion, they decide to stay in there a while longer.

And they end up missing breakfast entirely.

***

“Hey, Eryk, what’s that over there?” Malia asks, pointing to a distant object in the sky.

Eryk squints his eyes and tries to make it out, but it seems like merely some sort of vague fuzzy square floating in the air to him, to his human eyes.

Malia notices how hard he is trying to make it out and kisses him on the cheek. “I’m teasing you,” she says.

“What? Why would you do such a thing?”

“It’s funny seeing you try things,” she says to him. “You’re always trying so hard at everything you attempt. You never give anything less than the full amount of effort you have in you. That’s probably why we’re here together now, you know. Besides Borguk, nobody on Team Fanghook wanted a new F-Rank hero to babysit. But as team leader our orc friend won us over and now here we are. You refused to give up and now...”

“And now I’ve shared every part of me,” Eryk says foolishly. He thinks he’s being romantic, even though he comes off more as an insecure child. Malia finds it endearing, though.

The two of them sit not too far away from the grassy field, on top of a large stone that overlooks a large hill. At the bottom lays a crevice that leads to a small river. In one direction, that river leads off to Goddess knows where, somewhere vast and unexplored, most likely. In the other direction, it leads to the Furtherfelt Mountains, where at this moment a great war is brewing between Dwarves and Yostians. The full-scale battles have not yet broken out, but anyone informed with the news is well aware of what is going on now.

The full-scale battles are of no concern to the two [Adventurers] sitting on a stone in a grassy field as insects buzz by, however. They are concerned only with getting to know one another more closely.

“Thank you for joining Team Fanghook,” says Malia.

“You’re welcome for allowing me on Team Fanghook,” says Eryk.

It is difficult to ascertain what is going on in Eryk’s mind right now. Is he proud of everything he has accomplished so far? Embarrassed for how weak he still is compared to his teammates? Guilty for how he is holding them back? Too overwhelmed by his passions for the woman beside him to care about any of those things? It is hard to tell, because the only look on his face is a crooked smile.

“Tell me your favorite color,” Eryk says.

Malia is taken aback. “Favorite color?”

“Yes. What color do you like the best?”

“I didn’t really know adults could have favorite colors,” she says. “I don’t think I’ve thought of a question like that in decades.”

“Well, think about it now, then tell me.”

“Hmmm...” Malia seems lost in thought. Perhaps she is genuinely considering his question, or perhaps she is considering what kind of a man would ask a woman her favorite color. Either way, she finally answers, “Teal.”

“Teal? Why that one?” Eryk asks.

“You seem shocked. Almost offended.”

“No, I’m just curious.”

“Well then, if you must know,” Malia says, “I like green because of its gentle, natural feel, and I like blue because of its cool, refreshing feel. Teal is the combination of both those things.”

“So it’s cool and natural?”

“Gentle and refreshing.”

“I see,” Eryk says.

“What’s yours?”

“Pink,” Eryk answers immediately. Malia giggles, but Eryk merely tilts his head to the side. “What? Pink is my favorite color. Is there anything wrong with that?”

“Well, it’s not exactly unexpected, but...”

“It’s okay to like pink,” he mutters. “Just because I’m... doesn’t mean...” He begins to sulk.

Malia pats him on the back. “You know, let’s switch to a new question. My turn.”

His head perks up. “Oh?”

“What did you want to be when you grew up?”

“Oh, that’s easy,” Eryk says. “I want to be the first S-Rank Hero in generations. I want to become the best there ever was.”

“You misheard me. I asked, what did you want to be? I mean, when you were a child, what dreams or ambitions did you have? What were you dead-set on becoming before you grew up?”

“Oh...”

“Yeah, do you understand.”

“I do. That’s... that’s a bit of a tough question, though. I may have to ponder on it.”

“Oh, well then, I’ll start,” Malia says. “I wanted to be an architect. My parents were both architects in the elven city of Thy’lia, and so I wanted to follow in their footsteps. Up until the time I became an adult, which in elf years is about age fifty, I tried as best as I could to become an architect who would change the world with her artistic buildings.”

“What stopped you?”

“I’m very bad at math...” Malia sighs.

“What’s math?”

Malia sighs again.

“So, do you remember your childhood well enough now?” Malia asks. “What did you want to be when you grew up?”

“Well, the difficult part of answering that question is that life on North Spire is a bit different than the typical one. We are almost entirely farmers, as you recall. And our family traditions are very strong when we are in those that are not farmers. My fathers had already planned out my entire life from the moment I was born. I was to be a civil servant who managed the crop inventories and moved product from city to city. That was to be my sole task in life, and so most of my childhood was centered around tasks of physical strength and endurance, for I would be the one who physically carried all of that product.”

“Wait, ‘fathers?’ You have two fathers?”

“No, I have six,” Eryk says, blushing from embarrassment. “I, well, I am aware that North Spiran culture is not the same as other places, but this is one area I do not usually like to bring up because of some of the prejudice involved...”

“No, don’t worry, I’m okay,” Malia says. “I don’t know much about your people, I will admit. I apologize for my ignorane. Could you explain?”

“Of course, he says. “The family clans on North Spire are large and do not necessarily follow any blood descent. They consist of a group of fathers who raise the younger generation and take care of the older generation, with one Forefather who represents the entire family in larger North Spiran affairs, sometimes being held as a ceremonial hostage at the capital town. Men and women and others alike can become fathers, so long as they are selected by the others and then elected by the adults of the family. Some families only have two fathers. Some have many. It simply depends.

“The Solbournes are a special family in that all of our fathers are men. It is not necessarily romantic or sexual in nature, though I always had my suspicions about some of my fathers. I found the entire Solbourne patriarch to be a stifling experience that drove out many of the young women I called sisters. They found other families to join, to marry into, or even struck out on their own. Rarely did they stay Solbournes.

“And so that’s all I have to say. North Spire is an interesting place, and sometimes people dislike it, but it is the only family I have ever known... at least until Team Fanghook.”

“Aww,” Malia says. “I don’t think it’s that weird.”

“But you do think it’s weird in part...”

“Well, it’s not the same kind of culture I grew up in, that’s for sure. But life is different when you’re in a race that lives for 350 years, huh...”

“I guess we’re both different in our own ways.”

The two begin to hold hands.

The sun is cresting, inching closer to sunset as every moment passes. The two are not yet a couple, nor will they be for some time after this day. But their romance surely blossoms now.

Malia leans in and nestles her cheek against Eryk’s. He giggles and puts a hand through her hair. The two of them are so far apart, in age and combat prowess and culture and even favorite colors. None of that stops them from being together here and now.

They remain silent in their own way, watching the not-yet-sunset in the afternoon skies.

“What IS that thing out in the distance, though?” Eryk asks, finally.

“Oh, yes, you humans and your poor eyesight,” Malia says. “That there is a flying mollusk. It’s a gigantic shelled creature that floats around the skies and eats small microbes and the occasional bird.”

“That... that’s an animal? A beast? I had suspected it was merely a persisent cloud, but... By The Goddess’s name, that’s a real living creature?”

“It’s harmless unless you’re flying in the air. Or unless you make it angry.”

“It appears to be coming this way, though...”

“It’s also a very slow creature,” she adds. “Even if it’s headed this way, it won’t be to this spot for another... maybe day? Could even be longer if it decides to linger.”

“Well, what shall we do then to pass the time?” Eryk asks. He kisses Malia on the neck.”

“Here? on this rock? No way.”

“I didn’t mean to suggest...”

“When are our companions ever going to return?” Malia asks. “I’m almost starting to worry about them.”

“I like to think The Goddess is intervening, giving us plenty of free time to hold down our place and seek out more information about the region.”

“So you’re saying we should be exploring,” Malia says. “You might be right. While the others are out there doing, well, whatever it is they’re doing right now, we should be doing more than sitting around and training. We need to harvest some plants. Find long-lost treasure. Maybe find some skeletons with armor and weapons left behind.”

“Ah, yes,” Eryk says. “The [Adventurer] way. We will traverse the lands and uncover as much profit as there is to be found in such a place as this.”

“You’ve already adapted to our lifestyle, I see.” Malia laughs. “Why don’t we begin our little mini-adventure?”

“It is a more promising thing than simply sitting on this large stone for the rest of time.” For all his talk about staying here forever with Malia, it was clear that his heart was set on adventure and growth. For he was a true [Adventurer.]

***

“We sure got a lot of stuff,” Eryk says, carrying an oversized backpack filled with loot of all sorts on his back. It is so heavy it would break a normal man’s back just by putting it on. However, Eryk has trained his whole life for this sort of job. He is a North Spiran whose job was the public service of all the farms in the town. with the Destiny Deck System inside of him, his power is even greater than ever before. He is strong enough to carry all of it. He could carry even more if he wanted.

Malia is very good at treasure gathering, it turns out. She has so many talents. It’s quite incredible, Eryk thinks.

“Yeah, we found more junk than I ever thought some random grassy plains would ever have. I wonder if there was a war here long ago, or even a small village. These golden coins... I don’t recognize the insignia on them at all.”

“We’ll hopefully fetch a lot more coins than those once we trade in all these items to the Guild office, right?” Eryk tries to look back and catch a glimpse of all they have found, but fails to move his neck far enough back.

“The Adventurer’s Guild always offers a bad rate for rare items,” Malia says. “Especially for the kinds of things that aren’t in their yearly catalog. Regular treasure and monster loot, yeah, the flat rate is probably better than hawking your wares around to every shopkeep you encounter, but I’d never sell, say, that stone tablet we found, to the Guild office and get the generic ‘ancient artifact’ rate.”

“The Guild offices are convenient, but not optimal. I see,” Eryk says. “I am still a novice at all of this. Thank you for informing me of it.”

“It’s not a problem at all. Team Fanghook is one of the savvier teams, you know, so it’s good we found you first.” Malia inserts another item into Eryk’s bag. “We’re not exactly SUPPOSED to be selling our loot to third-party vendors in large amounts, but hey, as long as we’re a little discrete about it...”

“What was that that you put in my bag?” he asks.

“A plant root I found a moment ago. The flower looked pretty. I want to take it to an herbalist and have them [Generate Seeds] on it.”

“Are you thinking of starting a garden? As a travelling [Adventurer?]”

“No,” Malia laughs. “I’m just starting a seed collection. Whenever we stay somewhere long enough, I like to plant some of the seeds and tend to them until we leave. Maybe the seeds sprout, maybe they die, I don’t know. Either way, I’ve left my mark and if The Goddess wills it, a pretty flower or two may grow.”

“That’s nice.”

“You know, Eryk, if that bag is too heavy for you, I can put it in my open inventory slot.”

“Oh!” Eryk shouts. “I have one of my own, actually!” He poofs the large backpack into his inventory slot. It disappears with its only trace of existence being a tiny cloud of smoke that dissipates in seconds.

“What is your hand like, anyway?” Malia asks. “I don’t think we talk shop all too often so I don’t know.”

“Talk shop?”

“That means talk about our work directly. About the Destiny Card and system stuff. I mean, how far along are you?”

“I’m still F-Rank, so I only have five cards in my hand right now...”

“What are they?”

Eryk pulls up on his HUD the list of Destiny Cards he has in his hand right now:

Super Hearing: Rank 1. Increase sonic perception abilities dramatically for five minutes. Cost: 70 LP.

Blaze Up: Rank 3. Creates a flame aura around the user. Cost: 300 LP.

Fireball: Rank 1. Shoot a fireball. Cost: 10 LP.

Inventory Slot: Rank 4. Store an item here to retrieve for future use. Current item: Backpack (Large).

Skill Check: Rank 1. Examine the variables around you. (There is a small chance that your next action will go exceedingly well or exceedingly poorly.) Cost: 50 LP.

 

“...and that’s all of them,” he says after he finishes listing them all off.

“Wow, you have a long way to go, don’t you?”

“I very much do. But for someone with only 5,000 LP, using Destiny Cards at all is quite dangerous for me.”

“But aren’t you like Level 55 already?” she asks. “Why don’t you just rank up and get double the Life Points?”

“I’m trying to gain better stats while I can. Leveling up is very easy still, and I’d like to keep it that way.”

Malia shrugs. “Whatever works best for you.”

“Say.”

“Say?”

“Say... isn’t that large mollusk thing supposed to be a day’s journey away from us or something?”

Malia looks off in the sky and sees what Eryk is referring to. “Yes... Um, that’s not supposed to be coming that quickly.”

“How long do you think it will be at this point before it arrives over here...?”

“It’s looking like...” Malia gulps. “Maybe ten or fifteen minutes. It’s coming kind of quickly.”

The creature looms in the distance, but now with more of a grasp on it, Eryk can see just how massive the sky mollusk is.

And how tiny he is in comparison.

***

Eryk holds up his blade.

Malia holds up her bow and arrow.

The mollusk makes a loud screeching sound that reverberates throughout the entire field. It is already angry. For all the reassurances Malia had about the beast, it appears that it has practically no sense of ease about it whatsoever. It is aggressive, angry, and its many tentacles are writhing about like it is about to attack at any moment.

Such a large creature normally feeds off only the tiniest of animals. It is a bottom-feeder in anything but location. The sky’s quadrillions of microbes make for a tasty food source for this flying shelled creature, and in the best of times it is not the kind of creature that would even consider floating this close to the surface, let alone actually attacking anything. But little did Malia know when she made her statement earlier, but the rainy season has been unusually weak this year in this specific region. It is nearing a drought, and the lack of water in the atmosphere has kept the number of microbes much lower than most years.

This mollusk here, this one looking at the young human man and the elven female and imagining them to be a tasty snack, has not fed to satisfaction in almost a month. It has begun the starvation process and is feeling a great deal of pain.

At this moment, the mollusk either wants to be put out of its misery, or it wants to end its misery with a great feast.

And these two large sacks of meat look to be exactly the kind of morsel it so desperately craves right now.

Malia takes a step back, then fires an arrow. It bounces off the mollusk’s shell and shatters in the air.

“That armor’s too strong for arrows,” she says.

Eryk takes a look at the creature. He recognizes its familiar look of hopelessness, of great ambitions but with little ability to realize any of them. This mollusk must be feeling a lot like Eryk does right now, he thinks. Even in the middle of a battle with the monster, he forms some sort of kinship with the monster, almost like it is a sibling of his own.

In Eryk’s entire childhood, he had twelve siblings. Most were far older, adults who even had kids of their own. His older sisters had mostly left and formed their own clan called Solbirth, where four sisters acted as the family fathers and raised a competing branch of produce carriers. After all of them, Eryk only had two siblings worth truly considering siblings in the more traditional sense of the word.

The mollusk lashes out with its tentacles. Eryk jumps out of the way. The large whip-like limbs thrash against the ground and tear up all the grass. Eryk lands and skids on the dirt, just in time to make another jump to avoid being smashed aside.

The mollusk emits a loud screeching sound. It is completely unlike a roar, utterly dissimilar to anything Eryk or Malia has ever faced in combat before. They have fought dragons, they have dismembered Dwarven Spiders, and they have decimated entire armies of Scream-Pigs. And yet the mollusk is wholly unique in its high-pitched, unsettling voice.

Eryk ducks and avoids another tentacle. Malia fires another arrow, but it is quickly blocked by a quick turn that leads to the arrow’s metal colliding with the thick chitin of the monster’s shell..

All this time, Eryk holds his sword tightly. He holds it with delicacy, but with enough firmness that it would crush the throat of any human neck held with int. His sympathy with the mollusk grows even deeper as he sees just how far the beast is willing to go to satiate itself. He is going to kill the monster, but it will take an emotional gut punch to do it.

Eryk had two sibligs back in North Spire. One was a brother his same age named Vince. He liked sports quite a lot. Rollball was his favorite one; he loved rolling balls and spinning them around the rollball courtyards when he was done with his daily chores. He loved forcing Eryk to play against him even though Eryk was terrible at sports. Eryk’s strength was always his strong suit, but in rollball, when the goal was to kick and toss with precision and aim towards a specific target, he could not even muster a single victory against Vince.

The two were close. Quite close, in fact. But Eryk was much closer with his other sibling, a child named Rare. They were born under mysterious circumstances to a father whose identity was somewhat uncertain. The blood relationship was irrelevant, but still a source of bickering and controversy for years to come. Rare didn’t have many friends growing up due to the stigma about their uncertain family status, and the Solbourne family’s reluctance to fully accept them. But Eryk was quite fond of them. Their interest in books and learning was something that Eryk never fully related to, but it was something that reflected upon him regardless.

Eryk learned how to handle loss and competition with Vince. But he learned how to read, learned how to anaylze and predict things with Rare. Vince and Rare were never very close, but Eryk was close with both of them.

Then after North Spire was attacked, both of them were conscripted into the militia to avenge the region and destroy the enemies who raided and killed so many North Spirans.

And then after less than two months, the news about the two of them was revealed.

Vince had been killed in a botched invasion attempt. He was the only survivor of his squad after the fight had been lost, but upon retreating back to allied lines, he was hit by friendly fire.

One Solbourne gone.

Rare had been pushed away from the front lines due to low physical ability, and they were put on guard duty most nights. One night, around the exact same time as Vince’s death, Rare disappeared. They went absent without leave. They never showed up again. To this day, nobody has ever found any trace of Rare’s existence, even with the distinctive and incurable physical marker that all North Spirans possess with their hair and eyes.

Two Solbounres gone.

Eryk, then the youngest surviving member of the family of his generation, was thrust into a status he never wanted. He was content with a life of civil servitude and simple living that used his strength for what it was worth economically. Now he was being expected to learn the rituals and mannerisms of a future Forefather. Without inter-family adoptions, something quite frowned upon in North Spiran society without a marriage involved, the Solbourne family would have to rely fully on Eryk’s abilities to lead the way for the years to come, once the current crop of fathers aged out of their statuses.

For what it was worth, Eryk tried. He attempted to understand what it meant to be a leader to a family of dozens, tried to fit into the role of someone who was proper and masculine, parenting and compassionate. He did not succeed, however. He failed more miserably than a beaver reminiscing about the Great Dam War after too many drinks at the local pub. And unlike that hypothetical beaver, Eryk did not have anyone else to ramble to about his worries. With Vince and Rare gone, it was up to him to do everything, and he had no friends to speak of that he could trust far enough to divulge his most inner of worries.

It should have been Eryk, he always thought. It should have been him who was sent to war, not him who was tasked with staying behind to keep the family business afloat during difficult times. His only strength was his strength. He had no ability to be a good leader. He had no cunning or intelligence to speak of. In fact, he was quite dumb, even for a North Spiran. He had absolutely no business becoming the Forefather for the Solbourne family, and everyone knew it.

So Eryk Solbourne reached an agreement with the family. He would depart. He would not renounce his family claims, and would instead embrace them. He would leave with the pretense of a cultural ambassadorship to enrich the cultural understandings between North Spire and the other regions of the continent. However, he knew, and his fathers knew, that he had no such intentions of spreading the good news about his culture to the rest of the world. He didn’t truly have any intention of even returning to North Spire until he was old, fat, and long ago having proven himself as a hero.

That was when Eryk discovered a sorting scepter. That was when Eryk accepted the Destiny Deck System within himself. That was when Eryk Solbourne began his journey towards becoming an S-Rank [Adventurer,] the likes of which Mystix has never seen before.

And all of that history inside of Eryk Solbourne is what has led up to this moment. This battle between the giant sky mollusk on one side, and Eryk and Malia on the other.

Eryk knows that he is not praised by many. He is a disgrace to some, a failure to most. He has spent over six months lingering in F-Rank, something few to no heroes would ever do, and now in this particular battle he is at a significant disadvantage.

Even with a few [Minor Heals] consumed just yesterday, he still only has 4,100 Life Points at his disposal, thanks to the extremely low cap for F-Rank heroes. A few well-timed and deadly strikes by the mollusk could end his life.

And yet Eryk is not at all worried about it. He is even smiling.

Malia fires off arrow after arrow, each one of them breaking upon impact. It’s quite useless, but she is hoping to gain the attention of the monster just long enough for Eryk to strike.

He has not swung his sword yet. In this entire fight, he has simply stood and jumped and dodged, for that is the thing that is currently keeping him steady.

He waits for the final strike. The only strike he needs.

The mollusk is a pitiful creature. Perhaps nearly as pitiful as Eryk himself. He would never, ever admit to himself that he is a weakling and hates himself, but in his heart of hearts, in the invisible and inaccessible Destiny Card that makes up the contents of his soul, Eryk has a deep and unceasing hatred for himself. It is the kind of burning and passionate hatred that simmers like an ember below a boiling pot and doesn’t go away for years. Doesn’t go away for decades. Because of this hatred he sets goal after goal for himself, setting his ambitions to succeed in realms that are so far beyond his reach that he will surely fail them.

Of course he couldn’t become the next forefather of the Solbourne family.

Of course he couldn’t become a C-Rank Hero in six months or less.

Of course he can’t become an S-Rank Hero, is the thought that refuses to enter his conscious mind, but that swirls through his subconscious at every non-waking moment.

If the mollusk is anything like Eryk right now, it is crying on the inside, and its screeching is merely a simple plea for help.

Eryk decides to put the creature out of its heavy mystery. He figures out the correct angle, understands how to get past the tentacles, and how to strike it down in just one blow.

First...

[Fireball.]

He sends out a weak magical Destiny Card skill that blasts into the mollusk’s shell. It burns it, but does no serious damage other than shocking the beast into a moment of stun.

And with everything set, Eryk leaps forward.

He moves his sword around like a conductor’s baton, tracing the correct motion he has trained for for ages.

Eryk Solbourne is no hero, not yet. But he is at least strong enough to slice off the mollusk’s tentacles and stab it in the face.

Slice.

Snip.

Slash.

All in one swing, in one motion, he has ended the mollusk’s life.

When Eryk lands, so do a dozen tentacles that were disconnected from the attack. They were not even the target; merely a distraction from the real target—the mollusk’s brain. Brains are the only thing that can keep an animal functioning, after all. It doesn’t matter how dumb or smart it is, if its head is gone.

The mollusk loses its ability to float and crashes onto the ground. Its body is still stuck to the enormous shell. The shell rolls around for a second before collapsing on its side. The body then oozes out slowly.

“Ew,” Malia says. “That’s really gross.”

Ding! [+1 DP.]

All of that, and they only got a single Destiny Point each out of it... Eryk shakes his head in disappointment.

He does not know this, but he has entered a new stage of his life with the events of this day. With his first act of real romance with Malia, and his furious victory at the hands of the sky mollusk, he has forged a new destiny for himself. The Destiny Deck of his life has been reconfigured.

But the adventure isn’t quite over yet.

Soon, the other three members of Team Fanghook arrive. Thalia, with her magely books and low-cut dress and snide looks at everyone around her. Borguk, with his towering height and brotherly demeanor and gigantic axe hoisted on his back. Miss M, with her short stature and demon’s tail and grumpy glare as if she is extremely tired and ready for a nap.

They are finally back from their recon mission, and now the real mission is ready.

“What in The Goddess’s name took so long?” Eryk asks them, holding in no regard any idea of courtesy or politeness. He does not defer to the added experience that these three hold over him. He wants answers and that is what he will obtain.

“We got involved in some nasty stuff,” Borguk says. “These beasts in the sky kept attacking us everywhere we went. We could barely reach the castle in time for the summoning to begin.”

“Plus, there’s some war between the Dwarves and Yostians out in the mountains,” Miss M adds. “They’re real jerks! They’re planning some big battle and it’s getting in our way big time. We’ll have to find a brand-new way around the mountains so we can avoid getting smushed in the crossfire.”

“The only one who’ll get smushed is you, short stuff,” Borguk says with a hearty laugh.

Miss M crosses her arms and huffs.

“I see that you two have been keeping busy,” says Thalia, pointing to the carcass of the sky mollusk. “This is the same sort of monster that kept attacking us, too.”

“Very strange...” Malia says, putting her hand on her chin in deep ponderance of the confusing situation they find themselves in.

“Well, hopefully we killed enough that they won’t be coming around these parts anymore,” Borguk says.

“I certainly hope so,” Malia says. “This one was a real pain to fight.”

Does Eryk feel the same way?

No, not really, he realizes.

He doesn’t wish to see fewer and fewer of these sky mollusks, even if they are rampaging beasts unlike anything he has ever seen before. This one was hardly a difficult opponent, and its attacking seemed more akin to an untrained child than a real combatant. It was desperate, hungry, and lonely.

All of those things applied to Eryk too, in a way.

If they hunted the sky mollusks to extinction, there would be nothing left of them. They would become a memory. Is that all the weak are made to be? Cannon fodder for those stronger than them? If so, Eryk needed to claw his way out of this. Eryk needed to become stronger, more capable, more of a hero.

In all of this, Eryk makese a declaration to himself never to harm creatures clearly weaker than himself. It is beneath him, and even if it earns him Destiny Points, it would harm the world of Mystix overall if people were to kill too many of these weak creatures and lead each of them to a permanent extinction.

Of course... Eryk does not keep the promise he makes to himself at this moment. He forget he ever makes it, in fact.

All he remembers about this day is what he and Malia did, and then the thing he is about to do:

Rank up.

Eryk uses his Destiny Points to level up one more time, then to increase his rank. The process is long, colorful, and not worth remembering except for itse end result. Eryk is now an E-Rank Hero and that is what matters to him now.

10,000 LP.

Six Destiny Card slots.

The ability to use Life Points to draw Destiny Cards.

He has it all now.

And because of that, the memory of the poor mollusk fades from his mind. The promise he makes to avoid harming innocent creatures disappears into the obscurities of his unconscious, the same place where his self-hatred squirms around in dark corners.

Who cares about any of that when you’re an E-Rank Hero?

***

Later, deeper in some woods off in the distance from the Team Fanghook camp, two figures stand in relative silence.

These two figures are Malia and Miss M. Miss M, usually content to let her low height be the laughing stock of her party, now floats in the air so she will be at eye level with the woman across from her.

They do not smile.

They do not make small talk.

They simply get right down to business.

“Tell me what happened with Eryk these past two days,” says Miss M. “Has he performed well?”

“He’s done extraordinarily,” Malia says. “Better than we could have predicted.”

“The mollusk was threatening enough, wasn’t it? I tried to make it look as menacing as possible, but give it a bit of a sad side to it,” Miss M says. “Conjuring monsters at that short a notice is very hard, though. You gotta give me a further notice.”

“I’m sorry,” Malia says. “I wanted to give him a pick-me-up. He seemed a little down lately.”

“Well, now that he has finally reached Rank E, I guess he’ll be out of moping mode for a while, eh?” Miss M does a little twirl. “We’re doing a good thing, right?”

“Good is not something we can decide. We only do what we must, and history will judge us. Whether we are good or bad is for our descendants to decide.” Malia lowers her head. “He doesn’t have a clue. I promise.”

“My mind wipe worked? Completely? Absolutely? I expected no less of myself, but I’m still shocked it was so successful.” Miss M chuckles. “If you really think this was the right thing to do, then we can try it again the next time something happens.”

“I feel terrible about it,” Malia says, “but it’s the only way to ensure the survival of Mystix.”

“The only way to ensure The Goddess does not take her wrath out on all of us.”

“The Goddess will be the least of our worries if Eryk Solbourne remembers the truth,” Malia says.

And with that, their meeting is over.

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Hey, thanks for reading this bonus chapter. If the story reaches 135 ratings, we'll also get the (non-sentient) otter chapter!


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About the author

Thedude3445

Bio: I like to watch movies.

Avatar art by Mikayla Buan https://twitter.com/mikayla_buan

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