Life was pain.
Life was misery.
That was Yigruk’s take.
It started when he was young.
Everyone pitched in on the family farm, from his older siblings all the way to his parents and grandparents. They lived in a cramped hut, the ogres all jostling for sleeping space nightly, even as the kids grew larger and the space stayed the same size.
At three, he was taught what a “good” pineapple looked like, and what a “bad” pineapple looked like, then tasked to sort pineapples on the family farm. They were prickly and burny, and his parents had no sympathy for his poor hands, instead viciously cuffing him if he didn’t sort enough of the fruit in a day.
Yigruk grew up fast, and eyed his younger sibling, two years younger than he was. Even at three he could realize two things:
- The sibling was competition, eating food that he could be eating instead.
- When the sibling grew older, they’d take over the pineapple-sorting job. He was stuck on pineapples until that day.
The second thought won out, but there were a few close days. There were gaps in the ages of the siblings, which Yigruk steadfastly believed was due to disease or injury.
The only bright spot in his days were when the sun went down, and everyone huddled inside. Grandpa had stories to tell, and oh, what stories they were.
“Shimagu! Shimagu! I want a shimagu story!” Yigruk demanded.
“Yeah! Shimagu!” A chorus of other voices chimed in.
“No! I don’t want shimagu! I want Nolirig!” One of the siblings protested.
Three of the siblings near him viciously beat him. The price for speaking out, the price for stepping out of line.
It was part of why Yigruk wanted shimagu stories.
That, and they sounded awesome!
“A shimagu story eh? Well… how about Trurub the Strong and Sen the Builder?”
“Yeaaaaaah!” A chorus of voices called out, half of them having never heard the story.
“Well! It all started a long time ago, where there was a big, strong ogre named Trurub. He was soooo strong, that everyone called him Trurub the strong! He had so many points in strength, nobody could count that high! But Trurub wasn’t very smart.”
“Sen the builder was a shimagu, and he was a GENIUS! He knew how to build the biggest buildings, he could make the strongest bridges! But alas, Sen had no strength!”
“Could Sen build a better farm?” Yigruk asked. Grandpa chuckled.
“Of course he could! He could build a farm that went further than you can see!”
“Anyways, Trurub had a problem. His village got washed away! He wanted to build a new house for himself, but he didn’t know how! He rolled the biggest stones over, but had no roof! He put another rock on top, but it just rolled over! Trurub was very sad.”
“Along came Sen! Sen saw that Trurub was sad, and wanted to build a home. So he said ‘Hey Trurub! Let’s work together! Your strength, and my skill, and we can make you a home. We can make everyone a home!”
“Trurub agreed, and the two worked together! They built him a home, a grand home! It had six rooms!”
“Whoa.” The ogre kids all gasped at once. Six rooms for a house!? Impossibly luxurious.
“Then he went and built his neighbor a house! And that neighbor’s neighbor! And before long, the whole village was rebuilt!”
“Then Trurub the strong and Sen the builder went out into the world, and built vast cities! People cheered their name! All because Trurub and Sen worked together!”
The kids cheered. It wasn’t quite as exciting as the stories of shimagu and ogres working together to slay some big monster or another, but it was fun.
“How do I get a shimagu to work with me!” Yigruk yelled, trying to be the loudest. It was the only way for his questions to be answered, and in the story, he saw an out.
A way out of spending his entire life handling pineapples, and the utter shit and misery that was his life. Even at his tender age, he knew he didn’t want to spend his life with his hands poked and burned, fighting other ogres for the meagre space, half-starving in a dirty hut.
More of his siblings wanted to know as well. Grandpa just chuckled.
“Well! You need to become strong! Shimagu like working with strong ogres! When you get a class, get a physical one, like [Laborer], or even [Warrior]! Recruiters come around now and then, and if they like you, you can also get a shimagu friend!”
“Do you have a shimagu friend?”
Yigruk never doubted the veracity of the statement, although he had never met the supposed shimagu.
As Yigruk grew up, life remained shit. Famine ravaged their crops, and Yigruk was in the lucky phase where he was big enough to fight for some of the remaining food, and small enough to survive on scraps.
The recruiters came by every few years, banging on great silver drums. Yigruk went star-struck the first time he saw them.
It wasn’t the armor, their weapons, or their stories of adventure and the greater world. No, to Yigruk, it was the fact that they looked well-fed, and not utterly coated in shit like everyone on the farm.
Some of his brothers and sisters left with them.
They didn’t come back, but Yigruk couldn’t blame them. Who’d want to come back here?
Time blurred. There was no such thing as education, not on the farm near a small village. There was just work, sleep, the occasional celebration, and best of all, stories of shimagu.
An accident - a falling tree - killed one of Yigruk’s younger siblings, and left Yigruk with a bad arm. He wasn’t going to let that stop him, although it didn’t quite heal right.
The day came where Yigruk thought he was old enough, and the recruiters came along.
“I want to join.” Yigruk said, presenting himself in front of them. They glanced at him, reading his System-granted level and designation.
He’d gone for [Warrior], figuring he had a better chance that way. Most of his “warrior” experience came from fighting his siblings, and the class he got reflected that. The leveling was slower, but Yigruk thought the tag would mean more.
He hoped. None of his brothers or sisters had been turned down.
“Right. Welcome to the army.” One of the ogres said, patting his back in the bone-shaking way ogres tended to do.
“Will I be able to get a shimagu friend?” Yigruk asked.
The small, not-ogre chuckled, like Yigruk had asked some great joke. “Country bumpkins.” He said under his breath, so quietly that Yigruk couldn’t hear it.
The others could.
“Yeah, of course you will! Everyone does!” The back-slapping ogre reassured Yigruk.
He joined a train of other recruits, following the recruiters in a long line as they meandered around the countryside, before arriving at a facility.
Yigruk’s jaw dropped as he looked at it. It had to be a palace. It was bigger than the farm he’d grown up on! And that was just one building!
This had to be where the shimagu lived, in the lap of opulence and wealth. They probably had three meals a day!
Yigruk just hoped he would be found worthy.
Yigruk steeled himself.
He would be found worthy.
“Listen up, recruits! These are the trainee barracks! Here you will eat, sleep, and train until we determine that you are ready! Now get to it!”
Yigruk had no idea what he was supposed to do, but standing out in the crowd was not it.
Not with some of the guard ogres having their clubs ready.
Not with the knowledge that people who stood out were beaten back into line.
Yigruk moved with the surging crowd, noticing that three of the guard ogres had the strange lights that appeared when someone was classing up dancing around him.
He ate, slept, and trained with the other recruits. He discovered that the small not-ogres were called “humans.”
Life was slightly less shitty. Three bland meals a day. Only beaten when he lost in a fight, and always had a chance to fight back. Significant reduction in the amount of shit he was covered in.
The best years of Yigruk’s life.
He did his best. He got both of his classes to level 128. He listened to his instructors, who strongly pushed him - all of them - to load up on passive skills. They were the best skills. Shimagu liked people with passive skills.
“Why do some people have the lights?” Yigruk asked one day.
“It’s a mark of favor from the shimagu. Only the best are able to get them.”
The ones with the lights did have the highest levels.
Yigruk worked hard, but there was no hiding his bad arm. It held him back, threw him down the grand rankings that the instructors posted.
He was down about it, until another ogre was badly injured in a training accident, and went from being near the top of the scoreboard, to near the bottom.
It got vicious from there, as everyone realized they could eliminate the competition.
The instructors seemed to encourage it, and levels never flowed so freely.
The end of Yigruk’s training came soon enough.
“We will announce your name and shape! Line up under the shape in question!” The instructor yelled at all the recruits milling around in the courtyard.
“.... Yigruk, Square!”
Yigruk dutifully moved to the “Square” line, which had some additional symbols under it.
He’d never been taught to read, or his letters, so he was entirely unaware that it said “C - Average body.”
The lines slowly shuffled through, one ogre at a time passing through a door, into a room.
It was Yigruk’s turn, and heart pounding, he entered a room with eight other trainees, six of them ogres and two of them humans. Yigruk recognized all of them, having spent the last few years together.
This was it. The moment he’d dreamed of since he was a kid. Gaining a shimagu friend.
He’d never seen one before.
“Okuda. Your turn.” One of the instructors said in a bored voice to a positively ancient, fat ogre.
Something flickered through his eyes, before pointing at one of the other ogres - Bikur.
The ogre in question went and knelt down in front of the fat ogre, who put a hand on his head. The eyes flickered again, and a few minutes later the kneeling ogre stood up.
“Everything’s fine. Process complete.” He said, and Yigruk almost did a double-take. Bikur did not speak like that. It was his voice though.
Maybe merging with the shimagu had made him smarter, like all the stories said?
“Right, out to the track with you. Get used to the body.”
One after another, a different name was called. The ancient ogre’s eyes would flicker a bunch, and one of the recruits was selected. A new recruit would then enter the room, always keeping the number at nine.
Yigruk was getting nervous. What would happen if his name wasn’t called? If he wasn’t found worthy?
At last, the old ogre grunted, and Yigruk’s heart leapt in his throat as he saw the gnarled claw pointing at him. He rushed over, kneeling down in supplication.
A hand on his head, then a cold, slimy sensation at his neck. He held still as it entered into him, eager and excited.
Then, at last, a voice, echoing in his mind.
“I can’t believe I got this terrible body. A fresh recruit? Me?! This sucks.”
Not the most promising of starts, but Yigruk was determined to make it work.
He tried to say hello back, that his name with Yigruk, and that he was excited to meet him.
His throat wouldn’t obey.
He tried swallowing, saying it again.
Instead, his body stood up.
“I’m in. Everything’s fine.” Yigruk heard himself say.
But he hadn’t said the words!? What was going on?!
“Right, out to the track with you. Get used to the body.”
Yigruk felt his head nod, then his body turned, one step at a time, arms shaking out experimentally.
In that wrong way that angered his bad arm, causing a jolt of pain to run through him.
“Oh great. This body’s broken to boot. Just great. Just what I needed.” The voice inside of him complained again.
Yigruk’s body went for a run, every little problem triggering a flood of whining.
Yigruk wasn’t enjoying his first day with his first shimagu friend.
He did eventually figure out how to say hello. He just needed to “think” hard enough at the shimagu.
“Hello! I’m Yigruk! Who are you?”
“Oh not a chatterbox. Please. That’s the last thing I need. I’m Kudo, and the more you shut up, the better off we’ll both be.”
Yigruk wasn’t sure what was next in life, but Kudo seemed to have ideas.
Once he was done acclimating to his body, Kudo grabbed a sack, hefted it over one shoulder, and headed out the door.
Yigruk was starting to realize that he was no longer in control of his body. At all.
“Where are we going?”
“Please don’t talk.”
“What else am I supposed to do? Are we going on an adventure? Are we going to build something? I got a [Warrior] class! Let’s get a sword, and go find a monster terrorizing a village! It’ll be fun! Your brain, my brawn!”
“Where are we going?”
“Will you shut up if I tell you?”
Yigruk quickly thought about it.
“Got a new job at the dinosaur farm. Raising raptors.”
“Oh cool! Are you some sort of [Beastmaster]? Are you going to order raptors around?”
“I thought you said you’d shut up. By the slime, you talk a lot. More than my last host.”
“Got killed in the war.”
Yigruk shut up.
They spent a few days traveling, Kudo seemingly knowing where they were going.
The dinosaur farm was like a huge farm. A gigantic barn, with Arcanite fueling heating inscriptions to keep eggs warm. Pens for small raptors. Pens for medium raptors. Open fields for the adult raptors who survived.
Kudo was in charge of feeding the medium raptors. Not the glorious life Yigruk had imagined. Kudo didn’t seem to be able to go a day without complaining about something.
“The food sucks.”
“I’ll never level here.”
“The bed is full of bugs.”
“The blasted raptor almost took my hand off again.”
“This is a dead end job.”
“I should’ve taken the raptor body. Why did I go for ogre?”
“I need, like, 50 more levels. Then I’ll have a good job. Yeah. That’s what’s holding me back.”
Yigruk wanted to point out that it was his hand, but Kudo didn’t care. Yigruk’s body was Kudo’s body, as far as Kudo was concerned.
Yigruk was starting to learn what Kudo wanted, and liked. Every time he complained about the raptors being lined up, and shimagu choosing which one they wanted, Kudo complained. Yigruk would remind him that Kudo wanted a body with thumbs, that could speak.
Some kids visited one day.
“Are you really friends with a shimagu?” They asked Yigruk.
Yigruk - Kudo really - cracked a huge smile, uncharacteristic of how much he complained on the inside.
“What’s it like?”
Yigruk wanted to say it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. That life was shit again. He couldn’t scratch what he wanted. He couldn’t pee when he wanted to. He was forced into a job he didn’t want, and the shimagu never let him take over and stretch his legs.
Instead, his smile stayed plastered on, a perfectly done mask.
“It’s great! It’s so wonderful having a shimagu helping me out! If you’re good, one day you’ll have a friend as well!”
That was Yigruk’s first taste of hatred.
His resistance was slow. Kudo took all the actions, and they weren’t in a war. They weren’t fighting. Yigruk wasn’t getting many levels, and few actions being taken by his body got a skill offered to him by the System.
After all, getting a System-skill required willingness, and a token effort to get the skill. Without the body performing the token effort, the skill wasn’t offered, not for a physical classer like Yigruk.
“We should become a guard.” He whispered in Kudo’s ear. Well, more ‘thought-at’. “More fights, more levels.”
“That’s so much work.” Kudo complained.
“Better pay, more levels.”
But a few years later, they’d managed to get a job at one of the nearby cities, famous for being on the outskirts, the edges of shimagu territory.
It was easier to sabotage as a guard.
Chasing a thief? [Sprinting] replaced a passive, the active skill dormant unless Yigruk willed it.
Beating someone stepping out of line? Yigruk never thought he’d take [Beat down] as a skill, but there it was.
He even ripped out the [Affinity] skill, and once his last passive skill had been replaced by an active, he almost shut down, not bothering with the day-to-day actions Kudo was taking.
What was the point? He was a prisoner. He’d done what he could, putting all his skill levels to 1. On rare occasions, he heard of a body resetting their class down to 8, and getting killed for it.
Being a guard meant he occasionally saw the darker side of things. The pools of nutrient goo, filled with swimming shimagu who were waiting for a body. The schools, filled with old men and women, hosting young shimagu to better teach them.
The rare mages, so high in status and power that Kudo could only bow his head as they walked past, a perfect harmony of body and shimagu raising them up to untold heights and power.
Yigruk burned with envy. He’d been raised on stories of those. That was almost him.
Or so he had believed.
He knew better now. Without the education, without the dedicated, demonstrated willingness, without being lucky with the shimagu who’d selected him, he could’ve never gotten there. It was a pretty lie, fed to placate and encourage.
Yigruk was looking forward to hitting level 256. He would class up then, and simply never come back. He’d enjoy the world of his soul, until one day his body stopped functioning, either from old age, or Kudo getting them both killed.
It was the one place that wasn’t filled with shit.
It was the one place that wasn’t misery incarnate.
It was the only place he could escape Kudo’s incessant, never-ending whining and complaining.
It was the only place he could be happy.
Life was shit. Yigruk couldn’t wait for it to be over.
Each day was just like the next. Smack around a few people who got out of line. Demand bribes to look the other way. Strut around like he owned the place, only to cower in fear when encountering the people that did. Occasionally visit a prostitute, because Kudo was so noxious that nobody wanted to settle down with him.
Nobody asked Yigruk his thoughts on the matter. With dim horror, he realized nobody asked the opinions of the escort’s body that Kudo solicited either.
A girl in the market square. A human girl.
“What are the gate guards doing, letting a healer that strong in here!?” Kudo complained. “Damn lazy asses.”
Yigruk carefully didn’t mention that Kudo was incredibly lazy himself.
“They probably didn’t want to say no to someone that strong. She could just instantly kill them all. Probably called for one of the Twins instead. Plus, she could be working with a shimagu.” Yigruk pointed out.
If he didn’t give Kudo a good reason, Kudo would just keep complaining endlessly.
Yigruk had no idea what level she was. One minor rebellion with an active skill had seen Kudo place a “buff” on Yigruk, making him faster, at the cost of all his mana regeneration. He didn’t have enough to even try to [Identify] the person in question.
“You should kill her.” Yigruk whispered into Kudo’s ear, seeing the elven guards surrounding her. “Think of all the levels.”
“It’s too hard.” Kudo whined, but he’d actually responded. He was listening.
“You’d be famous. Rich. Getting rid of a threat that large? Heck, they might even give you a new body! One of the therizinosaurus even! The gate guards were too cowardly to do anything. You’ll be a hero. They’ll give you everything.”
“You’re just trying to get rid of me. You know they’d just replace me with someone else.”
“Yes. Please, I can’t take any more complaining.” Yigruk begged.
“You’re not wrong though.” Kudo mused.
Yigruk knew Kudo inside and out. How could he not, having spent every second of years together? He knew when to speak, and when to shut up.
There was no way Kudo would get through the elven guards, or that large wolf. Yigruk hoped the end would be swift and relatively painless.
“Will you help?” Kudo asked.
“Yes!” Yigruk confirmed. His skills were almost all level 1, and deliberately bad, but anything to escape to the sweet oblivion of death.
With a roar, two minds working as one for radically different purposes, Kudo-Yigruk swung at the healer, trying to startle her and kill her before anyone could react.
Yet, almost before they moved, the elves drew their weapons impossibly fast, shouting the same thing.
The girl looked at Yigruk, and he saw only death in her eyes.
A skill flickered over him, and his bad arm felt whole again. A broken tusk was restored.
The cold, slimy feeling of Kudo, ever-present to the point where Yigruk lost awareness of it, evaporated.
Yigruk half-stumbled, suddenly in control for once. He breathed in, and out.
Tasting the sweet air.
The elves were yelling, the girl was yelling, people were moving around, startled at the guard having taken a swing at the visitors.
Yigruk looked around.
He would’ve yelled “Freedom” if he’d ever learned the word, or knew the concept.
He didn’t though. He just knew he was never going back.
With a deep, primal yell, he buried his club into the head of the nearest shimagu host.
All hell broke loose.