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A note from Anthony and Leisel Volski

Formatting issues have been a pain in chapters 1 & 2. If you see any weird font size issues in the chapter please let me know and I'll fix it ASAP. Though let's be honest, it's probably bothering me more than it's bothering you. Cheers, and enjoy.

Chapter 2 – First Blood



Creature: Goblin

Goblins are a small humanoid sub-race.

They are typically a green skinned, hunter/gatherer race, with an intellect similar to a small child's.

They are tribal in nature, known to travel together in small groups.

While the individual goblin is a fairly weak creature, caution must be exercised when encountering a goblin caravan or camp.

Danger Level: F

-excerpt from Adventurer's Handbook





If the torii existed at the edge of the forest to indicate a nearby shrine, it stood to reason that there were probably more to be found at the edges of the forest, and the shrine was likely situated deep in the heart of the forest. Maybe there would be someone tending to the shrine who could help. Zed resolved to walk a straight path into the forest from where the torii stood.

Keeping an ear to the ground in an unfamiliar place, he passed under the torii and treaded carefully deeper into the forest. Fortunately for Zed, the earth beneath his feet was covered in a dense moss and was relatively free from hazards so he was able to cover a good distance in a short amount of time.

After about 20 minutes of walking, the sun had been all but blotted out from the sky. He occasionally heard signs of life around him, but not much more than that. The flutter of wings could be heard overhead, and more than once Zed had stopped stock-still after hearing a snapping branch nearby. Wildlife, probably, and so far it was more scared of him than he was of it. Otherwise, it had been a pretty monotonous trek. There was a small rise just up ahead, and Zed jogged a bit to reach the top and hopefully get his bearings.

Something small and fluffy exploded from the undergrowth as he reached the top of the hill, and quickly scrabbled down the slope from him.

Heart pounding, Zed dropped to his knees behind a scraggly ridge of strange flora to investigate what kind of animal he had flushed from the unseen den. He had nearly lost sight of the poor creature he'd frightened off when he heard an unearthly shriek some distance behind him and to the left. There was a thwipping sound as the air near his head was displaced by some sort of projectile. The arrow missed the fleeing creature and stuck into the base of a tree in the basin below.

“*******! ***** *** ******* *** ******-****!” the same unseen voice shouted in a rage.

Zed instinctively dropped to his stomach and attempted to silently blend into his surroundings.

Skill Acquired: Sneak LVL. 1.

Another deeper, more gravelly voice called out from the right in answer.

“***** *** ****** **** ***** ******* **** ****!” The voice was nearly upon Zed; he broke out in a cold sweat for fear of being discovered. Was he seen? Were they coming for him? What were they saying?! The footseps were approaching from both sides. He squeezed his eyes shut and clenched his jaw in grim anticipation.

Please, Sneak, he thought desperately. Please be worth more than Appraisal!

The footsteps passed him on either side and descended into the basin. After a few moments, Zed slowly slid toward the ledge from his hiding place to get a better vantage point of the situation. What could only be described as a heated argument had erupted between the pair. He had, evidentally, interrupted a hunt of some sort. He peeked over the rise and was stunned by what he saw.

Goblins! They had to be! Both creatures were short humanoids, about four feet tall with sickly green skin smeared with... he squinted... ashes, probably, as camoflage. They were clad in rough leathers and shoddy hunting gear. Both had elongated ears and, yep, lots of very sharp, pointy teeth. The goblin on the left was a little taller, and lightly muscled. He shoved his rough hunting bow into the hands of the second goblin, and started pulling at the arrow from the base of the trunk. The goblin on the right was stockier, somewhat older, and had a torn ear. There was quite a lot of bristly hair poking out from its ears. It (He?, Zed wondered to himself, they both looked male.) muttered angrily, and threw the bow back at his companion.

Sneak has increased to LVL. 2. Yes.

They don't see me, Zed realized. They have no clue! This is my chance!

Thinking quickly, Zed looked from the goblin on the left to the one on the right, then back again. The goblin on the left had wrested the arrow from the tree and was brandishing it aggressively at the other goblin. The tip of the arrow sliced its cheek and it yelped in pain.

That one. He zeroed in on the taller goblin and thought, Shadow Puppet. His shadow liquified and molded itself into a second copy of the aggressor, bow and all.

Attack the goblins, Zed mentally commanded the clone. He wanted to see for himself how strong the clone was without trying to micromanage it.

It snarled at the pair. The taller goblin dropped his bow and arrow in shock and both looked at each other, then at the clone in abject horror.

Skill Acquired: Surprise Attack LVL. 1.

Comraderie be damned, the older goblin turned tail and fled, shoving past his former companion and tearing through the forest toward the opposite side of the basin from Zed. He disappeared entirely from sight. The clone glanced down at the bow and arrow in his hands and threw them bodily at the remaining goblin's chest. The goblin grunted and staggered backward from the attack. The weapons clattered to the forest floor. Enraged, the goblin threw his weapons aside and let out a gutteral war cry. He charged his clone.

Crash!

The pair clashed in the basin and, legs tangled together and arms flailing, fell into a heap. They tusseled on the ground, claws raking at each other's faces and throats. The clone overpowered the goblin and slashed at its face.

“AwwooOOOOOooooOOOo!”

The goblin's hands flew to his face and he howled in agony. Momentarily blinded, he kicked out at the clone and -oof – made contact with its gut. The clone fell back, gasping for air as the goblin rolled away, hands clamped tightly to his face. Recovering quickly, the goblin scrambled back up on his hands and knees and, panting raggedly, looked down at his shaking hands. They were red and dripping. He looked back up at his assailant who was struggling to rise, one hand pressed to its ribs. Blood spurted from three deep gashes in his face.

Zed's eyes widened in shock and horror as he fell back on his butt.

Blood?!

A lump rose in his throat and he broke out in a cold sweat.

No. Nonononononononono. Oh fuck. Oh, FUCK!

Zed started to panic. “Oh, shit,” he whispered hollowly.

Somewhere in the back of his mind, a terrifying realization hit him. Something like a neon red sign, blinking on, off, and on again in glaring technicolor. Searing into his very soul. DANGER. This was no dream. This was real. And if he didn't win, he was well and truly screwed.

Focus!

Zed swallowed the lump and crept back to his original vantage point.

Skill Acquired: Fear Resistance. LVL. 1.

There was no celebration.

“Fight, you rat bastard,” Zed whispered desperately at the clone. “Get up and fight back!”

Slowly, jerkily, the clone sat up. Zed could hear his shallow, rasping breaths from the bushes. He rose unsteadily to his feet.

Did he... hear me?!

The goblins locked eyes with each other. They charged again, battered bodies slamming into each other once more with renewed vigor. They grappled. Seizing his opportunity, the goblin pummeled his clone mercilessly in the gut. The clone swung and connected with the goblin's pointy chin. The momentum from the blow unbalanced the goblin and sent him crashing once more to the forest floor. The clone leapt on top of the goblin in a fury and grabbed one of the discarded arrows from the ground.

The goblin fumbled, then thrust his arm forward and up. Something silver flashed in the light.

The clone froze, arrow clenched in both fists over his head, and let out a piercing scream. Zed clapped his hands to his ears. The clone looked down.

A rough wooden handle protruded from the clone's abdomen. Blood poured from the wound. The goblin had managed to free the small knife from the pouch on his side and stabbed his clone in a final, mortal blow. The clone, shuddering and sightless, crashed down on top of the goblin, piercing the goblin in the chest with the arrow. The goblin echoed the clone's scream. His hands fell away, and the clone melted once more into shadow as it perished.

The goblin, uncomprehending, screamed and screamed again. The screams echoed endlessly across the basin, and Zed feared he would go mad listening to the monster's cries. It mindlessly ripped the arrow from his chest, screamed again, and fell back to the ground. Blood puddled under the goblin, growing in diameter each time its chest rose and fell until, finally, it became still.

Zed fell back again and breathed a sigh of relief. It was over. He quickly opened his Skills Menu to check the cooldown on Shadow Puppet. 15 minutes. As expected, the cooldown was significantly increased when the clone was killed, rather than dismissed.

The notification box popped up again. Wearily, Zed expanded it. After that display, this had better be good.

(!) First Blood (Complete)

Objective: Kill a Black Weald goblin.

Reward: 6 Elemental Fruits.

[COMPLETE]

Zed selected the option to redeem his reward, and the quest box winked out of existence. A selection of six strange fruits appeared in his lap.

“What the heck is an Elemental Fruit, anyway?,” he wondered aloud, picking up a fruit resembling a large, mottled red and yellow cherry by the stem and twirling it in front of his face.

Appraisal.



Phoenix Cherry

Legendary Elemental Fruit

Aspect: Fire

Effect: Grants immortality upon consumption.*

*Unable to be Appraised under normal circumstances. This item is only identifiable as a quest reward.

Appraisal has increased to LVL 2.

Zed shouted and nearly dropped the fruit in surprise. He quickly fumbled to catch the fruit, and cradled it in both hands like a newborn. Immortality! This was the power of an Elemental Fruit! His heart raced with excitement in his chest. Should he eat it? Immediately?

No, Zed reasoned, not yet.

There were five more fruits in his lap. It would be wise to Appraise all of them before considering his next actions. But he was not going to let the Phoenix Cherry out of his sight! He gently tucked the cherry into the large pocket in his tunic. Safe.

He picked up the next fruit, an imitation of a perfect white strawberry.

Angel Berry

Legendary Elemental Fruit

Aspect: Light

Effect: Grants the ability to enchant objects with the Light Aspect upon consumption.*

*Unable to be Appraised under normal circumstances. This item is only identifiable as a quest reward.

Appraisal has increased to LVL 3.

Wait. So if I eat this food, I essentially gain a bonus enchanting ability? And Appraisal leveled up again? Unreal.

Okay, this was seriously incredible. Many monsters in video games Zed had played were weak to Light. This was probably a very valuable ability. Zed chuckled.

“Sure, it's valuable, it's legendary!”

He set the Angel Berry gently aside and picked up the firm-skinned blue and purple striped fruit. This one was bigger and almost perfectly round, nearly the same size as his fist. It looked familiar, almost like a plum, and sure enough...

Dragon Plum

Legendary Elemental Fruit

Aspect: Air

Effect: Grants an Infinite Item Box upon consumption.*

*Unable to be Appraised under normal circumstances. This item is only identifiable as a quest reward.

Appraisal has increased to LVL 4.

Was this glee Zed was suddenly feeling? He laughed and adeptly tossed the plum from one hand to the other. Dragon. Item Box? Dragon's Hoard! It was as brilliant as it was hysterical. It was truly difficult to resist biting into the juicy fruit immediately, but he set it down next to the Angel Berry and moved on.

Was it providence that Zed had worked in a whole foods grocery before all this? The next fruit was most assuredly a fig of some sort: Fat, succulent, and a very ripe looking purple-brown. He held it up in reverence as he Appraised it.

Sphynx Fig

Legendary Elemental Fruit

Aspect: Earth

Effect: Stops aging upon consumption.*

*Unable to be Appraised under normal circumstances. This item is only identifiable as a quest reward.

Appraisal has increased to LVL 5.

Zed gulped audibly and squeezed the fig a little tighter. So immortality did not stop the aging process in this world. This was, admittedly, a lot for Zed to consider. He could, theoretically, gulp down the cherry and fig right this second. And it was tempting! But if he ate both fruits right now he would be permanently frozen at age 27. Was that something he really wanted? Was he in the prime of his life at this exact second? Or should he wait to eat the fig for a few years? 5? 10? 20? Surely no older than that; after all, he wouldn't want to spend immortality in a failing body.

He briefly envisioned himself as a middle aged warlock figure... Broad shoulders, faint wrinkles at the corners of his eyes, streaks of silver touching his temples, a glint of experience in his eyes. It was tempting. After all, tomorrow's not guaranteed. But... he wasn't so sure. He gently tucked the fig into the pocket with the cherry for now.

The next fruit was easily one of the most exotic looking fruits Zed had ever beheld. It looked like a pear on steroids, roughly twice the size and azure skinned, with dapples of bright blue all over. And, was it his imagination or did it feel sort of cold to the touch? Oh, well... Appraisal.

Kraken Pear

Legendary Elemental Fruit

Aspect: Water

Effect: Grants permanent waterbreathing upon consumption.*

*Unable to be Appraised under normal circumstances. This item is only identifiable as a quest reward.

Appraisal has increased to LVL 6.

Waterbreathing! Amazing! Of course, Zed hadn't yet encountered any bodies of water yet, but how could an ability like this not be useful? He set the pear aside; the final fruit was an absolute monster. It was huge, obsidian black, bulbous, and bumpy. He would have thought it was a humongous gemstone if he didn't know better. And—jeez, it was heavy! What was up with this thing? Appraisal.

Eldritch Breadfruit

Legendary Elemental Fruit

Aspect: Dark

Effect: Gives immunity to mental attacks or anything that would degrade sanity upon consumption.*

*Unable to be Appraised under normal circumstances. This item is only identifiable as a quest reward.

Appraisal has increased to LVL 7.

Okay, but really, though? How otherworldly and overpowered are these fruits that Appraisal has powerlevelled all the way to level 7? And yet... Zed was troubled. Clearly, this fruit yielded a very powerful, beneficial effect. But, mental attacks? Loss of sanity? He recalled the bloody encounter with the goblins. What kind of place was this?

Also... he turned the breadfruit over carefully in his hands. How in the heck was he supposed to eat this thing? Speaking of eating... Zed's stomach rumbled voraciously. When was the last time he had eaten? Based on this new information, a meal of fresh fruit was very welcome right about now.

Looking at the veritable cornucopia of fruits, Zed realized he couldn't possibly consume them all immediately, nor did he necessarily want to. There were some serious decisions he needed to make and he definitely did not feel prepared to consider the potential ramifications of said decisions right now. He knew one thing for certain, he needed an Item Box, like, yesterday. He set the breadfruit aside and grabbed the plum.

“Dragon Plum, I choose you!” Zed announced to no one in particular, holding the fruit out in a ridiculous caricature. Not even crickets, silence.

Swagger has increased to LVL 2.

Abashed, Zed bit into the plum with a bit more reverence, and...

“Ho-we fhit.” he said, eyes wide, rivers of juice spilling down his chin.

Tart snap of skin. Succulent red flesh. Explosions of sweet nectar. Acidic spark on the end note. This Dragon Plum was beyond Perfection, capital P. It possessed an ethereal quality that made Zed's eyes sting with involuntary tears of joy. It was simply beyond comprehension. He wanted to savor this moment for all eternity. He wanted to eat the entire fruit in one bite. He wanted... oh, God, he wanted...

The plum was gone before he even realized it. He sat on the ground for some time, absentmindedly sucking the juice from his fingertips and staring off into nothingness.

Unique Skill Acquired: Dragon's Hoard

So this is the meaning of ecstacy.

Zed shook his head vigorously to regain some of his senses. Like the Skills Menu, he only needed to will the Item Box into existence. He immediately imagined the breadfruit, pear, berry, and fig into storage and they disappeared from sight. He also put the plum pit into storage, just in case. The Item Box displayed the stored fruits as a sort of calligraphied list on a sheaf of parchment. For now, these fruits were safe from all outside influence.

“I guess it's just you and me now,” he said, plucking the cherry from his shirt pocket.

Without further ado, Zed popped the Phoenix Cherry in his mouth. And... it was spicy?! Suddenly his mouth was brimming with a heat that set his tastebuds ablaze and an overwhelming sweetness that somehow managed to counteract and balance out the spice perfectly. Such a delightfully complex fruit; it was a shame there was only one. Strange, though, his tongue was starting to feel... fuzzy. His ears were buzzing with static and he was starting to feel dizzy.

“W-w-wh-wha izzz thi-i-i-i...” Zed slurred, before his eyes rolled up in his head and he hit the ground.

The last thing he heard before blacking out was, Unique Skill Acquired: Immortality.

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About the author

Anthony and Leisel Volski

Bio: Geeky married couple trying to do All The Things together. This apparently involves writing an isekai novel series together, among other ridiculous yet expected shenanigans.

Anthony dictates, Leisel makes it sound pretty.

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