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Max stood beside a bed. His sister lay there sleeping on it, with her forearm wrapped in thick bandages. She was sleeping soundlessly, courtesy of the fentanyl. He too had a cast on his broken fingers, courtesy of poking an eye of some green wolf. They were in the hospital, closest to the pizzeria from last night. I was reckless, too reckless. A sneering smile on Max’s face. A mock towards himself. You’re not that guy anymore, Max. He reminded himself. You’re not the dude with the powers anymore. He snickered.

“Back to square one,” Max said. His eyes glanced at his stats. Something that numerated of how weak he had become.


Character Status

Name: Maximus Cain

[HP:204/250][MP:21/50]

Class: None

Level: 3

Strength: 6

Agility: 3

Dexterity: 4

Vitality: 5

Arcana: 5

Perception: 10

Charm: 5

Point: 0


My chakra is regenerating. That’s a good sign. At least I’ve something to use for training. He glanced at his sleeping sister. He grasped her hand and gently stroked her. “Sorry, Kate,” Max said. If it wasn’t for him, Kate wouldn’t have gotten injured. He was too overconfident about his skills, yet he couldn’t even protect his own sister.

“I’ll make it up to you.” Max kissed Kate’s forehead and left the ward. It was eight in the morning, and Max found himself a place to recuperate. I hope the food is good. He entered the cafeteria and grabbed a tray. The breakfast menus were pleasant to his eyes. His stomach grumbled, and his hand quickly scooped those scrambled eggs, hot red beans, a few bunches of grilled buns, and to finish it off, a handful of greasy turkey bacon. “Noice,” Max mumbled.

He found himself a seat and chowed in for breakfast. He gorged himself, filling in the stomach that had been empty since last night. It was unfortunate that he couldn’t get a taste of that best-selling margarita pizza.

“Max? Is that you?” Max looked up to his side. His lips smothered in grease and red bean sauce, not the greatest look for greeting someone. But he cared less about his appearance as he gazed at the lady dressed in blue scrub with a stethoscope hanging around her neck. Her auburn hair drew his attention, long enough to touch her shoulders and her green eyes were as mesmerizing as emeralds. She smiled at him despite the dark circles under her eyes. He narrowed his eyes, trying to figure out who this was. Regardless of her beauty, her face didn’t ring a bell.

“Eliza? Eliza Maksimov? Still doesn’t ring a bell?” Eliza questioned. Max only tilted his head in response. “Oh, boy,” Eliza mumbled to herself. She found herself a seat and sat beside Max. “I’m in biology class with you during high school. You know, the girl with thick glasses and the braces.”

“Oh, Eliza,” his tone raised by a notch. Yet, it didn’t mean he knew her. Max was still lost in the clouds, and just to make sure not to make it even more awkward, he feigned it. “Wow, you’re a doctor. That’s great.”

“Nurse, but still great,” Eliza corrected him with a smile that never left. “And what about you? I haven’t heard anything since high school.”

“Yea, well. A lot of things happened, I mean a lot of things,” Max said. He took another spoon of red bean and savor it.

“is it because of the…” Eliza couldn’t find the correct word as she stared at Max’s gaunt face. She was thinking about cancer but asking him straight on would be impolite.

“Oh, the zombie face? Yea, I just woke up after a nine-month coma. It sucks, but it’s better to be alive,” Max said. He chewed the scrumptious bacon, enjoying the taste of it.

“A coma?” Eliza was genuinely stunned. They were both in their late twenties, and coma at that age was rather rare. “An accident?” she cautiously asked.

“Yea. My sister said it was one of those monsters that caused it,” Max said. “What?!” Eliza's voice rang across the whole cafeteria. She got unwanted attention and slowly tilted her head down.

She nodded and leaned closer to Max. She did the math and compared the two events and gave a quick guess. “You know, to survive the first day of Anno Monstrum is pretty incredible.”

Anno Monstrum? The unfamiliar terminology caught him off guard. He made a mental note to look it up in the future. “Nah, it was mostly luck. Enough about me, what about you? Are you playing hooky or something?”

“No, no. I just finished my night shift, you can see it from my dark circles,” she leaned closer, showing off her hard work from last night, a night without sleep. She let out an awkward laugh, barely received by Max, who was still eating his meal. It ended with them looking away from one another in silence.

“Not gonna eat?” Max broke the silence. “Eh?” She didn’t catch what he said. “You’re not here for breakfast?”

“Oh, that. Yeah, I was thinking of grabbing a sandwich or something before going home,” she looked over at the counter, hoping they were some left. “If you don't mind, I can keep you company,” Max said.

“What did you just said?” She couldn’t believe her ears. While Max had serious thoughts of advising her to go see an ENT doctor. “Want to eat with me?” he repeated.

“That’s great!” she got up in an instant, surprising the heck out of Max. “Wait for me a bit,” she went off and grabbed her breakfast. She sat back down with a face full of smiles. She couldn’t imagine that she was having breakfast with Max of all people. “Here,” Max said. He gave Eliza a few scoops of red beans and a strip of turkey bacon. “These taste great, you’ve go to try it.”

“Thanks,” Eliza smiled, and both ate their morning meal in silence. Max didn’t mind the silence, but Eliza was deep in thought, thinking about things to ask. “You said you woke up yesterday, right? How come I’ve never seen you before?”

“Oh, that. I’m not from this hospital. I woke up in my house in some town called Northview,” Max said. It caught her by surprise. “What a coincidence. I’m also living in Northview.” There was glee on her visage, this bit of news was like a sunlight over her depressing last night shift.

“I guess you never know how small the world is,” Max said, chuckling in the end. “Wait, then why are you here at the hospital?” She felt her heart palpitating. Her overenthusiastic imagination was getting out of hand. It was starting to emotionally stir her. Did he come here to find me? Thought Eliza. A wishful thought on her part.

“It’s my sister. A dog bit her hand, and she needed surgery,” Max explained, crushing the expectation of the diligent nurse. “Oh… I mean, that’s sounds bad. Is she okay?”

“She’s fine. The surgery turned out great, and she’s currently sleeping in her ward,” Max sighed. He knew the fault lay on him. Eliza saw the change in Max’s expression, and like always, she misunderstood things. “If you want, I can check up on her while she’s here.”

Max looked Eliza in the eyes. He stared at her intently. They locked eyes for almost a minute before Eliza glanced away. Her cheeks flushed as she felt her heart knocking over her ribs. “You would do that?” Max asked

“Yes,” Eliza answered while still didn’t dare to look at Max. “So can I get your number?”

“What?” Eliza shocked to the fullest as the shyness flew away for a brief second. She looked back at Max in the eyes, hoping he wasn’t lying. “Your number, so I can ask about my sister?”

“Yea, yeah, you’re right.” Both pulled out their phones and exchanged numbers between them. “Well, I gotta go.” Max got up with his tray squeaky clean. “You’re leaving?” Eliza asked.

“Yea, I’ve got some… business to attend to. It’s really important.” Max said. “I’ll give you a call after I’m done?”

Eliza stared blankly at Max’s back for a while and responded back, “I’ll be waiting.” She got up from her seat, and she didn’t even know why she did it. Max waved goodbye and left. Eliza stood there, staring at Max’s back. She didn’t believe what just happened and out of nowhere, she shouted. “Yes!” her vibrant voice filled the cafeteria. Once again, she attracted unneeded attention. She regretted it a second later and slowly took her seat. Despite the second-hand embarrassment, she smiled from ear to ear.

***

Max parked the Camry by the side of the road. He was heading back to Northview, and by chance, there was a roadblock near the pizzeria. He had an idea what happened last night, and from the look of it, the end result was definitely not good. He shifted his gear and lightly pressed the accelerator. The car drove closer to the pizzeria. There were soldiers standing guard around a perimeter of opaque closed fences. The military caught wind of it pretty fast, and they quarantined the whole area without wasting any time.

But something drew his attention. They were a few people outside of the fences protesting with placards in their hands. Max shook his head. It was unbelievable how these people behaved. The military is literally protecting their lives, and these idiots are stupid enough to protest against it. And for what? Freedom? Freedom of what? Freedom of being eaten alive by huge ass monsters?

He couldn’t understand the thought of these people and drove past the area. He reached his neighborhood after a while and thankfully the chaos of those monsters didn’t reach the peaceful suburb. But along the way, he saw the anxious faces of his neighbors, gossiping with one another on their front lawns. He also saw a few families packing their things up, and he hoped it was just going out of town for a while and not gone for good.

He returned to his home and changed to a simpler attire, wearing a suit for the whole night was rather suffocating. He went down the stairs and headed to his backyard. It was mostly empty, and he could tell there wasn’t much that had been done.

An exasperated sigh left his mouth as he walked over the grass. He felt the blade of the grass under the sole of his bare feet as he reached the middle of the backyard. I need to get stronger. The world he knew was no longer like it was back then. With impending danger all around the corner, Max had no choice other than to seek what he lost. He glanced at his Character Status and noticed his chakra, or MP, in this case, had recovered fully. He took a quick look around his backyard, observing something in the air. That stoic look he had turned slowly into a frown. The density of chakra here is way too low. I’m afraid training would be difficult. He looked back at his Character Status and smiled. But I guess going inside the Rupture has its own benefit. His smile widened. I don’t know whose chakra is this and why did he or it, loan it to me in the pretense of a game. But I’m sure am not going to waste the opportunity.

His fist clenched tight. I’m going to make it my own. He found his goal and was determined to succeed in it. Max closed his eyes, calming himself down with his breathing. A slow pace technique that loosened the whole body. Next, his whole body moved, executing different martial movements of kick and punches. In Karate, it was called Kata that meant form, a detailed set of patterns that was made to be practiced alone. The sole reason for doing this was to memorize and perfect the movements into perfect form but what Max was about to do went beyond something superficial.

His motion was fluid without a fault. His bony frame that lacked any muscles didn’t impede the flawless forms he was executing. Slowly, his breath and movements were in tune with one another, and as it became united, a change happened.

The MP within him dwindled down, one by one, bursting inside his body, spreading to every inch of his body. He sweated, drenching himself in his own sweat. His body temperature rose, burning him from within. His body was like a furnace, forging the MP into his own. Yet he stayed in control, focused in his movements.

It’s done. His MP drained to nil but not without completing a hundred and eight forms. Inside Max’s body, a sphere of energy manifested at the pit of his stomach, brimming with chakra. Then, a text panel appeared.


Sage Flesh Alteration learned!


He smiled. It was the same thing he saw back when he executed his Agni Art: Mado Flame. It seemed whatever that bestowed him with this game system indeed stayed true to the mechanic of a game. Yet it was a cause of concern. It was something he couldn’t help but be worried about. He was bare for that thing to see. Let’s put that worry aside. I’m still weak, and thinking about it won’t do much other than cluttering my mind. He changed his attention to his Character Status, and he saw the change. The look on his face was evident enough, and he was ecstatic.


Character Status

Name: Maximus Cain

[HP:500/500][MP:50/100](Chakra:50/50)

Class: None

Level: 3

Strength: 11(+5)

Agility: 8(+5)

Dexterity: 9(+5)

Vitality: 10(+5)

Arcana: 10(+5)

Perception: 15(+5)

Charm: 5

Point: 0


He grinned. His status gained a monumental boost from the achievement of learning Sage Flesh Alteration. A body transformation technique he learned back during his second life. I really did good on my first try but I guess experience does play a part. To be fair, he wasn’t always this successful, and the early beginning of his second life was definitely something not so pleasant. If I remember this correctly, how many times did I fail before succeeding? A hundred, or was it a thousand? It was a long time ago, and the little details were somewhat a blur, but in essence, his experience eased his way.

He also gained a specific indicator for his Chakra, somewhat taking a role as a reserve tank for MP. But he knew that Chakra was something of his own and did not belong to the entity that gave him the game system. He used the MP and converted it into pure chakra that belonged to only him. Yet he was displeased a bit seeing one of the stats unaffected by his breakthrough. Why is Charm unaffected? Is it because it’s wholly related to how I look, or the technique won’t influence someone’s appearance?

A mystery to be solved. But for now, Max returned back to his house as the sky was already dark. Time passed by quickly when Max was too focused on his training. After a quick shower, he dialed the number he got early this morning. The receiver picked it up, and Max asked. “Hi, how’s my sister?”

 

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Eldwurm

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