As we stood bloody, battered, and in shock, my adrenaline fled, and my knees suddenly felt like they couldn’t support my weight. I began to shake, dropping to the floor to heave uncontrollably. My body was being sick, but my stomach held nothing other than a small amount of burning acid that burn on the way up. I would have collapsed fully to the ground, but my eye caught on the dagger still buried deep into my forearm and worse still, the blackness spreading from the suspicious-looking weapon.
Daz had staggered over to me. He was in bad shape, with his burnt hair and head, but he too was staring at my arm with serious concern.
“Get it out!” I shouted at him as panic and shock set in. “Oh fuck, oh fuck, I’ve been stabbed.”
I’d lived a lot of my life on one of the roughest estates in the city, and I’d managed for 28 years to not get stabbed. Now I had been. I wasn’t coping like I hoped I would.
“Okay, okay,” Daz shrieked, panicking almost as much as me. He grabbed the knife like it was a snake and yanked it out quickly, dropping it immediately with a squeak.
Blood spurted from my arm and my stomach churned as Joel yelled at Daz. “Stop the fucking bleeding!”
“What with?” Daz asked, flapping like a flag in a hurricane. I wasn’t really sure how he had become our group’s doctor, but somebody needed to do something quick as blood continued to pour freely from the wound.
Joel grabbed the body of a Demon Ninja and ripped the head wraps from it, tossing them to Daz.
He caught them responsively, but looked at them dubiously. As did I. They were covered in demon blood from where I’d stoved his face in with my head. Not exactly sanitary dressings.
“Just do it,” I growled. “They’ll do for now.”
Blood loss was the immediate worry. We could deal with infection later when I got back home and to a hospital.
Daz began tying the black wraps around my arm. I watched, seeing the veins around the area of the wound turning black already. I didn’t know what it meant, but it scared the shit out of me. Not that I’d let my friends ever know that. Even if I died from this, I’d make damn sure I got them back home first.
Mal slumped down beside me. “Looks nasty, mate. We need to find water to clean it soon I reckon.”
I nodded mutely.
Once I was wrapped up, everyone seemed to calm down a little.
“We should check the bodies over. Weapons, water. anything we can get.” Joel said. I was about to agree when I was confronted with a notification.
Congratulations. You have killed a level 19 Lesser Demon. +190 Experience Points, plus 10 bonus Experience Points for every level your opponent was above you. +300Experience Points
Congratulations. You have leveled.
You have 10 points to assign.
The capacity to exert and resist force.
Skill and ease in hand based activity.
How effectively the body can move into a range of different positions.
Rate at which the body can move.
Sustain prolonged activity.
The ability to withstand physical punishment.
Knowledge and its application.
Charm, coerce, inspire.
Awareness of surroundings
Ethereal Awareness: 0
Attunement with the Gods and spirits of Gulithea. (Necessary for Ethereally supplied magical ability.)
Internal Connection: 1
Attunement with oneself. (Necessary for cultivation of one’s own inner power)
World sense: 0
Knowledge of Gulithea. 0.01
Experience Points to next level 100/450
“Well damn guys, I leveled up!” I said. I was surprised at how monotone my voice came out, the excitement severely dulled by everything else.
“Me too,” Mal said. “I got the lion’s share of the points from mine and Boris’ shared kill.” Before I could discuss it any further, another notification popped up. Under my stats page.
Warning: You have been cursed.
You have been wounded by the Ceremonial Blade of the Baatazu. A sacred object prized by the Demon kind Royalty, the Baatazu. Any who are cut with this blade, will develop attributes of demon kind. Which will evolve depending upon your level. Once the transformation is complete, you will be amenable to the word of the Baatazu.
“Shit guys. I have a problem,” I said mournfully.
“I think that much is clear,” Mal replied sarcastically.
“No, even worse. That’s a cursed knife I was stabbed with. I’m going to turn into some kind of demon and be at the beck and call of that big motherfucker who chased us here.”
“You’re shitting me, right?” Mal asked.
“Nope. I’m fucked.” I fell silent. So did everyone else, looking at me with a mix of sympathy and terror.
“What happens when you turn? Will you try to kill us like a zombie?” Joel asked.
“Yeah?” Daz said, with worry. “Should we… I dunno. Kill you before you turn or something?”
“Hell no,” I shouted. “I’d rather be a damned demon than a dead Clive. Just get far away from me when the time comes.”
“It’s not like any of us could do it anyway, Clive,” Mal said. “And even if you do turn, we’ll find a way to turn you back.” The others nodded their agreement.
“Thanks guys. I’ll keep you posted. I suppose I better invest in these stats then. I’m assuming that’s why it’s still in my vision.”
“Yeah, me too,” Mal said.
I started looking through the options more closely. I all but discounted the Spiritual Statistics. I didn’t really like any of that mumbo jumbo shit. I was mainly looking at speed and strength. Next time we fought demons they were gonna get a surprise.
That all changed when Mal all but shouted at me.
“Clive! I think you should put points into Internal Connection. Seems to me like that would be the best option if you’re gonna have a chance against that curse. I’ll put a few points in Ethereal awareness to hedge our bets.”
I realized he was most likely right. The thing that was slowly killing me was technically mumbo jumbo and there was no doubting it was real.
“You’re right man, thanks for pointing it out.” Before I knew about the curse, I was going to pick speed and world sense so we could get out of here as quickly as possible. I’ll still put some in world sense I think.”
“Try some in Internal Connection first and see how you feel. Don’t just dump all your fucking points in any old stat without a bit of testing first. If internal connection doesn’t seem to be the answer for your possession problem, I’ll let you know if Ethereal awareness will be worth it for you. As for world sense, I’ll get that shit. As long as one of us has half a clue where we’re going, we’ve got a chance. Plus I’m the fastest to go check stuff out.”
“How fast are you?” I asked curious.
“14,” Mal said.
“Damn! That’s twice as fast as I am,” I replied, a bit gutted at the gap between us spelled out in statistics.
“You’re surprised by that?” He eyed me playfully. “You run like a rusty old robot.”
I tried to fake laugh at his insult, but I didn’t have the energy. “None of my scores are that high,” I moaned.
“What’s your highest then?”
“Strength and Constitution are both at 12,” I answered.
“So you can take a beating! That’s good!” He laughed. “If you don’t turn into a demon, you’re definitely tank!” We got our healer,” he said looking dubiously at Daz. “I’m probably DPS, like a rogue, hunter type, ain’t that right B,” he said, ruffling the dog’s ears affectionately.”
“Hey, what about me?” Joel said.
“Dunno mate, let’s see how it plays out,” Mal answered. “At the minute, we’re all shit. Maybe you’ll be another tank or some kind of DPS, too.”
Joel, looking somewhat mollified, began to search the body nearest to him. Daz searched the one near us, while Mal and I began to assign our points.
I was glad Mal was here with me. Sometimes he was daft as a brush, other times, he was really on the ball, and this time he made a lot of sense.
I put two points into the Internal Connection stat and noticed the difference immediately. Nothing particularly inspiring, but I could sense the pain of each wound, my hunger and thirst and other small niggles with far more acuity than before. There was also a dull sense of the curse working its way slowly from the wound further into my arm.
I was still impotent, but I was compelled to invest further points. I pushed five points this time, aware that I wasn’t exactly improving my chances of survival beyond hopefully combatting the curse. I wondered if I’d be more Zen when we returned home. That would be pretty cool.
As the points took hold, I instantly understood my body in a way I never thought possible. I felt the demon curse clearly, like insidious oily tentacles, worming their way into my very being. But I also felt my own erratic energy, or soul, writhing inside my core like a tempest. Thin tendrils spread from it to my head, my arms and my legs, where it split into barely perceptible branches.
I knew instinctively that if I wanted to fight the curse, I was on the right path. Without delving into my new senses any further, I put the remainder of the points into Internal connection.
Now at eleven, I felt the path to oneness stretch out in front of me. The first thing I needed to focus on was bringing the torrent that was my soul under control. I needed it to listen to me. It had other ideas.
Instead, I followed the tendril that led to my left arm until I reached where it was in contact with the blackness of the curse. Once there, I could see that the curse was in fact slowly corrupting that internal energy. Turning it to its own use.
With a force of will, I pushed my reluctant soul energy at the curse hoping to dislodge it from my body.
The energy was reluctant to obey, but there was a slight surge forward. To my horror, all that it achieved was to be absorbed by the curse slightly faster. Panicking, I quickly began to apply the opposite force. Trying to pull my energy away. Again, it was very reluctant to move, but the curse’s progress definitely slowed slightly as a result.
As soon as I removed my conscious effort, the tendril of soul returned to its original position and the curse continued its spread.
As depressing as this was, I did feel a little hope that I had a path to follow. I needed more practice, and I needed more levels in Internal Connection. I was sure I could beat it, if I did that.
Coming out of my meditative state, that I hadn’t even realised I’d fallen into, I looked over at Mal. He was grinning like a Cheshire cat at me.
“Please tell me you can fucking save me, mate,” I said hopefully.
His face dropped, as if he forgot what we were supposed to be doing. “Nah, sorry man. The Ethereal thing is a dead end at the minute. I’ll tell you all about that once we’re somewhere safe.”
“Safe?” Joel asked eagerly.
“You guys are gonna be pissed when I tell you, but it’s kinda funny.” Mal chuckled, while holding his hand out to point to the right of the direction we’d been traveling. “We need to go that way. When I invested in World Sense, a map came up. I can bring it up now if I wink my right eye twice. The map is huge, but… it’s all blacked out. At level one, it was vague as hell, and I could only see where we’d been. But at level five, nearby settlement markers have popped up. We’ve been traveling in a line almost parallel to where there’s a few settlements. If we’d set out in that direction when we first got here, we’d have made it to settlement in a few hours. Now, I’d suggest we get our arses to the nearest one as quickly as possible.”