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Joel and Daz finished up removing everything from the lesser demons. Formally known as demon ninjas, which I preferred.

“It's all crap, really,” Daz said holding a knife up and inspecting it. He read the stats he could see out loud for us.

 

“Common Iron Dagger:

Damage: 1-4

Weight: 1lbs

Durability: 52%

“I got the same on this one,” Joel added. “Only with a durability of 28%. Still, they’ll come in handy.”

Just looking at the daggers made my arm throb more. “Can we get the robes off them?” I asked. “I’d do it myself, but my arm’s barely any use.”

“Er, no.” Daz replied, disgusted. “I'm not striping a demon dude naked for no reason.”

“Soft arse,” Joel muttered as he began angrily pulling the robes from the corpse he had searched. His face was a picture of revulsion, and I was proud of him for getting stuck in. After seeing how the demons had removed things from the robes, I had high hopes for them.

As Joel removed the last of the clothing, his eyes sparkled at the notification he received, “Well shit a brick. Good shout, Clive!” He said as he reeled off the details.

 

“Enhancing Shinobi Shozoku of lesser holding:

 

Defence: + 2

Stealth: + 5

Plus one to each physical stat. (Does not stack)

 

Robes have ten inventory slots, with a maximum weight capacity of 25lbs in each. Place the item inside of front fold to store.

Place hand inside the front fold, and focus on the item you wish to remove.

 

“Can you see what they're holding?” I asked eagerly. In truth, I was hoping for a portal ring. I might have no clue how to operate it, but I was sure we could work it out.

“Nah, mate, I think you’d have to equip them to access the inventory, and I don't think they’re gonna fit me either.”

“Here,” Mal said, holding out a Hand. “I'll try them on.” Joel handed the robes over, reluctantly.

It was unlikely they’d fit Mal, either. While he was the shortest and slimmest among us, he was still 5’10.

We all watched him struggle to get them on, yet miraculously, when he straightened up, they seemed to fit perfectly.

At the sight of that, Joel began pulling the clothes from the demon corpse near Daz. I would have liked them myself, but I wasn't even going to try with my arm the way it was and to be fair, Joel deserved them.

While he was busy, I checked on Mal, who had his hand stuffed inside the front fold.

“We got some half decent loot I think,” he said happily. ”There are 20 bronze and 12 silver coins. Two lesser mana potions. An… elf’s legs,” he said, clearly freaked out. “And there's a map too!” As he withdrew his hand, I saw him holding a large square of paper. He began unfolding it, till it was the size of a broadsheet in his hands. I walked over to stand alongside him. It showed a barren expanse of land. There seemed to be areas with the appearance of settlements, but the map denoted them as ruins. There was a faint glowing spot on the map, too.

“What’s the glowing thing?” I asked.

“Dunno,” Mal replied. “Hang on a sec, though. I wanna check something.” I saw his eyes gloss over, which I took as the telltale sign for him looking at a notification of some kind. A second later and he was back and excited.

“Seeing this map has opened up a huge area around us on my own world sense map. It must have opened up about an eighth of the continent to me! It's not as detailed as the places we've just walked since being here, but still, this is phenomenal. The glowing dot, is either us, or it’s the map.”

“What do you mean?” I asked tiredly.

“Whatever the dot is. It’s right here where we are. It may just be showing where we are on the map, which is awesome. Or it’s a magical map designed to track us… well you, down.” Without waiting for a reply from me, he started running away. In my current battered and exhausted state, I could barely follow what was going on. Around a hundred yards away I heard him shouting. I couldn’t make out his words until he returned.

“There’s two dots! The location of the map and you, Clive.”

“Well, that’s just fan-fucking-tastic. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry,” I replied.

“We got the map! You should be happy.”

“Assuming they only had one,” I said meaningfully.

“Ah right. Best be on the look-out, still.”

“Or work out how to stop them locating me. Now, you said you had mana potions. You think they might energize us a bit?'' I asked. “I dunno even quench the thirst?”

Mal shrugged noncommittally. “They might, I've no idea. It seems a waste if they don't do anything. But, it’s worth the risk to prevent us dying of dehydration.” he replied pulling a glass conical flask from his new clothes and handing it over to me. I analyzed the contents with a critical eye. The dubious fluorescent blue liquid inside, did not exactly inspire confidence, but as Mal had said, it was worth the risk. Without further ado, I necked half of it.

“Umm, blueberries,” I said amused.

“Your dehydration debuff has moved from moderate to minor too!” Daz said looking hopefully at the remainder of the bottle.

I was about to give it to him, when Joel interrupted. “Drink it all up Clive. We got another two in this robe.'' He was pulling a second blue flask from his well-fitting robes as he spoke. “There's also a note of incantation. Whatever the fuck that means, and some more money.

“Brilliant, Joel. And the shokoo shiky… whatever. The robes look good. I wish we’d killed another two of the creepy little bastards now.”

“Joel laughed. Me too! Maybe next time, huh? When we’re armed with something better than a rock in a sock.”

“Hey, I like my sock rocket!” I protested.

“They did a surprisingly good job. I’ll give you that Clive,” Joel laughed, before looking to Daz and passing a bottle over. I was relieved to see everyone finally getting something to drink. Though I instantly felt terrible as Mal, was crouched down with half a bottle of his flask, carefully trying to feed Boris some without spilling any. There were, after all five of us here, not four. And Boris had been an essential team member so far.

Daz nodded at me, after he’d drained his flask. “That’s the thirst debuff completely gone. Not bad!”

After everyone was finished, we continued our travels. It was early dawn, and we were eager to find some kind of safety.

We all followed behind Ninja Mal, who seemed to float over the surface of the land in comparison to our heavy plodding foot falls. We found a steady rhythm that we could all maintain, and I found I was able to focus on my internal connection as we walked. I sensed the trick to success was calming the energy inside, which would hopefully give me more control over its manipulation. However, my own energy did not like to be controlled. That didn’t surprise me. I didn’t either. There was only ever Hakan who could get me to listen some of the time. He was a right bastard at times, but I knew he cared and, in the end, that’s what mattered to me. Ever pushing me to be accountable for every little thing I did. I could never understand his patience for everyone else when he was so iron fisted with me.

I pushed thoughts of him away as I concentrated on my own uphill struggle. It didn’t help that I had no idea what I was doing.

I was later brought from my inward battle for dominance of my own body, when I fell over. I had gone so deep into my own body, that I didn’t even get my hands up to protect myself. I landed on the dusty ground using my face as a break. My left eye impacted solidly, and I felt the dirt and grit go under the eyelid. I jumped up with impressive energy all things considered.

My friends starving, scared, injured, and desperate as they were, somehow still found it in their hearts to laugh and jeer at me. Even managing a quick chorus of She fell over.

I was preoccupied with the pain of my eye. We didn’t have any water to rise it out, so I was left with yet another agony to join my chest and arm. There were a thousand other injuries accumulated since taking that piss in the back lane, but those three occupied my senses. After I explained to them what I’d been doing, I received some sympathy.

“I’ll walk with you, while you concentrate,” Daz offered.

My gut reaction was to say no, but, when I was focusing on my inner energy, all of the pains seemed a little more distant and a little more bearable. I also needed as much practice as possible, so I relented.

“Thanks, Daz. I’d appreciate that. How’s the head?”

“It hurts like a motherfucker. All of the time but it’s even worse when the wind blows.”

“Sorry man, If it’s any consolation,” I said trying to look at him through streaming eyes.

He attempted a smile that ended up a grimace, then took hold of my arm.

“Off we go then,” Mal said when he saw we were ready.

With Daz’s support, I managed to reduce the flow of energy down my left arm for a good while. Notably slowing the curse’s advance. It wasn’t until I heard Mal talking animatedly that I refocused on my external surroundings.

“Were getting close and I don’t know what we’re going to face here. I’m going to assume the whole world is not just full of demons considering the help we got back there. But you just never know. So pull your sock up. Things might get spicy.”

“I heard most of what he’d said, and I’d gotten the gist. The thing that struck me hardest was the realization of how much of a useless lump I’d been on this whole weird excursion. I normally led from the front. Admittedly that wasn’t always for the best, but I’d been head chef at Falritas for a year before Hakan died. He had instilled the need to exert your own power and influence, otherwise things would get away from you. His main point was not to be a dick while doing it. An area I often failed at. But now? Amongst my friends? I owed them so much more than a jumped up head chef or a meandering idiot.

The land around us slowly began to change. Signs of life starting to take hold in the previously barren soil. At first there were just occasional patches of tired looking grass, but those areas increased steadily until we traipsing through a knee height meadow full of flowers and buzzing insects.

Not long after that we saw the settlement in the distance. I was surprised by the lack of inhabitants in the surrounding area. No farms or busy roads leading in and out. Then I considered the direction we’d travelled from. Why would there be roads into a desolate wasteland.

The settlement had towering stone wall a good twenty-five to thirty feet high. It looked like someone had recreated a Medieval castle town. I could see two lethargic guards in chainmail armor helmets, leaning on the parapets, chatting, and looking into the town beyond the wall. I was supremely relieved that they looked to be human, at the same time amused that they wore medieval armor. I was beginning to wonder if we had gone back in time.

The moment they became aware of us was evident by their sheer surprise at our approach. They immediately began shouting into the settlement itself.

It was Joel who shouted up first. I was too tired, Mal was too suspicious and cagey. Daz was happy to sit back and let one of us deal with awkward situations. A trait I sometimes envied.

“Hey! We’re just looking for food and rest!” Joel said. “We’re not here for any trouble.”

The guards ignored him. Mal didn’t seem to care either way and led us off to the left. “There should be a gate this way. The map shows a road leading there from the north,” he said over his shoulder. “Easier to have this convo face to face, right?”

“Sure,” I agreed, and followed him onward. “It’s not like we’d survive traveling to another settlement.”

“Nope. Its along way to the next place with nothing to eat or drink.”

I kept watch on the guards as we walked in the shadow of the wall. They followed us around, their number growing by the minute. Eventually, a new arrival leaned over the wall. He was dressed more ornately that those we’d already seen so I figured he was a leader among them.

“Why do you come from the forsaken lands?” His voice was a deep, clear baritone. Used to giving commands.

“Because a demon chased us through a fucking portal that led there!” I shouted back up in the calmest manner I could muster.

“A demon you say. What business do they have with you?”

“I dunno. They wanted to kill us, but we survived. Now we’re injured, starving and exhausted. At this stage, I’d be happy for you to throw us in a cell. So long as we get fed, watered and somewhere safe to sleep.”

He laughed at that. “That’s exactly where you will be going if we can’t check the veracity of your story and your intentions here. I will meet you at the Northern gate. It sounds as though you have an interesting story to tell.”

“We do.” I shouted back up, then let my head dropped from the exertion as we trudged around the wall, happily willing to turn ourselves into the guards.

“He seemed nice,” Daz said.

“Yeah,” Mal said. “Let’s hope it stays like that and we don’t end up in a rat infested prison cell, like Clive suggested for some mental fucking reason.”

“It was meant to be a joke,” I replied.

“Well keep the jokes to yourself until you can stand up straight and can we try to stay out of trouble while we’re in there?”

Joel gave a tired little chuckle. “We can try.”

 

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