Ethan scolded himself for diving into the gloomy thoughts of past events. It’d been almost a decade, and except for some anger issues and a few nightmares here and there, he'd already gotten over it. Still, after losing Ani and finding himself all alone, he couldn’t help but think about the last time he lost someone.

Unlike his parents, Animus was still alive on Earth. What he lost was only a copy, and everything they shared was stored in the hivemind. What he was sad about was losing a companion. This trip happened thanks to Ani, but the poor guy didn’t even get a chance to celebrate. After seeing this world's magic, I bet it wouldn’t shut up about it and pester me to gather more data for its research on souls.

In order to help Ani and his friends, he needed to be strong, and this jungle served that purpose quite well. Until he found a civilization to grasp a better picture, he decided to slaughter the monsters like there was no tomorrow.

He got up and put out the campfire with water from the river before starting to look for a good base. It was still early in the morning, sneaking around the forest in daylight was too foolhardy, in his opinion. A backup plan for the unexpected was a priority.

After an hour or so, he found an empty cave near the river. It wasn’t perfect but a good place to come back and rest. He crossed over the river once again to look for hunting routes.

Back on Earth, there were three VR games Ethan favored and was good at. The one he became worldwide famous for was an assassin game called ‘Cut-Throat’. He kept the first rank in the scores for a good three years.

Another one was a car racing game called ‘Racing Eternal’. He made it into the top 10 from time to time. But no one really cared because the game itself wasn’t that popular. Still, Ethan found it fun and liked to play.

The last one was a wilderness survival game with beast companions called ‘Survival of the tamers’. He tried this one for the flying beasts and to prove that his friends were exaggerating. Turned out he was wrong; flying with a griffin above the clouds was just pure bliss, and his friends didn’t even give enough credit for the game. Not only that, but he also picked up some wildlife survival abilities from it. Although he wasn’t an expert, he still considered himself above average.

This is why it only took him an hour to find the tracks of some game to hunt. There were actually two goblins dragging a big stag. The stag’s legs were tied and it was bleeding. Little green bastards didn’t even care to end its life.

Of course, there are goblins… Ethan thought. I bet there are elves, orcs, and so on. The natives of this world came to the Earth and changed our literature, but why? What was their aim? Perhaps it wasn’t them but something else.

He thought that he would figure it out someday, and before doing something drastic, he observed them from afar to see if they were also sapient beings like him, as in some of the fictions mentioned on earth. But that was not the case; they were both naked, had no weapons, and didn’t use any language other than snarling and hissing.

Just more intelligent monsters then, he decided. Now, he needed to find a good angle for his fabric tear skill. Because he lacked the experience to use it on moving targets, he grabbed a rock from the floor and planned to distract them first. Once they stopped, he would use the fabric tear with his daggers.

Yet, before he could try his plan, he heard a faint sound and felt danger from all around. He didn’t even turn back to look and immediately used the [Blink]. Behind him stood a creepy spider that was twice as big as him. The hairy and brown thing had eight sharp legs and pincers in its mouth. A bolt of raw adrenaline shot through his veins. Ethan didn’t even want to imagine what would happen if he was a tad slower. Without a second thought, he ran for his life.

Comparing this thing to the giant lizard, he felt his chances were higher, but it was way too creepy. If that thing managed to bite him, he would become really uncomfortable, which would just hasten his death. If that was a spider, then he was the biggest supporter of the people with arachnophobia. So, he ran as fast as he could. The creature was faster but thanks to his blink, he gave it a few fakes until finally he reached the extension of the river and crossed over.

Much to Ethan’s relief, the spider didn’t follow and returned. But soon after, he realized that his health was going down at an alarming rate.

Health: 242/270

Mana: 65/140

Stamina: 188/200

‘Ani, what's going on? Did I get any hits?’

‘You have been poisoned. -1hp/s for the next 5 min.’

Ethan checked his body and at the back of his neck, he found a sticky liquid. He undressed his coat to only find more of the liquid. It actually spat poison while chasing me. In 5 minutes, my health will go down 300. I’ll be fucking dead, he thought with panic.

‘Is there anything we can do, Ani, to prevent some of the damage?’

‘Insufficient data.’

5 min is too short to meditate for health regen. Damn it, I’m not dying because of a spider spit, Ethan thought before dashing toward the goblins. If those two were enough for him to level up, he would have another 10 points. But he needed to kill them in four and a half minutes without getting any damage. And if that spider were still around… Well, I’m good as dead anyway. He ran straight to the goblins, and in three minutes, he caught up.

When the goblins heard his steps, they stopped. He was still more than 100 yards away. Thankfully they didn’t charge at him but instead took defensive positions. Once he was 50 yards away, he opened two portals in front of his hands and another two in front of the goblins' necks. As he stabbed, one of the goblins got pierced by the dagger, struggling for his life, while the other dodged with a slight scratch. Ethan kept running and blinked at the blind spot of the goblin before slashing its abdomen. The goblin was still trying to understand his unusual way of fighting. But Ethan moved behind it like a ghost and thrust his dagger to the back of its head.

The injured one gave its last breath at the same time. It was a marvelous success, but he didn’t get any level. Frustrated, he was about to swear to the ancestors of the spider, but his eyes caught the white stag, and after giving it a desperate look, he slashed its neck.

‘Ding! You have leveled up.’

‘’Hahaha, I knew Ding’s were the way to go!’’ he cheered in relief. But without relaxing further, he collected the bodies to his ring and started making his way back to his cave. There was a poison-spitting spider in this area. This hunting route was a big nope.

After a bit of hesitation, he gave 10 points to vitality, making his health 370. He hastened his steps because when he got only 70 health, he would rather be in his cave, meditating.

Alas, the cave was quite far; by the time he arrived, he looked like shit, light-headed from the poison, pale as a white sheet. He took his backpack and used it as a pillow. Before long, he gave himself to sleep.

When he woke up, it was because of the low breathing sounds. The same spider was staring at him at the cave entrance. He looked at his health and found it was just above 200, not even enough for another round of poison.

Vexed with the consistency of the creature and the fear of the coming death, ‘’Just leave me alone!’’ he yelled, clenching his hands.

The spider screeched and jumped on him. For the first time, Ethan tried to blink into the air, and it worked. He positioned himself at the back of the spider. Clutched his legs around it and called his daggers from the ring. Choosing a spot at its nape, he started to drill like a mad person. The exoskeleton was too thick for his daggers, but he didn’t give up. He kept stabbing the same spot.

Out of the spider's eight legs, only the two at the front were able to reach him, so he had to evade those with the left hand and keep stabbing with the right. But it wasn’t easy, one of them scratched his cheek, and another stabbed his left shoulder. He didn’t mind and kept stabbing with his jaw clenched and eyes manic.

When he finally saw some liquid gushing out, the spider must have panicked as it threw its back to the wall of the cave. That dislocated the same left shoulder but Ethan kept doing the same thing and hoped for a different outcome.

And it came true when his right hand entered the spider's back up to his elbow. He finally heard the ‘ding’ and stopped. He looked for his health and collapsed to the floor.

Health: 60/370

Mana: 38/140

Stamina: 37/200

Lying on the ground with deep breaths, Can’t believe I yelled to a spider to leave me alone. That would’ve gotten me a meme back on Earth, he thought and started giggling.

‘’You should’ve listened, pal!’’ he cried to the corpse in triumph before checking out his gains.

‘Ding! You have leveled up.’

‘Ding! You have leveled up.’

‘You have reached tier 1 and gained +10 bonus stats to all.’

‘You have learned the skill [Mana Sense].’

After programming it to his tastes, he was satisfied with the progress of Ani. ‘Status.’

Tier 1 - Level 10

Health: 160/470

Mana: 138/240

Stamina: 137/300

Vitality: 47

Strength: 30

Endurance: 30

Agility: 36

Intellect: 24

Perception: 15

*Available stats: 30

Skills(Rank 1): [Blink], [Fabric Tear], [Void Wrap], [Mana Sense]

That was different from what he expected, but he wasn’t going to complain about the ‘+10 stat points to all’ thing as the pain in his jaw and legs mostly passed. Now, he also had some strength to relocate his shoulder. He gave 10 points to AGI and 20 to INT, making his mana a total of 440.

Between deep breaths and agony, he relocated his shoulder on the second try and slumped down to the floor, giving his back to the cave wall. The smell of the spider carcass hit his nose, making him realize that his senses were over the top. So ‘perception’ does that. Maybe I shouldn’t ignore it completely. Let’s see what this mana sense is about.

After some tries, Ethan understood that with this skill, he could sense the mana fluctuations around 15 yards, and could amplify his senses with mana. When he used it with his eyes, he saw an aura around himself. Finally, an identify skill for tiers, he assumed and looked at the spider. The mana density around it was much higher than him and concentrated around its head. So this one has a core. It should be around early tier-3, but I can't say for sure. I'll need to see more beasts for a good comparison. He was too lazy to bother right now; instead, he closed his eyes and thought about his two near-death experiences.

He underestimated this world too much or rather overestimated himself. In Cut-Throat, he fought against countless humans and learned the movement patterns of humans. Even against a group of people, he wasn’t helpless as he could’ve danced around them and looked for openings. That made him the best as he rarely missed an opening the enemy gave. If he had missed, he would’ve created another one and made sure to take it.

But what could you possibly do against giant monsters? Ethan had no experience with that. In the Survival of Tamer, his griffin fought with the beasts while he took out the users. Not that he fought too much in that game, he preferred flying around.

Could he have fought the spider head-on? Perhaps, if he had enough agility, he could’ve evaded some attacks, but then what? Stabbing its eyes was just fantasy, wishful thinking.

I lack the necessary tools and skills. Even then, it would be such a chore to fight these overgrown abominations. I need to be patient and train myself, or I’m going to die without seeing another sapient being, he thought, ignoring his still spasming muscles. If only Ani could do simulations, I would both practice and advance the rank of my skills by using them thousands of times a day.

‘Ani, any change in regenerations?’

‘All regenerations have tripled.’

Ethan’s eyes lit up. It’s like I guessed, but triple is too much, the following tier increases should be smaller. Still, that means high-tier people could do prolonged battles, and the vital points are not that vital anymore, he thought with a twinkle of amusement in his eyes. ‘What’s the regen rate right now?’

‘%0.1 per minute normally and %0.2 per minute when sleeping, meditating, or cultivating.’

That means, whether it's mana, health, or stamina, it will be full in 16.5 hours. Or I can just use the void manual and fill it in about 8 hours. Using my whole mana won't take 5 minutes but filling it 5 hours. I hope there are items that would give regen or steal it from the enemy. For now, I just need to be efficient and finish the fights quickly.

Ethan took some water from his ring and drank it. When he noticed the dagger on the floor, he frowned and picked it up. It was shattered from the edge and its point was skewed. Great, don’t tell me I need to fight bare-handed now, he groaned and took some electronics from the ring as replacements, but the materials were even worse. As he was looking around, he started to stare at the spider corpse, and the corner of his mouth went upward. He still remembered that leg pierced through his shoulder like mud.

Limping away slowly, he sat by the spider and cut its leg with the somewhat usable dagger. It was especially hard work in this condition, but the finished product brought a big smile to his face. The design wasn't as good as his daggers but it was perfect for throwing knives. He made them a bit bigger than his daggers, about 14-15 inches long. From the three inches below the point of it, there was a very sharp edge; the rest made it with its heaviness and balance. Quality is much better than my knives. Perhaps when I find a blacksmith, I will order something like my old design with this material.

Even though he was eager to try his new toys, it was getting dark, so he cleaned up the cave and cooked the white stag in front of it. Blocking the light from going to the forest was easy but if the smoke attracted some beasts, there was nothing to do.

As he was eating, he also started to plan his training. He would use all his mana on [Fabric Tear] and throw knives until they became like bullets. If he slept around 6 hours, he could use his mana pool three times a day. Full-spin or half-spin throws were out of the question because the size of the portals was limited. He also needed moving targets, as hitting them was the hardest part.

Ethan’s brain worked like a locomotive, and when he was done, he didn’t even notice that his calculating abilities were nothing like before, thanks to his intelligence stats.

A note from Sortis

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