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The first three days of Ethan’s pest control services were uneventful. He was extra careful to not cross the big monsters and he had a feeling that the rats were also thinking the same. On the fourth day, he fought against four rats at once and got another claw mark along with two bite marks. Still, it was better than he expected as he killed dozens of rats and found dozens of books. Which got him to level 4 whilst Ani’s language proficiency got to 70%. It was the fifth day that he witnessed a weird scene.

He found three rats eating the carcass of a small bird. Without giving them a chance to react, he attacked them immediately. The constant fights against the rats made him quite proficient, so it was easy to injure two of them, but before finishing them off, the third one started running on kitchen countertops and knocked over the utensils, making a lot of noise. Cursing under his breath, he ran after and killed it before long.

It was still too late; a badger came through the door and looked quite a bit stronger than the rats. It gave a sharp hiss before starting a sprint. He managed to parry its claw and cut its wrist, but it wasn’t enough to sever its hand.

The beast got his footing and jumped to him, biting his shoulder. Ethan clenched his jaw and tried to stab his other dagger but it deflected it with a claw. This badger was so strong that he was barely keeping up with its movements.

It relentlessly attacked and gave him a few more injuries. Just when it was going for his neck to seize it with its teeth, something ran through from the back of its head and came out from its mouth. When he focused, he realized it was a piece of wood. A thin vine with a sharp point pierced it through and killed it.

The vine crawled around the badger and dragged it along to the door, where a red squirrel stood on its feet with a stoic face. When Ethan looked, it nodded to him. Dumbfounded, he nodded back, and watched its swaggering back to the street, along with the corpse of the badger.

He dropped his daggers and sat down on the floor. What the hell? Was that a skill? Even squirrels know skills! he thought with a strained smile.

For the last five days, he tried to control his mana but it didn’t get him anywhere. He knew he had it, and it was some kind of shapeless energy, but understanding enough to wield it was beyond him so far. All he could do was navigate it in his body, which didn’t get him any valuable abilities. I should have checked the information Ani got. Perhaps there are skill books in them, he mused. ‘Show me the status panel.’

Status: Level 6

Health: 81/170

Mana: 140/140

Stamina: 102/160

Vitality: 17

Strength: 17

Endurance: 16

Agility: 23

Intellect: 14

Perception: 5

*Available stats: 20

Damn, that was close. This is getting too dangerous, many beasts could kill me easily here. The rats don't give too much anymore and they are getting rarer. I shouldn't push it and leave while I can, he resolved.

Ethan gave 10 points to VIT, 3 to STR, 4 to END, and 3 to AGI. He was intentionally ignoring INT and PER stats for now because he wanted to be physically in his best condition and not die with a single hit against the oversized monsters. With his fighting style, the temptation of more agility was also big, but he decided not to go in a single direction or spread his stats too thin.

He changed his bandages and added new ones before looking for new books. Finding two new books and a beast skin writing, he decided that it was time to dig into the new culture.

‘Ani, I need your analysis of the language along with every important piece of information you got. Skills, teachings about mana, the temple in the village, and so on. Transfer everything to me slowly.’

‘’Starting memory transfer…’’

Memory transfer was a miraculous ability but the human brain wasn’t capable of receiving and perceiving this much information in a short time. That is why Ethan got the worst headache for 5 minutes and did his best to not scream.

When it was finally over, the pain vanished instantly, leaving him with a feeling of doubt about the actuality of the pain. Nonetheless, he was grateful for his non-throbbing veins. He took some dry meat and water from his bag and started eating while contemplating the information he had just learned.

Firstly, there were no skill books in them. There were some journals, novels, and even erotic books but nothing too significant. Though, he learned that skill books existed and they were crucial. Power ranks of this world started from tier 1 and ended at tier 9, whereas to become a tier 10, one needed to ascend. Whatever that means, Ethan thought while chewing beef jerky.

Starting with tier 3, just the life essence wasn’t enough to advance; one needed ranked skills, which only came with comprehension of the elements. For tiers 3-4-5, you needed at least a second-rank skill each. For tiers 6-7-8, you needed a third-rank skill each. Tier 9 required a fourth-rank skill, and to ascend, you needed to create your own skill. I don’t even have a rank one skill. If I don’t find one, the peak of tier 2 is the end of the road for me. Which is probably level 29.

Other than that, he learned the temple wasn’t always there. It was likely built after the people of the village emigrated. Ethan had already made up his mind that even if he was going to leave the town, it would be after raiding the temple.

He was thinking of getting some sleep to regain health but heard a low chattering sound. Quickly arriving at the other room, he realized that the two wounded rats were still alive. One was unconscious, and the other was just waking up. He moved to finish them off but then stopped and narrowed his eyes, a rough idea forming in his mind.

Done with the preparations, Ethan slept like a log and was ready for some night activity. He put his daggers in their sheaths and placed them on his belt. With his backpack on his back, he took two handmade wooden cages into his hands before going out.

Sneaking in the night without a sound, he arrived two streets away from the temple. These past days, he observed every beast around the center and their territories. This alley was a somewhat gray area, close to the rhino couple and closer to the giant lizard.

He put his cages down and saw that the rats were awake but drowsy. They both had ropes tied to them and the ropes had kitchen utensils bonded to them. Finally, rats’ tails had clothes tied to them.

Ethan set the fabric on fire, broke the cages, and sprinted away. Screams and rumbles started about ten seconds later. As he hid in the shadows, he heard the lizard's roar, and everything stilled. But only a few seconds later, it continued even louder. Once the lizard started to move, Ethan also started to move. From the blind spots of the lizard, he slipped through to the temple.

The temple was completely out of place with its high ceiling and marble sculptures. There were no rooms, just a big hall with a pond in the center. At the back of the pond, twelve marble statues were kneeling to another statue. All of them looked solemn and imposing, but the one they kneeled to was something else. The statue itself had a regal aura. It was positioned with its extended right hand open, and a silver ring with an infinity symbol was in it. More catching than the ring was the stylish black cloak it wore, dark as the night itself.

Behind the composition of the statues, there were writings on the wall. It said;

Young warrior, you have suffered many hardships to get here and proved that you are worthy. Take the legacy of the INANE CULTUS. When you ascend, find us with your ring. May the space carry you to your destiny.

Ps: Jump in the pond if you want to leave the pocket world.

Man, that is so cringy. It ruined the whole ambiance. No way I’m going to your bullshit cultus, he thought with a dry smile before understanding the implications. Pocket world? Does it mean that I’m in a separate dimension or something? Perhaps, that’s why Ani couldn’t reach the others.

Lamenting his lack of knowledge, he turned his attention back to the statues. The first thing he took was not the ring but the cloak. He immediately wore it and fell in love with it. It was extremely comfortable and had six inner pockets. Something else also had changed but he couldn’t figure out what. He took and wore the ring but nothing happened. Only when he managed to send his mana to it that he realized it was a spatial ring.

Unfortunately, he didn’t have time to inspect the goods inside of it because the moment he sent his mana to the ring, the shadows of the kneeling statues became alive. They took the shapes of their owners and stood up while becoming more blurry and lifelike simultaneously.

Ethan got into a defensive position and got his daggers ready. ‘’Seriously? Another test after I got the trophies?’’ He looked toward the pond and just before starting his sprint, he realized a transparent barrier was covering all around it. When he looked at the door he came from, he saw the second barrier. ‘’Alright then. But 1 vs 12 is too much. I’m sure the Inane Cultus is all about fair play, right?’’

He gazed at the now dark-gray shadows expectantly. What he received wasn’t sympathy but an all-out attack. Ethan took a few steps back while sloughing off his backpack. When the shadows got close, he stopped and tossed his pack to the nearest one. With the enemy’s momentum getting disturbed, he crouched down and moved forward, slashing his dagger against the belly of a shadow being.

As he didn’t want to get surrounded, he rolled to the side and escaped from the encircling. Still, he realized that the one he cut stopped its movement and became distorted. Slowly, the fuzzy shadow turned into a wisp of light and traveled back to its original kneeling statue.

It was at that time Ethan’s new cloak started humming and sucked the wisp of light with a surprising force. The cloak absorbed the gray light and got quiet again. He had no idea what was happening, but he saw his way out. Just one hit is enough. I can do this.

He ran toward the pond with the shadows on his tail and stopped before the dome-shaped barrier. Probing the barrier with the hilt of his dagger showed that it was solid and impossible to break, at least for him. But it also didn’t harm the dagger, so it was a safe place to use.

Ethan turned to face his enemies and kept the barrier to his right side. His plan was to keep his back clear and use fast and short strikes while constantly retreating. If some of them decided to walk around the pond, it was all the better.

The shadows were upon him in no time. Although their shapes were fuzzy, the weapons they held looked very much real. One of the sword users made a stabbing move which Ethan deflected but before he struck back, the others joined with fervor, causing him to retreat.

He kept moving backward as he fended off the attacks, and in a short time, the high number of the enemy became their liability. Ethan took a step forward, stabbed the arm of a spear user, and immediately jumped back, continuing his retreat.

Another one came with a shield; he sidestepped to the left and kicked the shield. As the big guy stumbled toward the crowd, he found another chance and pierced the chest of the shadow next to it. All the while, his cloak was absorbing the wisps of light.

They were actually pretty good fighters but their teamwork was just awful. Their simple minds were probably filled with one idea, to kill him. So, while they seemed to do their best individually, they were actually hindering each other. And what Ethan was fighting was the crowd itself. He herded them meticulously, sometimes giving them false hope and sometimes pausing just to confuse them.

Normally, killing people like this would’ve been quite difficult, but all he needed to do was to give them injuries. Kicks and punches didn’t work but even a tiny stab to non-lethal areas was enough to end the shadows.

Once he dealt with half of them, he didn’t relax and instead became more careful because they were now able to show their talents. Fortunately, they didn’t use any skills, and their stats were similar to Ethan’s. So, he bided his time to only attack when it was a sure shot.

After much of a hassle, he finished the last shadow and collapsed to the floor near the statues. Even with his newly boosted physical abilities, he was out of breath and bleeding in more than one place. If this was a game where the first blood drawn eliminated the participant, he would’ve lost after taking half of them. That made him thank his lucky stars for his flesh body.

As he was thinking about checking his new ring, an oppressive aura filled the temple like a tide, coming from the only standing statue’s shadow. Ethan saw the gray shadow taking shape and immediately threw his dagger, which pierced through its head, ending its life before even starting. He looked at the statue and pursed his lips as his cloak absorbed one last wisp of light. ‘’I know, right? No one cares about fair play these days.’’

At the sight of fading barriers, he let out a sigh of relief and turned his attention to his ring, happy to skip the boss fight. The space inside was as spacious as a medium-sized room, containing 4 rock tablets. He pulled them out and tried to figure out their uses. When his mana touched the tablet, it transferred a piece of information.

‘’Finally!’’ he exclaimed with wide eyes before basking in the marvels of the magic and instantly learning how to perform a skill called [Blink]; Short distance teleportation.

Too excited and afraid of the still absent lizard, he quickly learned the rest of the tablets and they crumbled to specks of dust right afterward. One of them was called [Fabric Tear], allowing him to open two parallel mini portals and ignore the distance between them. Another was called [Void Wrap], coating himself with void aspect mana to become void itself. It didn’t allow him to ignore matter but it was the perfect stealth skill. The only problem was its requirement of an absurd amount of mana which made it impossible to use at the lower levels. The last tablet was actually a cultivation manual. He didn’t even know those existed and was itching to try.

Not wishing to delay anymore, he fetched his backpack and dagger in a hurry before jumping into the pond and disappearing from the temple.

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