Ethan arrived at the goblin's base with a few hours of speed hiking. There were four goblins at the entrance sitting by the fire. All of them looked about late tier-1. He sneaked behind them through the bushes and trees until he was less than 50 yards away. Picking the two who were further away, he opened his portals and pierced their skulls with his knives. They didn’t even have time to react.

The other two jumped to their feet and looked for the attacker. Ethan had already left his daggers, dispersed the portals, and new daggers appeared in his hands. He threw them at the same time, and not even a yard later, one of them appeared on the forehead of the goblin, while the other missed its target by an inch.

He didn’t want to push his chances with an enemy that already knew what to expect of him and ran toward it. The goblin was on full alert, watching his every movement. But it didn’t expect him to teleport in front of it and slash its neck faster than its eyes could widen.

After collecting his daggers, he entered the cave system. It was darker than he expected; however, thanks to his perception and the help of [Mana Sense], he was aware of everything within 15 yards. He made his way slowly while lamenting that he didn’t push his PER stat any higher.

There was a heavy smell that made him frown as he ventured deeper. It was so bad, that he had to stop and cut his t-shirt’s sleeve, making a temporary mask for himself. After some time, he started to see torch lights and the shadows of the goblins on the walls. His cloak covering him in the darkness, he began to pick off the ones away from the group with [Fabric Tear]. When there were only a few left, he jumped with a [Blink] and killed them before continuing in the seemingly endless cave complex.

At tier-1, none of them were fast enough to be a challenge. The tier-2 goblins were a bit of a problem with their sharp claws but still manageable. Of course, that was the case if he caught them alone. If more than five tier-2s attacked him together, it made him consume unnecessary mana and back up to meditate to his peak condition. Fortunately, there was no unity among them; every time he resumed his hunt, he found them alert but careless regardless. He guessed there was likely hostility among the groups, so they would rather face the enemy alone than seek help from others.

On the second day, when he was recuperating his mana, a bulky goblin almost as tall as him entered his range of 15 yards with confident steps. Ethan opened his eyes to see that this time they found and even managed to surround him, thanks to this early tier-3 goblin.

He stood up and called his daggers before considering his options. Other than the jumbo, there are at least seven tier-2 and a few tier-1. If I use half of my mana to [Blink], I should be able to escape. But something is off… They all stand at the back with relaxed postures, like giving me and the jumbo a chance to duel.

Ethan offered a savage smirk. ‘’Very well then, let me give you guys a good show.’’ His dagger on the left stabbed forward with a [Fabric Tear] and appeared at the neck of the bulky one. Its eyes widened, and it made a side step to avoid it. This time Ethan’s other dagger stabbed toward its heart, but the goblin raised its left hand and let the dagger pierce it. It clenched its hand and stepped back, pulling the dagger from the fabric tear.

It was Ethan’s turn to be surprised, he immediately released the dagger and summoned another one, gripping it backhanded. The goblin let out a creepy hiss, ready to make a jump. But Ethan moved first, blinking behind it, he stabbed the dagger to its back, penetrating its heart. Even that wasn’t enough as the goblin gave an elbow attack behind. He ducked with a crouch and rose right after, his other dagger crossing under its chin to its brain.

Blood gushed as he pulled his dagger, and the bulky one collapsed with a thud in the silent cave. Ethan’s grin took shape again. ‘’Good that you’re not applauding yet. We’re just starting.’’

Before the goblins began screaming, he threw two daggers, one stabbing a skull, the other piercing through a neck. He jumped to the crowd with a [Blink] and made a half spin, his arms wide, holding new daggers. Blood splashed from two goblins toward his flaring cloak, but it wasn’t enough to kill them. It didn’t matter, though; he used their bodies as shields and attacked behind them with [Fabric Tear]. Once it was getting dangerous, he blinked to take another life.

A claw ripped some of his skin, but that was a trade for his lethal move. He then kicked the cave wall and blinked before killing another with that momentum, resuming his dance. The dance was not elegant but bizarre, if anything, or sanguinary perhaps.

The carnage ended rather quickly. Noticing that his mana was almost depleted, but his health was still above half, he gave a satisfied smile and left the scene to find another place to recuperate.

Ethan spent three days in the cave complex, and he was about to get overwhelmed as it evoked bad memories. Fortunately, the third day was his last and the only time it was truly dangerous. The other tier-3 goblin, their leader, definitely deserved its place in the hierarchy. Just one slash with a claw almost severed his leg, and he never expected a fireball coming up right after. He had to use everything at his disposal and kill it with only a quarter of his health left. That feat and killing more than a hundred goblins allowed him to reach level 16.

Sitting in the private cave of the leader, he allocated his stats. He only gave five more PER for now. As he was closing in on tier 2, he wanted the tier advancement bonus to do the job.

There were no treasures to speak of except some ragged clothes and rusted swords in the leader's room. One of the clothes had mana according to his [Mana Sense], but it turned out that inside its pocket, there were two stones that radiated mana. Not knowing what they are used for, he stored them with mild expectations.

The last thing that made him curious was a small metal cage. In it, there was a sinister-looking mantis. It was watching Ethan with its crimson bloodshot eyes. About 10 inches long, dark purple color, also at mid tier-1. Rather than a pet, it felt more like a prisoner to him. Having all kinds of scars on its body, especially the ones on its face, made him look like a terrifying creature.

He broke the lock and set him free. The mantis slowly got out, put its little reapers together, and bowed to Ethan.

Feeling awkward, Ethan waved his hand ‘’Yeah, no problem, buddy. Go make your world domination or whatever you are planning.’’

The mantis looked toward the dead goblin leader one last time and flew away.

No idea what I just unleashed, he thought and shook his head with a smile.

After sleeping in the cave for the night, he started to go toward the west in the morning. The journey was anything but smooth. There were dangers everywhere. On the second day, he decided to stop sleeping unless he found a good place and used the void manual instead. It wasn’t the same as sleeping, but he still felt rested afterward. On the third day, he noticed that the little sinister mantis was following him. It always kept its distance and sometimes went missing for a day or two but managed to find him later.

Ethan didn’t mind its presence and named it Beet, short for ‘blood-eyed evil tyrant’, not to mention it was purple. Beet didn’t follow his orders, just watched him creepily, but when he was in danger, it did help out. Together, they killed a pack of hyenas and even fended off a tier-3 beast. Its fighting style was brutal, exchanging blows for blows and advancing like a calamity. Rather than being fragile with its small size, it was resilient as hell. If they fought against each other, even Ethan wasn’t sure if he could take it out.

They moved slowly but carefully; Ethan got to kill many beasts and collected a lot of herbs. He didn’t know any of them, but he figured he might as well take them with him. Once he was in some kind of town, he would see if there was a legendary herb among them that would make a fortune.

A little more than a month after the goblin caves, he killed a mid tier-3 cougar with the help of his poisoned daggers and advanced to tier-2. Almost three months of constant fighting barely got him to level 20, and the speed of leveling slowed once again. Nevertheless, he was very happy with the progress as he looked at his status with glee. He could already imagine the ridiculous stats of high-tier people.

Tier 2 - Level 20

Health: 559/700

Mana: 410/800

Stamina: 308/600

Vitality: 70

Strength: 52

Endurance: 60

Agility: 80

Intellect: 80

Perception: 30

*Available stats: 0

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

The worrying part was the skills. He didn’t make any progress with them whatsoever. Even with his cloak helping him with comprehension, he didn’t have a clue for rank 2 skills.

I’ll be stuck at level 29 if this goes on; better to slow the hunting and concentrate on my skills, he thought and moved toward the cougar to remove its core. The goblins didn’t have any core, so this would be his second tier-3 core. He also had a few dozen tier-2 and about a hundred tier-1 cores. Nothing he did worked for the cores, but he was sure they would be at least worth some money.

‘Ani, any change on the near biochips?’ Ethan asked while considering if he should store the whole cougar.

‘’The closest one is still in the same area, 1500 miles away. Some new signals appeared, but some of them also got lost. The total number is now 32.’’

‘Any near individual or groups around the closest one?’

‘Two new biochip users appeared close to him but didn’t make any contact with him yet. There is a group of nine, but they are almost 8000 miles away.’

Appeared? Long-range teleportation, maybe? That would make it a lot easier to regroup. I don’t know what could be done after regrouping, though, other than helping each other to survive in this land. Ani is gone, the ship is missing, and we are just a bunch of low tiers to the natives of this world. There would be nothing appealing we could offer to them, whereas this world has everything we could ask for.

He never wanted to return to Earth in the first place. He had an aunt who reluctantly gave him a place to live after the promises of Ani. And she couldn't have been any happier after he told her that he planned to move out at the age of 16.

His friends were all envious of him for being accepted into this exploration team. Even his girlfriend knew he was leaving for good when he told her he was selected. To be honest, he kind of felt pity for leaving them behind because life on earth changed in a way no one expected.

Human life was a mystery in itself, but there were many things that occupied them from thinking no more of it. They knew nothing about where they came from or where they would be going. No one wanted to think about death as it was inevitable. Some preoccupied themselves with religions, some with ideologies, and most with their troubles.

Yet, once Ani’s existence changed their priorities, everyone found themselves in a dilemma. If they didn’t need to strive for a better life as it was already the best possible, if they didn’t need to become better than other humans as there was an existence they could never surpass, if there was no need to defend their people as there were no enemies, then what else should they have done but to think that they were all going to die eventually?

In front of the broad view, it was disturbing to find their worries were nothing but misunderstandings, and their perceptions were skewed. These troubling times were also the best time to have some understanding of more important topics. Unfortunately, VR came at this critical moment. It was the fresh breath everyone was desperately looking for, but in Ethan’s opinion, it was only a temporary breath. Hell, in the long run, it could’ve made it even worse, as people would see endless possibilities but realize they could never really have them, and all they got will ever be fake realities.

He shook his head and tried not to assume the worst. If Ani didn’t find a way to increase the human lifespan, they are already dead anyway. Or perhaps Ani got them frozen, but that's too much of a resource. Unless a new technology is discovered, they would be dead. I just hope they lived fulfilling lives and died satisfied.

With everyone he knew dead, he felt less attached to his homeland. Now, a new page of his life started. He came to this world not to represent Earth but to find his place in existence. And so far, he was loving it. There were many mysteries to solve. He loved the feeling of being rewarded after his exertions, getting stronger in every step of the journey. Over and above that was the concept of ascension. What kind of secrets did the universe hold? And why was it the folklore of the Earth was the reality of this Webb-756b?

Beet woke him up from his daydreaming. It was standing on a tree branch and acting like its latest virgin sacrifices had just arrived, rubbing its scythes together, looking between Ethan and elsewhere.

Ethan blinked next to him to see what made him so worked up and saw a party of two having sex on a small hill near him. The girl was a human while the boy was an elf. They were around his age and completely absorbed in each other, oblivious to everything else.

‘’Finally,’’ he muttered before smiling wide.

A note from Sortis

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