In his delirium, Ethan was aware that this could be an illusion and wouldn’t really harm him if that was the case. Then again, it could also be real with just some details skewed in his mind. Running away in this condition would only attract more trouble. He knew he didn’t have any choice but to fight.
When he made up his mind, he saw that the scorpions got even bigger. Normally they were a bit shorter than him, but now they have become twice his size. Looking at his hands that were gripping the daggers tightly, he realized that it was him who got smaller; he was in the body of a 10 year old.
Ethan burst out a mad laugh, ‘’Is this supposed to scare me!? Did you think my battles were ever easy!?’’ he screamed to the beasts before charging at them without a shred of hesitation.
All of a sudden, the scene changed.
He found himself running toward a group of children inside the sewers. As he got close, everyone stopped talking and made a path for him. In the center of the crowd, three adults were watching him with interest. Their identity was clear from their armbands, the gang members of the Diablos, which recently took over a big tire shop near their hunting grounds, officially controlling two neighborhoods.
The tall and skinny man looked at the reaction of the kids before giving a loud laugh. ‘’What is this? Some kind of a joke?’’ he asked, amused. ‘’Are you really listening to this brat?’’
When no one spoke, the gang member continued, looking at Ethan, half amused, half annoyed. ‘’Kid, we are here to recruit. We’ll pick some pretty girls and strong boys. You’ll still have your crew to do scavenging. Are we clear?’’
‘’I think there has been a misunderstanding, sir. We don’t do scavenging anymore,’’ he replied, looking up to catch the others’ eyes with his own cold eyes. ‘’Now, we prey on the strong.’’
The gang member's faces fell and one of them reached for his gun, ‘’Do you, now?’’ The guns fired up before he could touch his own as more than five kids among the crowd started to shoot. All three of them died with wide eyes, not expecting these street urchins to have a gun let alone so many.
Once it got quiet, Ethan’s grave voice announced, ‘’Change of plans. We raid their base tonight!’’ He turned toward a boy with a shotgun. ‘’Dean, pick five more guys and fill the carriage with all the alcohol we got. Start transporting them in front of the tire shop this afternoon. Make sure that all of the Diablos see the haul when they take it from you.’’
‘’Charlie,’’ Ethan called again, turning behind. Instead of Charlie, he found a cactus-like plant.
He looked at the plant for a few more seconds before looking at himself. Covered in blood, still holding his daggers, I’m losing my shit, he thought and checked his health. It was more than half, but his mana was almost depleted. After looking around and finding nothing but four scorpion corpses, he sat by the cactus and started to cultivate.
Once he felt that a few hours had passed, he got up and noticed that his location had changed yet again. He was climbing to the walls of the canyon. The sharp wind licked his neck as his hair fluttered along with his cloak. Looking down, he saw three scorpion corpses more than a hundred yards below. With his [Mana Sense], he was also able to detect the beasts above the cliff. While he was trying to understand the situation, the stone he was holding started to roll down. Frightened, he immediately extended his hand to grasp another rock and caught sight of a small hand that was also trying to reach him.
Ethan grasped the hand and let it pull him up. As he climbed up from the manhole, he saw that he was in the garden of the tire shop. The gang members were dozing off everywhere, and there was a smell of booze, cigarettes, and piss in the air. He slowly walked toward the main building while the sound of music reached to his ears beforehand. He remembered the tune: it was the Rolling Stones -Dancing with Mr. D.- playing.
The kids of the sewers were getting in their positions as Ethan walked toward the building with a revolver in his small hand. He passed over the dogs which were sleeping on the ground, heavily drugged. It was the middle of the night, but some of the lights were on. The song was much louder when he was at the center of the building, surrendered by the knocked-out criminals. He wondered how someone could sleep in this noise before giving a look toward the kids who were encircling the entire compound.
Just as Ethan cocked the hammer and the revolver made a click sound, the scene changed. The gang members turned into giant scorpions at once.
Looking at the dozen beasts circling him, he gritted his teeth in frustration. And, of course, like a joke, he wasn’t able to feel his teeth at all, while the same song was continuing ever loudly. Without caring what was real and what wasn’t, he yelled, ‘’Come!’’
His voice echoed in the abandoned warehouse, and the dozen people armed with all kinds of weapons attacked him at the same time.
The 15 year old Ethan dodged the coming arrow with a tilt of his head. He took a step back and put his dagger under the spear that was aimed for his throat before lifting his hand up. As the spear passed his head with a small margin, he took a step forward and stabbed his other dagger into the man’s heart.
When he pushed the spearman away, someone with a sword made a stabbing move. He spun around himself to avoid the sword and changed the dagger to a reverse grip before stabbing the swordsman’s arm. Without leaving the grip, he pulled the man toward himself, and the hammer strike that was intended for him bashed the swordsman's head.
Ethan’s other dagger was already going for the kidney of the man with the hammer. After the stab, he ducked the elbow strike and changed the man’s direction to the incoming arrow, making a hole in his throat.
He pushed the body of the dying man to someone else with chains. The man got rid of the body quickly, but Ethan appeared in his blind spot, giving him a kick in the knee. Sounds of shattering bones came together with the blood splashing from the neck of the guy next to them.
Like the grim reaper himself, he danced around the room, gifting death to anyone who tried to touch him. Finally, the song ended when he pulled his dagger from the archer’s head.
‘Congratulations, you finally diiid iiitt! Dooo yooouu wiisshh–’
Ani’s voice came to him like it was coming from the inside of a deep well, from far away. Glancing around at the bodies of the people, he saw that bodies of dead scorpions also started to appear, all mixing together.
Standing both inside the ruined warehouse and on the seventh floor of the dungeon, Ethan wanted to focus on Ani’s voice, but he saw the scene that he was unable to forget, no matter how much time had passed: His father's body hanging on a tree, already rotting after staying under the sun for too long.
Not expecting to see this, he was stunned for a time. He didn’t move when the human corpses lying on the ground started to change shapes, growing horns, getting muscles, and looking more… vile. Because he knew what this was about.
Ethan thought about getting revenge for his father, a lot. Most of the people who killed him unjustly were still living even after the Animus entered their lives and changed the nature of things. He knew that Ani would never help him with something like revenge, but if he really tried, he could’ve found a way.
That day, thousands of people rushed to the streets in panic, fear, and anger. Hundreds of them lost themselves in the euphoria of venting and did absolutely ridiculous things. Among the people were housewives, school teachers, and even teenagers who were just looking for some excitement.
Against the vile nature of the humans, his father stood in the wrong place at the wrong time and became a target. What should’ve Ethan done? Seek justice for his father when there was no justice? Fight against evil when his hands were already covered in blood? He knew that his father would’ve hated him if he saw how hypocritical he was being. His parents didn’t raise him to kill in the name of so-called justice, satisfying his cravings for a short time and creating a cycle of endless tragedies without thinking of any consequences.
He had to break his stare because the human corpses had already turned into demons, and now they were coming for him. Now, he had to kill these demons whether he wanted it or not, because he still didn’t know if they were just illusions or the beasts themselves.
However, before the demons got close, this time he saw the face of his mother up above, smiling at him like an angel. Like telling him that he was not evil, everything he did was to survive, and he shouldn’t be too hard on himself because she was proud of him.
His mother, the one he wasn’t even able to find the body of. He was never able to figure out what had happened to her. Even Ani had no idea, but it was still able to confirm that she wasn’t among the people who are alive.
Looking at her face that was disappearing slowly, Ethan’s [Mana Aura] activated without him intending, and he calmly stated, ‘’This is going too far. I’m starting to get pissed.’’
Two [Shadow Spikes] appeared at the foreheads of demons as Ethan solemnly looked at his dagger, spinning it with his fingers. When he lifted his head, two more [Shadow Spikes] pierced through the hearts of other demons. ‘’You don’t want me pissed.’’
And the massacre started. Time lost its meaning; the more he killed, the more of them appeared. In a trance, he did what he thought was right, he killed. Without thinking any other thoughts or distractions, he killed and killed.
Once there was nothing else to kill, Ethan’s vision slowly deteriorated until he found himself in total darkness. He found the darkness familiar and felt comfort in it, but he also knew there was something wrong with it, like he knew he shouldn’t accept this comfort. As he struggled to find a solution, he heard a vague sound of a song coming from away. When he tried to focus, he managed to identify that the voice was his, and the song was called ‘Send me an angel’ by Scorpions. Ignoring his irritation with the name of the group, he closed his eyes and listened with intent.
Wise man said just raise your hand
And reach out for the spell
Find the door to the promised land
Just believe in yourself
Hear this voice from deep inside
It's the call of your heart
Close your eyes and you will find
The way out of the dark
Here I am (Here I am)
Will you send me an angel?
Here I am (Here I am)
In the land of the morning star
Along with the solo riff, after what felt like an eternity, he opened his eyes and saw everything with clarity. The effects of the damned poison were finally over. He was sitting on the ground and playing his runed guitar. The guitar had claw marks on it, and his hands were covered with dried blood. Disregarding his haggard appearance and the need for water, he first checked his resources. His mana and stamina were at the bottom, while his health was barely at a fifth.
Looking around, he saw that right next to him there was a body of a demon, at least that was his guess. The creature had purple skin, a build full of muscles, two curved horns on its head, and Ethan’s dagger being stabbed between them.
As he kept looking, he noticed that in the small area around him there were dozens of the same kind of creature, some male and some female. Wasn’t that a dream? Where the fuck am I?
His question was answered when he saw the door for the ninth floor, not much further from him, close to the magma lake with more demon corpses floating in it. Apparently, he was on the eighth floor. ‘Ani, how much time passed since the first scorpion poisoned me?’
‘About two and a half days.’
Ethan frowned as he couldn’t tell if it felt shorter or longer. He checked the inside of his ring and saw that his potions were still there. ‘How am I still alive?’
‘Did I stop to cultivate while I was poisoned?’
‘Yes, whenever your mana depleted, you stopped to fill it.’
He felt amused as he didn’t stop to heal himself, but stopped because he wasn’t able to kill faster. Shaking his head, he looked at the underground dwelling and the demon corpses which looked around level 47, The land of the morning star, huh? Too bad I didn’t get some of that scorpion poison. It would be useful on the other floors.
A headache started to show itself as Ethan took some water to drink. His sore throat burned as the water passed, and he planned his next steps, trying to forget the weird experience he had. Two and a half days is not bad. The others should be taking it slow. I’ll see what I can do for them once I clear the rest of the floors. ‘Show me the notifications.’
‘DING! You have leveled up.’
‘DING! You have advanced the [Mana Aura] to rank 2.’
‘DING! You have leveled up.’
‘DING! You have gained the skill [Mana Connection].’
Ethan raised an eyebrow. ‘Show me the status.’
Tier 3 - Level 35
*Available stats: 20
Skills(Rank 1): [Blink], [Fabric Tear], [Mana Sense], [Shadow Spikes], [Long Jump], [Mana Conceal], [Mana Connection]
Rank 2: [Void Wrap], [Mana Aura]
He gave half of the points to AGI and the other half to INT while thinking that his leveling speed was almost double when he was grinding monsters alone.
‘Explain the mana connection.’
‘[Mana Connection]: Send your emotions to others through your mana. You can also vaguely sense others' emotions from the mana leaking around them. The range is connected to your domain.’
His lips slowly curled upward. My songs will make others cry now.
‘And the mana aura?’
‘[Mana Aura] Rank-2: Suppress others with your killing intent and mana pool while evoking fear in enemies for a short time. You can also choose specific targets in your domain with your will.’
He lay down on his back, next to the demon boss, and closed his eyes. ‘’Hmm, I’m gonna need to test that fear effect, and I also need to fucking eat something, but first I'm just gonna...’’ he mumbled to himself as the tension left his body, and drifted into the darkness once again.