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A note from Carrarn

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Irwin exited the portal and stepped sideways, holding his breath as he looked around. There were no signs of the Imps they had killed or of their own bodies. The cave was its previous dusty pristine self, while the same cackling laughter came from the end of the tunnel.

 

Is it back to like it was before? He looked around, almost expecting to get jumped. He didn't know what he'd thought would happen, hadn't actually thought about it at all when entering, but this wasn't it. Perhaps another place, or with the imps feasting on their remains… wait, did they even leave those?

 

A soft scuffle came from behind as Greldo appeared, quickly moving to the other side of the entrance. They shared a look of resolve as they waited for the others. It seemed unlikely anyone would make a sound again this time. Seconds ticked by, and slowly Irwin began to worry. Finally, after two minutes, he licked his lips and looked helplessly at Greldo, who snuck towards him.

 

"I think Jonathan might be… trying to prove a point?" Greldo whispered, his voice shaky.

 

"Great, so it's just us two now." Irwin looked around. Any hope of getting out of here without a replay of the previous time shattered. They were the physically weakest, and although the wounds were gone, his legs and back were still in pain from the long walk that morning. Though, even if he had been in his best shape, he'd not stand a chance against even a single imp.

 

"I think it's time you tell me what your card does," he asked, as he recalled that Greldo had a card now.

 

Greldo looked at him, then around and frowned. "That goes for both of us," he said." You got sprayed by that blood… I saw it! Why didn't it hurt you?"

 

Irwin froze. He hadn't thought about that, but as he recalled Greldo's almost melting face, and his own arm, he knew exactly what the other meant. Had that been what he'd been trying to say before he fell unconscious?

 

Irwin licked his lips again, suddenly realizing he was incredibly thirsty. As soon as he paid attention to it, he wished he had some water, then shook his head and focused on his friend. His mum's words echoed through his mind, and he really didn't want to tell anyone… but…

 

"Is it possible that your card makes you vulnerable to their blood? He asked, before wanting to kick himself. That wasn't how common cards worked, and from Greldo's dead-pan look, he knew the other didn't even entertain the thought of taking that seriously.

 

"Seeing as you don't want to tell me, I can only assume it's some sort of passive effect from your card," Greldo whispered, his eyes gleaming as he looked at Irwin's hand. "You lied. How did your brother find an uncommon, and how did you trick the sorcerers?"

 

Irwin's mind spun quickly, and for a moment, he considered telling Greldo the truth, then he crushed the thought. Though they were friends, this was partly because neither he nor Greldo fit in with anyone else. He didn't know Greldo all that well and had no idea if he could even keep this a secret. So, he faked a sigh, letting his shoulders hang. "Please don't tell anyone… he said I should keep it a secret."

 

Greldo nodded his head, sighed, then grinned. "What did you say before? By Gelwin's beard? I like that. An uncommon for your first card… That's better than most nobles! So, what does it do?"

 

"It… lets me make that flame, which I can use to light almost anything on fire," Irwin said, not sure if that was true, but deciding an uncommon needed to be able to do at least that. "The resistance I didn't know."

 

"Your brother didn't tell you?"

 

"He got it from someone who thought it was a common," Irwin said, which was definitely true, he decided. Nobody in their right mind would sell a special card.

 

"Then you better hope that person never finds out or your brother is going to be in a heap of trouble," Greldo whispered. "But no throwing the flame?" he asked, hopefully.

 

"Not that I know," Irwin said. "I wonder how people find out what cards do," he added.

 

"They explained that a while back," Greldo said. "I think you were sick, so you might have missed it."

 

Irwin didn't doubt it one bit. He'd been sick every few months since he was born and missed his fair share of lessons.

 

"Well, I guess you won't have that problem anymore now," Greldo said. "With an uncommon card slotted, you should grow stronger really fast, at least until you are more normal."

 

Yeah. Normal, Irwin thought, happy and sad at the same time. "So, cards?" he asked.

 

"There are common cards that can Inspect other cards. They aren't all that hard to find in the larger places and near the coast and wall, but apparently, there is only one in Malorin," Greldo said. "You are lucky. Otherwise, you'd never have gotten that!"

 

You don't know the half of it, Irwin thought, suddenly worried. What if someone in the tower had that card and used it on him? He'd have to explain how he got the card, and his mother might be right! He shivered as he thought about how the sorcerers had acted so far. They did seem the type to attempt killing him for the off-chance his card would drop. Whatever he did, he had to make sure to keep out of the way of others and give them no reason to Inspect him.

 

"So, what does yours do?" he finally asked.

 

"Xourdin said it's called Strong Grip," Greldo whispered, holding out his hand. A thin tattoo of a clasped fist stood on the back, a bit of wood sticking out from each side. "I can grip something, activate it, and it will be almost impossible to remove it from my hand."

 

"That's how you held onto that Imp?" Irwin asked, staring at the card dubiously. It was a physical card, so it likely did some form of physical enhancement, but he instantly recognized the problems with Greldo's cards. It meant he had to get close, which was dangerous.

 

"I know what you're thinking! But I didn't just pick it for its ability. Because it's a physical card, it will slowly increase my hand and arm strength. Xourdin said lots of people along the wall have it and use it to throw stones so hard they can kill the common Diflor!"

 

Irwin barely held back a whistle. "That's awesome. Can you use it already?" he asked.

 

Greldo's shoulders and smile dropped as one. "No… it takes at least a year before my arms will become strong enough to notice any difference, and four before I'm strong enough to really do damage with it."

 

"Well, it's still not a useless card," Irwin said, meaning it. If they could stay alive, the card would always help Greldo out, even with simple things like climbing. And if they ever made it back, he could work with a baker.

 

"Yeah, but that won't help us now," Greldo said as he looked at the tunnel.

 

The giggling and laughter hadn't stopped since they got here.

 

"So, now what?" Greldo asked.

 

Irwin licked his lips again, feeling the cloves and cracks with his tongue. He tried to come up with something, but all he could think was that they were doomed. The best they could try was to kill a few of the Imps. Maybe they could ambush them?

 

As they were still thinking about what to do, two imps moved around the corner, dragging something behind them, giggling insanely. Irwin ducked behind the corner, dragging Greldo back, holding his breath. There was no scream or shout, and the giggling continued.

 

I wish I had that dagger, he thought. If he had, he could have stabbed another one. The image of the Imp dying played through his mind, then followed by the other, who had crumbled after he'd jabbed it with his flame… The flame!

 

Irwin pulled Greldo closer, his ear next to his lips. "I can kill one with the flame. Can you hold the other so it can't draw its dagger?"

 

Greldo's eyes widened, then realization appeared in them, and he nodded.

 

By now, the giggling, footsteps, and dragging sound was almost at the door, and Irwin held his breath, readying his card. Time seemed to turn to a crawl as a foot, then leg, then upper body appeared. As soon as the chest appeared, he summoned his flame, which appeared without as much as a spark, and jabbed it at the red flesh less than an arm's length away.

 

The Imp had time for a surprised yelp as the flame touched his shoulder, blackening it. As it gasped, one arm outstretched, claws out, Greldo jumped around it and out of Irwin's sight.

 

"More play thingssss," a hissing whisper came, probably from the other Imp. It ended in a strangled and decidedly surprised gasp, which Irwin barely registered. He was far too focused on the first Imp, which was turning into flaky blocks that turned to ash as they fell to the ground. Within three counts, the Imp was gone, only a dagger dropping on the ground. The flame, which had been the same size as it had been before, grew twice as long and making sure not to touch himself, Irwin stepped forward. Greldo and the other Imp were wrestling atop a burly green body in the tunnel.

 

"Hurry," Greldo whispered, panic in his voice as the Imp pulled his arms wide and tried to bite at his face.

 

Irwin pressed the flame against the Imp's back, and it froze with a dull groan, the dark spot where the flame touched it growing on its back. Three seconds later, it turned to clumps of ash that pelted Greldo, who had closed his eyes, turned his face away, and tried to block it with his hands. The flame on Irwin's finger had grown again, now as long as his hand and radiating a soothing heat.

 

"Disgusting," the other boy whispered as he wiped his face clear while crawling back into the room.

 

Irwin was about to follow him when he saw a dagger. He grabbed it and the other one before following Greldo into the room. They slumped with their backs to the wall, out of sight of the tunnel, drawing in gasps.

 

"We did it," Greldo whispered, swallowing oddly.

 

"Yeah," Irwin replied, still clutching the daggers. After he'd regained his breath, he handed one to Greldo, who took it, gave it a quick look, and nodded.

 

"I wonder why they react like that… is it because of fire or your card?" he whispered, looking at Irwin's hand before coughing dully.

 

"I have no idea," Irwin said truthfully. Then he noticed blood slowly dripping from Greldo's side and a red pool. "You are injured!" he hissed as he turned and inspected his friend.

 

"It's fine, it's fine," Greldo muttered, waving him off weakly. "It doesn't matter- I'll just reappear back there in a minute. Besides, this is a lot less painful than some other options."

 

Though his words sounded tough, Irwin could see the primal fear in Greldo's eyes, which didn't meet his but kept drifting around as he tightly clutched the dagger.

 

If he dies, I'll be here alone, Irwin thought, feeling the blood drain from his face. The idea of being here by himself terrified him.

 

"I'll try and convince Jonatha to send the others through," Greldo said, as blood began leaking from between his lips, and his eyes stared at something, unfocused. "See you soon," he whispered, followed by a long hiss.

 

As Greldo's now dead body slumped sideways, Irwin automatically put his hand on the other's shoulder and lay him down. His mind was empty, and at the same time, he felt something buildup inside him, panic. This meant he had to go into that hallway on his own, and he would be killed. Alone.

 

Maybe if I stay here long enough, Jonathan will come to get me? Irwin thought as he licked his dry lips again.

 

Seconds turned to minutes, and as time passed, his fear grew with it. At one point, he found himself dully staring at the wall, no longer counting. How long had he been sitting here? The last thing he remembered was over twenty minutes, but he knew that had been long, long ago. His lips were so dry that blood had started dribbling over his chin, which he kept licking up.

 

I can't stay here, he finally decided. Greldo's body still lay beside him, the dagger clasped in his hand. Deciding two was better than one, Irwin tried to pry the dagger from the dead boy's grip, but it was lodged tight.

 

I'll have to tell him that his grip remains after death, he thought listlessly before getting up and stepping into the hallway. The large green body lay there, and he frowned as he looked at it. It looked vaguely humanoid but even more muscular than smith Randal and with an oddly square face. Long, ragged cuts, dark green, almost black bruises, and burn marks covered his legs, arms, chest, and face, which was pulled back in a horrifying grimace. Irwin knew he should probably feel something from looking at this, but he just stared at it, wondering if the thing was another demon. If it was, he'd never seen it before.

 

The laughter and giggling hadn't stopped for a moment, and as he stood there, a chorus of voices echoed over. He couldn't understand what they were singing, but it sounded almost like counting.

 

Steeling himself, he moved forward, dagger in his right hand and readying his spell in another.

 

Perhaps if they think I'm dangerous enough, they will kill me fast, Irwin thought.

 

Halfway down the hallway, the temperature continued rising, but he didn't really mind. It felt soothing and safe. When he reached the first side entrance, oddly positioned at kneehigh, he took a deep breath and quickly peeked inside. A tunnel curved away to the right, and a bright orange light sat at the end.

 

Hadn't some Imps come from there before? He looked back down the main hall, listening to the dozens of voices. He shivered and climbed into the smaller side entrance, which was still high enough for him to stand, and walked inside. A few cracks in the sides lit it up with more red and orange light, and as he passed one, he saw something stream down in the distance.

 

Molten metal? He wondered as it looked a bit like the stuff the smith had shown the day they were allowed to watch him make a hoe. This had stone and grit, though, so maybe something else?

 

At the end of the tunnel, he crept the last bit until he could see around the corner. Holding his breath, he slowly took a peek.

 

Three towering stone pillars sat in the middle of a massive cavern, illuminated by lava that fell from a hole high above in the ceiling. Stone bridges connected them and the chaotic patches of buildings attached to the pillars' sides. The figures of imps moved around everywhere. A ledge sat before the tunnel entrance that led to a long stone bridge with crumbled edges.

 

Perhaps the other way, Irwin thought as he pulled back and turned around.

 

An imp was two steps away, dagger raised as it snuck forward with a gleeful smile on its almost triangular, sharp-chinned face.

 

Irwin reacted without thinking, stepping forward, focusing on his flame, and stabbing at the Imp with his finger. The tiny red figure yelped, and tried to dodge, but Irwin's finger struck him on a flailing arm, the flame on its tip burning into the flesh.

 

"Nooo-," the Imp screamed, then his voice cut short as his body cramped up.

 

Far away, the giggling and laughter stopped, and from behind him, Irwin heard shouting. He didn't dare run yet, as the Imp wasn't dead, but as soon as it began turning to soot, he stepped away.

 

Back or into the cavern… he didn't know! Gritting his teeth, he took a step back from where he came when he heard running from that direction and incessant giggling. Fear growing rapidly, he kept his flame active, turned, and ran toward the cavern.

 

Dozens of figures were running his way from the bridge, and he looked for a way out. The ridge he was on moved further to the left, looping around the cavern and heading down. Barely feeling his protesting body or his legs, he ran that way, dagger in one hand and flame hovering above the other. He barely noticed he'd clenched his hand into a fist, the flame now hovering above it instead of perforating his hand. The ridge was strewn with rocks and grit, and his feet kept sliding.

 

"Ruuuuun, ruuuuun," a high-pitched voice screamed from behind him, and a quick, dangerous look. Six or seven Imps, far too many, had reached the end of the bridge and were coming after him, moving way faster.

 

Ahead of him, the ridge angled down sharply, but he didn't dare slow, running forward. As he reached the downslope, his feet skidded, and he sat down, sliding down in a rain of stone dust and pebbles. Further down, the ridge narrowed, and he saw a lake of molten rock beside it, the heat warping the air. Within a moment, his slide turned out of control, and he plummeted down, scratching open his hands and snapping nails.

 

Not over the edge, not over- he reached the even, narrow bit, scrambling to stay to the side… and failed. He felt his body drop towards the hellish inferno a dozen feet below while an insane crackle came from behind. As he spun in the air, he saw a dozen Imps laugh at the top of the slope, some pointing at him in glee.

 

The air went from hot to scalding to burning, and the few breaths he managed burned his lungs. Then he fell into a chunky, blubbery mess, and a momentary pain flamed from his back and legs, then disappeared. He smelled burning meat, then didn't smell anything as he slid into the thick mass that felt like the mud on the sides of the road near the gates. Each inch of his body that slid in hurt for a moment then stopped and a blackness encroached from the sides of his vision. The last thing he heard was a surprised shout from one of the Imp's then the world turned dark for a short moment.

 

The next thing he felt was the cold tiles on his back as he was ejected out of the portal and slid away from it. A pair of well-crafted brown leather boots stepped up to him, and as he looked up, he saw Jonathan scowl down.

 

"Don't think just because you lasted this long, you get to talk back to me in the future… either you obey, or I'll drop you in here until the moment you have to go into a portal!"

 

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About the author

Carrarn

Bio: I am mainly a reader, but at some point, I found that I wanted to try my hand at writing something. As it goes with these ideas, it never really happened, that is until LitRPG's showed up. Something about the concept and idea greatly appealed to me, but I couldn't find that many stories I enjoyed. So back in 2018 I began writing my first novel, Nothing but Bones. I finished it half a year later and started on Minlings, which is still being written and is a GameLit. For the NaNoWriMo of 2019, I wrote a short story called Again and again, which is influenced by GameLit. For NaNoWriMo of 2020 I started writing a story called Kernstalion, a full on hard system LitRPG.

As I am not a native English speaker, I expect you will find many weird mistakes, especially the phonetic pronunciation mixups. Things like, 'Look up at the sealing!' might happen.

Books:

Upcoming: "Nothing But Bones: Undead AI: Part 2"

On 01-08-2022, "Nothing But Bones 3: The Lethargy", released on Amazon and Kindle unlimited!
https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0B8G4LMR7

On 21-07-2021, "Nothing But Bones: Undead AI: Part 1", released on Amazon and Kindle unlimited!
https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B09B2HV6KT

On 16-04-2021, "Nothing But Bones 2: The Chaos Rifts", released on Amazon and Kindle unlimited!
https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0927J2KQP

On 14 May 2020, "Nothing But Bones 1: The Wasteland", released on Amazon and Kindle unlimited!
https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B088C4YS7W/

On 10 September 2020, "Again and Again", released on Amazon and Kindle unlimited!
https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08HKCLK97/

Stories on RR- updated 25-02-2021
Kernstalion [One chapter per week]
Minglings [Hiatus - Currently being edited and releasing on my Patreon]
Nothing but bones [Book 3 being released on RR]

Currently, Nothing but bones book 2 and 3 , and The undead AI: Part 1, are free to read on my Patreon.

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