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A note from Carrarn

Thanks for reading, and let me know what you thought in the comments below!

Edit: Bah99 pointed out a mistake I'd made and to fix it I had to change some things in this chapter. It mainly reflects Irwin's inability to read. So, if you've already read it and find out later he suddenly can't read... that's how it was supposed to be, but I somehow forgot ;P

Irwin gazed dully at the card before him, waiting for Ambraz's opinion. He didn't even bother to ask what the flowing handwriting next to the card said. His initial joy at all the cards had been tempered by the Anvil's increasing despair at the quality of the cards. A soft rumbling from his stomach showed that he'd not had anything to eat since the large meal that Xourdin had given them back home.

 

"Another one of these partial things! Durable fingers, even if I reforge it, it's going to be no better than Durable hands! Bah," the tiny Anvil whispered, his voice dripping with disgust.

 

Irwin shrugged and returned the card to the shelf, looking around. He'd looked at half of the cards in the room, and so far, not a single one seemed good enough for Ambraz.

 

Well, if he doesn't like any, I'll just take the one I think is best, Irwin thought as he moved to the next card.

 

Before he could even see what it was, Ambraz hummed, something he'd not done before. "Oh! Now, this is more like it," he whispered. "If there's nothing better, this would do."

 

Irwin focused on the card, which had an image of a tiny skeleton. "What's it called?" he whispered.

 

"Metallic Skeleton," Ambraz whispered before quickly reading out what the text next to it read. "The common version of metallic skeleton makes your bones nearly indestructible but also increases their weight exponentially! It's very good, but pay attention! Don't take this skill unless you have a body-strengthening card that has tempered your body for at least a year! Otherwise, you might not be able to move for months as your body adjusts."

 

"I don't think I can use this," Irwin said as he swallowed back his rising fear of being squashed by the weight of his own bones. "I can barely move my current body weight…"

 

"Bah, what does it matter if you can't move for a while? It'll give you more time to learn. Besides, after I reforge it, the weight should become less restrictive."

 

Should? Irwin thought, not hearing a lot of certainty in the other's voice.

 

He quickly moved to the next card, which got a disgusted grunt, as did the next six, while wondering who wrote the texts on the cards.

 

There was a startled hiss that drew him back to reality.

 

"Where did they find this," Ambraz whispered. "Whatever dropped this must have been a step away from growing to Amethyst… it deserves a place among the uncommons…"

 

Irwin excitedly listened as Ambraz read the name and text in an exited whisper. "Simple small hammer, A utility hammer that can be used for smaller smithing. Only take this if you have another smithing card and want to endeavor on a crafters path."

 

"It's horrible," Irwin muttered with a suprised blink.

 

"What? Are you simple? It is incredibly odd to find a summoning card among the commons! Besides, I can reforge it into something much better. Wait, where are you going?"

 

Irwin sighed, ignoring Ambraz. First, bones he couldn't carry, then a hammer that would be useless except for a crafter. He was starting to realize Ambraz, and he were on a very different path. He continued examining the other cards until he reached one that drew his eye. It was a dazzling red eye with a flaming eyebrow.

 

"Scoffs at a wonderful hammer, then drools over a common fire card," Ambraz whispered, sounding annoyed. He'd not said anything about the other cards except for a few sad sighs.

 

"What does it do?" Irwin asked, waiting and hoping Ambraz would respond. He really should learn how to read!

 

"Hmm, there is one interesting combination to be made with that," Ambraz whispered, sounding more interested suddenly. "I can reforge it for you, and if you combine it, it will give you a short-range fire burst from your eyes. That'd be perfect for forging smaller items."

 

"What does it do?" Irwin asked again, annoyed.

 

With a soft cough, Ambraz read the card. "Eyes of Blaze, a utility card that is good for appraisers as it infuses you with the ability to discern the general nature of unslotted cards. As a common, it requires you to inspect the card for a minimum of ten minutes while not being usable on slotted cards. The added benefit is that it will enhance your body by tempering it with heat. A decent body card with the oddity of having two effects. Still, unless you have a fire card or really like the first ability, there are better body improvement cards.

 

Body tempering, Irwin thought as he looked at the card. It was fire and body, which meant it would probably be fairly easy to combine with his own card. Besides, with it, he'd be able to increase his physique, hopefully in weeks instead of months.

 

"What happens if you reforge it?" Irwin whispered, suddenly realizing he didn't even know what that did. He'd sort of just assumed it would make the card better… but how?

 

"I will upgrade it one rank to uncommon," Ambraz said softly as if that was obvious.

 

Irwin's hand froze halfway toward the card.

 

"You can do that?" he whispered. "Can you-" he licked his lips, then frowned. Why did he keep doing that? "Can you reforge uncommon to rare?"

 

"What? No, of course not! That'd be ridiculous," Ambraz whispered.

 

Right, Irwin thought as he nodded to himself.

 

"I'd need the help of a smith to do that, of course."

 

Of course, Irwin thought, suddenly no longer so sure he should ignore the idea of becoming a smith. "Can you go higher?" he whispered excitedly.

 

"Well, it depends on the smith, but theoretically, yes. There are a ton of requirements, but-"

 

"From special to legendary?" Irwin whispered, barely able to keep his voice down.

 

"Maybe… probably… but it would require a smith unlike any that this backwater plain has."

 

"Could you teach me how to become that good?" Irwin whispered.

 

Ambraz remained quiet for a while before sighing. "To become that good requires a smith that loves the craft, not someone who does it for his own benefit."

 

Irwin barely heard him, only hearing the implications. So, Ambraz could teach someone to reforge cards, even from special to legendary. Even if he didn't want to sweat in a shop, the benefits…! His body would be tempered by the work and the card, and he might be able to reforge his first card to legendary. His heart began pounding at the idea of helping his brother become stronger and earn enough for his mum not to have to work herself to the breaking point. He could even-

 

Irwin cut off the line of thinking he was about to go, trying to shove back what his mother had said about his late father. One step at a time, he thought, taking a deep sigh. That would be a thing for later. Maybe.

 

His stomach rumbled as if to agree.

 

"As a smith, will my weak body hold me back?" he suddenly muttered, somewhat sure what the answer would be.

 

"Not really, well… yes, but only for a few months, maybe a year? Your body is already slowly growing stronger. You just need better food, time, and practice," Ambraz said before sniffing. "But, I'm not sure I should teach you. I can't shake the feeling that you are only doing this to get things."

 

"What else is there in the world?" Irwin whispered, surprised. "If my mother had things, she wouldn't look twice her age from the work she did. With things, my brother wouldn't have to risk his life on the wall. With things, I could have had a card when they found out my body was… like this… and I'd have had a better life!"

 

"You alright in there, boy? Your time is almost over!"

 

Irwin quickly looked back, but Bellemui wasn't anywhere around.

 

"I'm alright, almost done," Irwin called out.

 

"You shouldn't speak so loud," Ambraz whispered before sighing. "But… what you said is partially right. But you have to realize things won't necessarily bring you happiness."

 

"Unhappy people will always find things to be unhappy about," Irwin automatically repeated one of his mum's favorite sayings.

 

"Yes…" Ambraz said, sounding conflicted.

 

He was quiet for a few moments before sighing. "Alright. I'll teach you, but you must listen to my advice."

 

Irwin nodded, turning around and moving towards the hammer. If he had to take the useless utility item he… he… wait, how was he going to survive the portal tomorrow like he was now? With some tiny hammer, he'd be as weak as he was now.

 

"What's wrong?" Ambraz whispered.

 

"They will make me go into another portal tomorrow," Irwin whispered, the idea of reforging his card to legendary suddenly seeming incredibly far away. And what after that portal? He'd have to enter another, and another, until he died.

 

"So? You managed to find me, right?" Ambraz hissed. "Your card won't allow you to enter anything but a quartz… errr… common portal yet, so what's the problem?"

 

"I died three times before I found you," Irwin whispered. "I don't reset in another common!"

 

"Oh," Ambraz replied. "You died? To those Quartz rank imps?"

 

"I'm a twelve-year-old with a weak body and no combat cards," Irwin hissed, barely able to contain his voice. "What do you expect?"

 

Ambraz was quiet, then snorted. "Well, not a lot yet, I guess. Fine, as much as it pains me, go pick up that eye card. You can combine it with your own before tomorrow, and I can reforge it later. That will give your original card some boost and should increase your chances. We'll just have to hope nobody takes the hammer or that you find a better one."

 

"Later?" Irwin asked, slightly confused.

 

"Well, of course. Or do you want to try entering an uncommon portal?" Ambraz whispered, sounding amused. "I'm rather sure you will die within ten seconds."

 

Irwin deflated as he recalled that reforging meant making it a level higher. That would either cause something horrible to happen if he entered the common portal, or they would find out and-

 

wait… What had happened to the other girl? Perhaps she didn't have to enter portals yet? The problem was only with common portals yet.

 

But that means Greldo has to go alone, a tiny voice whispered in his mind, and Irwin felt miserable.

 

"Did anyone ever tell you that you sigh a lot?" Ambraz whispered. "Now hurry. Bellemui is returning."

 

Irwin quickly shoved Ambraz in his shirt while grabbing the page with the Eyes of Blaze. As he turned, Bellemui stepped into the room.

 

"Ah, good, you finally found something. Nobody can say you aren't thorough... Now, let me see it."

 

Irwin handed over the page, and Bellemui nodded thoughtfully.

 

"Not a bad choice… it will give you plenty of choices during combination, and although it won't make you a physical powerhouse, it should help offset your disabilities with time." He tapped the card, and his own hand glowed. A second later, the Eyes of Blaze let go of the page, sliding into Bellemui's hand, who gave it to Irwin.

 

"Now, I would advise you to slot it now and do the combination tonight or tomorrow. As well as the guards try, if someone sees you with an unslotted card I can't promise you will have it before you reach your room."

 

Though the wording suggested it wasn't an order, the tone left no doubt that it was.

 

Irwin swallowed, looked at the card, and let out a long breath. No sense in waiting. Under Bellemui's watchful gaze, he placed the card on the back of his hand. A burning, flickering glow erupted from his first card as the second vanished, and a tiny second drawing appeared on his hand. Both cards burned with a fiery light, then faded and turned to thin, hard-to-see lines.

 

There was a slight rush, and then he felt his body relax, but he could be mistaken. Perhaps it was just the stress that left him.

 

"Good, there is a resonance there which will make it easy to combine them. Make sure to think well about the effects you want boosted because they can't be changed," Bellemui said as he placed a hand on Irwin's shoulder and guided him to the door. "Now, you have no more time to go back to your room, so I've asked one of the guards to guide you to the central room for supper."

 

Irwin nodded, unable to keep the smile from his face. Although it felt like he'd been here for a week or longer, in reality, he'd only arrived this morning, and already he had a second card! He couldn't wait to try it out.

 

The door opened, and he saw a guard leaning against the opposite wall as Bellemui gently pushed him out.

 

"Good. Now, I hope I see you again Irwin. You seem like a nice boy, though somewhat slow in choosing. Goodbye," Bellemui said before closing the door with a final nod.

 

"Not bad. Bellemui usually doesn't like new people," the guard said in a sly, oily voice. "Wonder why that is…."

 

Irwin looked up, suddenly cold. The guard was looking at him with narrow, glittering eyes. "Let's go. I need to make sure you are where you're supposed to be on time."

 

Irwin didn't respond but silently walked after the guard, his hair going up as the guard looked over his shoulder a few times.

 

"Not sure how a scrawny kid like you did it," the guard finally muttered. "Means the solution's not a strength or stamina-based thing." When Irwin didn't respond, the guard grunted as he led him deeper down the building.

 

After a while, a loud hubbub came from a hallway in the distance, and Irwin hoped it was their destination. The constant looks of the guard were creeping him out as he remembered the warning of Lady Yrinta. The guard slowed and stopped halfway in the hallway, looking at him with a frown.

 

"Are you smart, kid?"

 

Irwin wasn't sure how to answer and shrugged. "Not sure," he said, which caused the guard's frown to increase. Then he huffed and jabbed a finger through the hallway. "There's the diner. Careful who you talk with."

 

The guard followed him with gleaming eyes until he reached the open door at the end of the hallway. The deafening sound of hundreds of people talking came from outside, and Irwin looked to see something that resembled a massive inn. Small, square tables stood everywhere, some shoved together to create longer areas, and children of his own age and a bit older sat everywhere, chatting.

 

I wonder where Greldo and the others are, Irwin thought. He took a look back to see what the guard was doing, but the suspicious guy was gone, so he walked into the room. There was a table filled with food to the far right with a long line, and he decided to get food first, then search for the others.

 

It took almost ten minutes for the row to move forward enough for him to grab a large wooden plate and some cutlery. Then another ten before he walked away, saliva watering his mouth as he smelled the porridge, bacon, eggs, and odd bread rolls an arm's length from his nose.

 

"Irwin, over here!"

 

He looked up to see Greldo wave him over from between a few tables. He had a mug in his hand and a rosy glow on his cheeks.

 

Irwin dodged around people to reach him, and as he came close, he smelled the sickly scent of Shril. It was coming from Greldo's mug.

 

"What? It's just one mug. We aren't allowed more," Greldo said, voice louder than normal and with a wide grin on his face. "You should try some. It's really great!"

 

Irwin frowned, remembering how his mother had behaved after two, and quickly shook his head.

 

"Suit yourself! Let's go. The others are waiting," Greldo said happily, seeming uncaring that Irwin wanted none of his joy.

 

Irwin followed Greldo to a table near the far wall, and he noticed most of the children here wore clothing similar to his instead of the luxurious armor or colorful attire that he'd seen near the food and drinks area.

 

Rachel, Twintin, and Olban sat there, each with a mug and a big stupid grin.

 

"Daubutim ate as much as the rest of us and then headed back. Too loud, and he was sleepy, if you can believe it," Greldo shouted as he dropped into a chair before taking another gulp of his drink.

 

Irwin just sat down and instantly dug in. As the first of the food arrived in his stomach, it seemed to realize there was more to be had, and it rumbled, then clenched almost painfully. Yes, yes, Irwin thought as he continued stuffing himself.

 

"I was going to ask if you were seriously going to eat all of that," Rachel asked softly, and Irwin looked up while swallowing a large chunk of porridge-drenched bread to see her stare at him. "But I think we might have to get you some more."

 

Olban laughed far too hard, then burped and put his head on his arms. Everyone ignored him.

 

Looking at his half-empty plate and feeling his stomach, Irwin wondered if she was serious. Deciding if she was, it was worth a try, he nodded. "That'd be great, especially some more bacon and porridge!"

 

Rachel gawked while Twintin giggled loudly before getting up and pulling Rachel along. "Come on, let's get him some more before he eats us instead," she said, sounding way too happy.

 

Irwin looked at the cups of Shril they left behind, suddenly a bit curious. They seemed really happy, and even Rachel showed none of the downtrodden, depressed behavior of only hours before.

 

"Try a sip!" Greldo said as he held out his mug.

 

Irwin put it below his nose and sniffed. A scent sweeter than the baker's sugar pastries made him almost gag, and he shook his head as he pushed it back. "No thanks, not my taste," he said as he took a quick bite of his last bacon to get rid of the sweet sensation in the back of his throat.

 

"No worries, more for me," Greldo said, taking a sip. Then he put the mug away and leaned forward, glancing at Irwin's hand. "So… what did you choose?" he whispered.

 

Irwin continued eating until his plate was empty, enjoying the slowly increasing annoyance in Greldo. As he wiped the last gravy with his bread and swallowed it, he grinned.

 

"Weeeellll," he said before slowly holding out his hand for Greldo to inspect.

 

"It looks like an eye," Greldo muttered, slightly slurred. "Weren't you going to get a body enhancement one?" He poked Irwin's shoulder as if to add to his remark.

 

"This is a body enhancement one," Irwin said. He was about to add the other things it did, then held back. Even if he could tell Greldo, there were far too many others around. He'd not yet thought about the second part of the card yet, and he wondered what kind of information he'd get. Would it be like what was on the card pages?

 

"Well, I hope so," Greldo said suddenly without a smile. "Tomorrow is going to be pretty horrible, I think. I've heard rumors that we weren't the first group, and those that arrived yesterday were entering their first real portal today. The group over there-" and he pointed to a table four apart where four children sat, staring into cups or at the table. "They lost two of their group and only survived because they fled back out."

 

"You can flee out?" Irwin said, surprised, yet at the same time worried.

 

"Apparently, but not from all portals. It depends on where you spawn."

 

"There was no exit from the training portal," Irwin muttered.

 

"No kidding," Greldo said, taking another sip. "Ah, the girls are faster than you were. Put up a smile before Rachel starts crying again."

 

Irwin tried, but as he looked up and saw the girls come over with another plate with even more food, his crooked smile instantly turned genuine.

 

"Here you go! They wouldn't allow us more and said we'd have to eat it first," Twintin said as Rachel put the plate before him with a big grin.

 

"Thanks," Irwin said, then blinked as Twintin put a large mug before him. He was about to reject it when he realized there was no Shril in it but clear water.

 

"And thanks again," he said, grinning as he took a long gulp. The water went down like in a bottomless pit, and when he put the mug down it was empty, and everyone was looking at him again.

 

"What? It's my first drink since-"

 

Greldo kicked him, but it was too late. Rachel's smile withered, and she quickly grabbed her own mug, taking a long drink before looking at it with glassy eyes.

 

Irwin sighed, not sure what to say, so he focused on eating his new food. As hungry as he was, even his new card-gifted aptitude couldn't deal with all the food they had brought, and eventually, they were all munching on some small bits of bacon.

 

When everyone was yawning, Greldo got up somewhat unsteadily. "Let's go. I'm tired," he said, prodding Olban until he woke up.

 

Yes, because I need to combine my cards, Irwin thought, wondering if he could do so without the others noticing. Perhaps he could find a quiet place?

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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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