A note from Carrarn

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He didn't even look into the room, Irwin thought as he quickly followed the guard, his boots in hand. It took him only a few moments to sense the changes the body tempering had brought him, as he had a much easier time keeping up. He was still out of breath by the time the guard stopped in front of an intricately crafted door with a beautifully crafted handle, but at least he'd not had to ask for a break.


There was also something else that he knew… he needed a thicker coat. He couldn't recall that the tower had felt this cold. Luckily, it was nothing compared to the cold of before, and he guessed a coat should be enough. Perhaps he could buy one with the coppers Bronwyn had gifted him?


"Alright, put on your boots and go inside. Oh, and make sure to act like you are talking with the most important people you've ever met, who can make or break your life in an instant. Because you are," the guard grunted.


Irwin looked at the boots, his shoulders dropping. "They don't fit after I combined my cards," he finally said honestly, getting a surprised grunt from the guard.


"... that won't do," he finally grumbled, moving towards Irwin and sticking out his hand. "Give them."


Unsure what was happening, Irwin handed his boots over, and the man stepped away, raising his left hand. With a flash, a long gleaming sword appeared as he put the boots forward. With a single, quick slash, he slashed away the front toe area, which clattered to the floor.


Irwin's mouth fell open as he accepted the boots.


"Now, put those on and make sure to use their titles when addressing them!"


"I will," Irwin said, still startled. He sat down and put on the boots, staring dumbly at his dirty toes as they stuck out from the open end. As he got up, he wanted to thank the guard, but the man was already stomping away, his sword gone.


Right… I guess I'll need to find a way to determine who is nice and who isn't here, Irwin thought as he sighed. It was almost the same as back in school. Some people looked gruff but were willing to help, while others looked and talked nice but would find you after school to beat you up.


"You coming in, or are you waiting for an invitation?" a loud roar came through the door.


Irwin flinched, looked at the door, wondered if he should knock, then swallowed and opened the door. A large area sat behind it, with a heavy-looking table with a half dozen chairs in front of a library with more books than he'd seen in one place before.


There had to be hundreds!


The shelves were packed with leatherbound, wood-bound, and some sort of gleaming metal-bound tomes, from two fingers to a hand width thick. The leftmost shelf had a wooden sign with a word and the image of a flexing man on it. Irwin took two steps towards it when someone loudly cleared their throat.


"Are you interested in books, Irwin?" Lady Yrintha asked, staring at him from one of the padded chairs that he somehow hadn't noticed to the side of the library area. A round table stood between it and another, two open books on it.


Irwin felt his ears burn as he saw her and Moulder stare at his feet for a moment before turning to look at him. The tower master had a pulsing vein on his forehead that seemed like a snake trying to free itself from his skin.


"Sorry," he said, his voice cracking. "I-"


"Yes, books are nice. Great. Now, sit your ass down and tell me how you managed to finish number eighteen!" Moulder snarled as he jabbed his finger at a small stool opposite the two sorcerers.


Irwin froze, then slowly moved towards it, his mind spinning. He'd forgotten to come up with a good reason. What should he tell them? Speaking about Ambraz seemed like a bad idea. As he reached the chair and sat down, he decided he'd simply explain about the tower, the tunnel, the massive lair, and the snake in the lava. As he finished his thoughts, he looked up to see Lady Yrintha looking at him with a raised eyebrow.


"You are allowed to speak about this to us," she said. "But I suggest you don't lie. We will send another group of common-carded in as soon as it reopens to verify. We have a few that are up for their reward."


"Wait, they will still get a card?" Irwin blurted out, confused. Did that mean he would get cards for all of the training rooms he'd clear? Wait… could he even clear more?


"Yes, the next group will validate your claims and find a route to clear the room. For this, and the first clear, there is a reward of one common card," Lady Yrintha said solemnly. Beside her, Moulder seemed to be fuming.

"Don't ignore me, brat! How did you clear that thing? We've had people attempt it for years, and they never got anywhere," Moulder said, almost shouting.


"Leave out the tunnels, the Orks, and all that," Lady Yrintha said, scowling at Moulder before throwing Irwin a cold smile.


"Ah… yes, okay, Lady Yrintha," Irwin shuddered before taking a deep breath and focusing on his story. "We made it to the central cavern-"


Slowly he told the story, answering their questions on how they'd overcome the mass of Imps in the city. As they kept asking questions, he hoped they would let off a bit at the final bit of his story. When he got to the part where he had to flee due to his poor health, wandering through the hallways and eventually finding the dead end, the tower Lord almost rose from his seat with a hiss.


"And you don't remember how you got there?" Moulder snapped, glaring at him as if he was holding something back.


"No, Lord Moulder," Irwin said quickly.


"Do you think you can find that dead-end again if you went in again?" Lady Yrintha asked, surprising Irwin with the warmth in her voice.


"I don't think so," Irwin said as he felt the blood drain from his face at the idea of having to enter that horrible place again. He knew full well he had to enter a real portal soon and that he was stronger than before, but having to head there again? Besides, Ambraz wouldn't want to come with him… where would the Anvil go?


"Calm down, kid," Moulder grunted. "It's fine if you don't want to. We've got a full party that can enter, and-"


"And what? We had those ruins turned inside out, maps and all," Lady Yrintha interrupted him. "Nobody found anything remotely like what he just said!"


"Maps?" Irwin whispered, only just able to keep the anger he felt rushing up from his tone. They had maps and still send him and the others in like this?


"Ah! Perhaps the kid can recognize it on the maps!" Moulder shouted as he jumped up and stomped to the door. He yanked it over and shouted into the seemingly empty hallway to bring him the maps of training room eighteen. He slammed the door shut and nearly ran back to his chair, sinking in and waving at Irwin.




Irwin nodded and told them how he had walked down the long, curving path with his flame lighting his way. He wasn't going to tell them he had night vision, as his common wasn't supposed to give that. When he got to the massive cavern with molten rock everywhere and the insane temperature, both sorcerers shared a look.


"So, it's one of Gelwin's elemental practice portals after all," Lady Yrintha said. "The Imps were a giveaway, but as nobody found any…" She turned to Irwin. "Irwin, your card is a flame, you said?"


Irwin had been wondering what she meant with elemental practice portals, flinched, then nodded. "Yes, Lady Yrintha, it was only a finger long back then."


"Perhaps…" she mumbled, then shook her head. "No matter. That's for another time. Continue."


Irwin did as ordered, talking about the giant snake, but leaving out that it had sniffed him, finally telling the first real lie. "Behind the Imp was a rock, and around it hung a chain with a red multi-faceted gem," Irwin said, making sure not to look away, which was the telltale sign of lying. He knew because his mother always chastised him for that. And for scratching his nose. He instantly felt an itch, and it took more willpower than he had thought to resist scratching it.


"No guards?" Mouldir asked, confused.


"Yes, a big imp with wings like the one above but bigger. About three times as high as me," Irwin said.


"And… you beat it with your flame?" Mouldir scoffed with a raised eyebrow.


"No, the snake ate it," Irwin said with a shrug.


"It what now?" Moulder shouted. "Who are you-"


"Lord Moulder, calm yourself," Lady Yrintha whispered. "Irwin, how did the snake come about eating it?"


"The Imp attacked me, and I fled to the narrow ledge… and…" Irwin hesitated. Should he tell them he was about to kill himself out of fear of being tortured?"


"Spit it out," Mouldir said.


"I poked it with my flame while jumping back in the lava…" Irwin whispered.


"Why would you do that?" Lady Yrintha asked, this time with a sad, knowing smile.


"Because I didn't want the Imp to capture and torture me," Irwin said softly.


"Understandable," Lady Yrintha said. "So, what happened then?"


Irwin told them, and again Mouldir exploded, to be calmed by Lady Yrintha.


"So… and then you destroyed the gem and finished?"


"No, Lady Yrintha," Irwin said, scrambling for more ideas. "I couldn't damage it and decided to remove the chain, so I could put it in the lava… it took a long time, but eventually I melted one of the links with my flame, and then the portal suddenly appeared…"


"Oh! So it was the chain," Mouldir said, standing up and pacing around the table, fists clenched. "I get the feeling you're either lying or not telling us everything," he said after a while. "But when the others validate what you said, we'll find out… If I find out that you lied to me, kid," his eyes turned cold.


A knock on the door interrupted him, and Irwin was relieved when a guard moved in with a rolled-up map, distracting Mouldir. He was called over, and Lady Yrintha joined them in looking at the incredibly complex but highly beautiful map. One part represented the three pillars with the attached buildings, each with dozens of floors. It took Irwin a few minutes to figure out where they had entered the city, and he pointed at the building he thought he had entered.


"I think I entered that one," he said, staring at it for a bit longer before nodding with more certainty. "Yes, it's that one. The Imp jumped from the top!"


"That matches with the report," Lady Yrintha said as she tapped the long letter attached to the map.


Irwin looked at the letters, noting they were different from those on the card pages he had seen but just as unreadable. He looked away, slightly annoyed and, for some reason feeling bad that he couldn't read them.


"Can you read, Irwin?" Lady Yrintha asked softly.


"No, Lady Yrintha," Irwin said.


She was quiet for a while, staring at him before nodding resolutely. "Alright. If you manage to survive tomorrow, find librarian Bellemui. I'll tell him to teach you, and probably a few dozen others, how to read. If you are to become sorcerers, we can't have you illiterate."


Irwin smiled as he looked at the hundreds of books around him. Perhaps if he could read, he would be allowed to look at them?


"Get that out of your head, kid," Mouldir snapped. "These books hold the knowledge you're not ready for and probably never will be. Now! Go away. You need to sleep, and we need to discuss what you told us." The burly tower lord jabbed a finger at the door, which opened, showing a guard.


"Bring him to his room, and make sure he stays there," Mouldir snapped before turning to Irwin. "If I find you have lied, you better hope you get killed tomorrow."


Irwin swallowed as the much taller man stared him down, then nodded and quickly backed up to the door.


"Good luck, Irwin," Lady Yrintha said.


"Thank you," Irwin whispered before quickly stepping out and closing the door.


The female guard, one he hadn't seen yet, looked at him for a moment, then beckoned him. "Follow me then. You aren't the only one tired," the woman said in a pleasant, soft voice.


Ten minutes later, Irwin returned to the hallway with his door, noting there was a slightly odd, burnt scent in it. The guard sniffed, looking around in confusion before stopping at his door.


"As Lady Yrintha said, good luck tomorrow," she said before nodding at him and walking away.


Irwin sighed, opening the door, finally realizing how tired he was. A soft snoring came from the others, and he saw they were all fast asleep. To his surprise, Twintin's bed seemed empty, then he saw two shapes in Rachel's bed, and he nodded as he walked to his own.


As he sat down, a soft rustling made him look up to see Greldo stare at him, rubbing his eyes and raising himself up on an elbow. "You okay?"


"Yeah, I'm fine," Irwin said as he raised his hand with a grin. "Managed to combine my cards, so let's hope it helps tomorrow."


Greldo yawned, gave him a thumbs up, then lay back down. A second later, soft snoring came.


Did he wait for me? Irwin thought in wonder as he looked at the other boy, only his unkempt hair sticking up from his pillow and below the blanket. Kicking off his mutilated boots, he hesitated but only took off his coat and dropped it in a pile before climbing below the blankets. As dirty as his pants and shirt were, he was still slightly cold.


As the blankets wrapped around him, he had a nagging feeling he was forgetting something, but then his head warmed the pillow and his body the bed, and he didn't think of anything anymore.




Soft talking woke Irwin, and he felt warm and comfortable. He stretched his slightly sore legs and rolled over on his other side with a content sigh. His body felt better than it had in a while, and he was a two-carded! He could hardly believe it. A week ago, he had been hoping for a miracle, and now he had two and would grow beyond his previous small-statured, weak-bodied, bleak future.


If we survive the portal, at least, he thought. Slowly the content sensation faded as he realized he'd be forced to enter a portal today and might die..


"Irwin, you awake?"


Greldo's soft call made Irwin wonder if he should answer or pretend to be sleeping.


"We need to head downstairs soon for breakfast, and then… then we have to go to the portal."


Irwin took a deep breath, clenching his left fist as he focused on both his cards. Their presence felt oddly like another body part, a finger or toe, that he could move if he wanted to. His flame card, he couldn't get himself to think of it as Fire-Sensitive Body, was the clearest of the two, like a finger easily usable, while the other was more like his ear. He could move it if he focused only on the card, but it still wasn't easy.


He sat up and pushed the blankets from his body, instantly feeling the cold air of the room pass over him, and he shuddered. That's going to take some getting used to, he thought, when another struck him. Perhaps it wouldn't be that bad being a smith! He'd get to stay close to a roaring fire most of the day!




He pushed the blankets away and jumped out of bed, getting a glimpse of the others sitting on and standing around Daubutim's bed. Then he reached for his jacket and quickly put it on, gently patting his inner pocket.


"Thanks a lot."


The whispered snort of Ambraz was too soft for the others to hear, but Irwin sighed in relief before scolding himself for just dropping the coat and the Anvil on the ground. What if someone had wanted to steal his coins? Shivering at the idea and his cold feet, he gazed at his boots. He didn't want to wear them, but what other option was there?


Perhaps I can get some boots before we go into the portal, he thought as he quickly put on his boots before walking to the others.


"What happened to your…" Twintin began before giggling loudly. A second later, Rachel and Olban were laughing too, and Irwin sighed as he shrugged at Greldo. His friend only gave his boots a single glance before inspecting Irwin, his eyes widening.


"So, you've got a second card?" Olban asked, his voice going up two octaves before cracking halfway into the question.


"Yes," Irwin said as he stood at the end of the bed next to Greldo. A quick look sideways showed he was now just as tall as his friend, meaning he'd grown at least an inch during the tempering. He was still short, but at least he was growing in the right direction.


"Good… wanna share a bit about it?" Rachel asked, and Irwin saw that everyone, even Daubutim, was staring at him with interest. It made sense. He was now the only one of them with two cards. He thought for a second, then decided it probably couldn't hurt to tell them about the body improvement part.


"It's a body improvement card," he said. "Not a single type one, but it should help with where we are going."


There was a round of sighs and congratulations, which he had expected. Body improvement cards were always a good thing to have at least one of.


"So, they didn't give you an uncommon then," Olban said with a sigh.


"Course they didn't! He wouldn't have been able to join us into a common portal then," Greldo said, shaking his head.


"I know that!" Olban snapped. "But he might have just come here because he had to sleep and then tell us he wouldn't be coming?"


There was a stunned silence, and Irwin didn't know what to say. He'd played with the idea… but he was here now. He still wasn't sure if it was the right choice.


"Well, he is here, so that means we need to figure out what to do," Greldo said.


"What do you mean?" Irwin asked.


"We've been trying to come up with a plan on what to do to survive the portal," Rachel said as she sighed and hugged Twintin, who was leaning into her like a kitten. "I've told them what I remember, and we were just coming up with strategies on how to survive."


Irwin nodded, surprised and slightly annoyed that they hadn't woken him up before, and something must have shown on his face.


"He wouldn't let us wake you," Olban said, pointing at Greldo. "Something about you needing your sleep!"


Irwin looked over and saw Greldo nod resolutely. "When you came back, it was the middle of the night, and you'd not even had any rest after exiting the training portal."


Irwin couldn't help smiling, then nodding. "Thanks," he said. "Now, how about you tell me what you've discussed, and perhaps I can help."


"Alright," Greldo said, clenching his fist and returning the grin. "Let's make sure we ram through that portal and get a second card!"


A third, Irwin thought, as he listened to Greldo explain what they had gone over.



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About the author


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.


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

On 01-08-2022, "Nothing But Bones 3: The Lethargy", released on Amazon and Kindle unlimited!

On 21-07-2021, "Nothing But Bones: Undead AI: Part 1", released on Amazon and Kindle unlimited!

On 16-04-2021, "Nothing But Bones 2: The Chaos Rifts", released on Amazon and Kindle unlimited!

On 14 May 2020, "Nothing But Bones 1: The Wasteland", released on Amazon and Kindle unlimited!

On 10 September 2020, "Again and Again", released on Amazon and Kindle unlimited!

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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