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A note from Carrarn

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

Again, a special thanks to: RaodinMorhTooLucid, Elaborate for pointing out things for me to fix and improve! Thanks a lot!

Also thanks to everyone else for the feedback and kind words! Its very motivating!

Irwin turned and ran further into the building, pulling Greldo with him. He heard the growling and padding grow louder and closer behind him. Greldo pulled free, running with him.

 

Ahead, Daubutim was up, club and shield in hand, as he stared at the door. His jaw was clenched, and his eyes wide. Irwin saw a glimpse of fear in them. Twintin stood two steps away, shuddering as she pushed herself against the wall as if trying to go through.

 

Before he reached them, the building shook as something slammed into it. Twintin screeched, and Irwin turned to see a massive head poking into the building, staring at them, while the stone around the entrance was cracked and crumbling from the impact. The red irises in the hound's eyes were glowing and pulsing, while thin red tendrils of red leaked from them into the white of the eyeballs. The hound backed up, then slammed its shoulders into the building again, causing a violently cracking sound as a tear ripped through the left wall, bits of debris raining down.

 

"What now?" Daubutim asked, his voice stable but a pitch higher than usual.

 

Irwin stared at the hound. Was it his imagination, or did it look hungry?

 

"Twintin, try your skill!' Greldo shouted.

 

The girl didn't respond, staring wide-eyed and pale-faced at the hound.

 

Irwin stepped forward, grabbed her, and shook her, causing her teeth to rattle together.

 

"Try your card," he said, panic growing.

 

"It won't work," Twintin cried, but she turned, raised her hand, and the blue glow appeared.

 

Irwin watched, hoping she was wrong, then felt his hope shatter as the hound showed no reaction. It pulled back and slammed its shoulders into the doorframe again. A large chunk broke off and crashed into the ground.

 

"Your flame?" Greldo asked, his eyes reflecting the panic Irwin felt.

 

He gulped as he saw the dozens of white teeth glittering in the hound's mouth. "It'll bite me if I get too close," he said.

 

"I'll block it," Daubutim stated a slight tremor in his voice.

 

Irwin stared at the hound, and the prospect of going up to it and using its flame terrified him. He took a deep, shuddering breath as he looked around. "He's right. If that thing gets in here, it's going to be even worse for us."

 

"This is your fault! We should have left," Twintin cried as she pointed at Daubutim. She was breathing hard, tears running down her face. Her card flashed for a moment, then she turned and ran to the nearby stairs.

 

Irwin watched her leave and, for a moment, thought about following her. Then he recalled how the other building had come down, and he looked at the new set of cracks in the walls.

 

"I'll head in first, and as soon as it bites at me, you flame it," Daubutim said as he stepped forward.

 

Irwin turned to Greldo, who was as white as a sheet and looked at him. "There's nothing I can do, but I'll try and distract it if it turns to you."

 

Irwin nodded, and they walked after Daubutim.

 

The hound had stopped, its pupils narrowing as it gazed at Daubutim. As the boy came closer, Irwin suddenly saw a slight confusion in the hound's eyes. He'd seen it when he was handling Bullwinkel's hounds.

 

Perhaps It'll leave? he thought as he watched Daubutim raise his shield, now a mere ten feet from the entrance.

 

The hound opened its maw and let out a blood-curdling roar.

 

"Get ready," Daubutim shouted, and Irwin ran to the side wall.

 

With his shoulder to the wall, he felt the tremors from the hounds' pressure. A thick sulfur smell wafted towards him as he moved within jumping distance of the hound. The hound turned its gaze to him, and he froze as he saw the hunger.

 

It snapped back to Daubutim, who raised his shield and stepped forward. The hound reacted so fast that Irwin barely had time to blink as the head blurred. A loud thud came as Daubutim was knocked back, his shield ripped from his arm. The dog was chewing on it as it glared at Daubutim, who was lying stunned on the ground.

 

Too fast! Irwin looked at Daubutim who got up, staring at him but not saying a word. Thick streams of blood ran down his arm, and he raised his hand. A glow came and a startled grunt from the dog as the shield vanished from its mouth to reappear, unscathed, on Daubutim's arm.

 

"Again," the boy said, his voice sharp and clear, just like it sometimes became.

 

Irwin nodded, took a deep breath, and focused on the hound that was growling at Daubutim. As he saw Daubutim step forward from the corner of his eye, he moved. The hound's head blurred as his hand reached for it. His flame touched the hound's neck at the same time as it collided with Daubutim, and the hound froze with its teeth around the edge of the shield as Daubutim thudded on the ground again.

 

Irwin pressed his fingers against the side of the hound. The rough hairs almost punctured his skin as his flame grew wider. For a moment, he thought it had worked. Then the hound slowly turned towards him, the shield between its teeth. The hair where Irwin's flame touched was turning gray as if the color was draining from it.

 

"Don't let go!" Greldo shouted as Irwin was about to back up.

 

"It's not working," he replied, then he realized he was wrong. Yes, the hound was moving, but its slowness wasn't because it was deliberate! Every motion it made seemed slow and forced. The hound let out an angry whine.

 

Irwin jumped as a cacophony of howling came from outside, followed by grunts of pain. With the large hound blocking the way, it was impossible to see what was happening, but he heard pained grunts and panting moving closer.

 

"They are coming to help it," he said, keeping his attention on the hound. Its nose was moving towards him, and the shield dropped with a clatter. The hate in the red eyes was burning, and as the mouth inched closer, razor-sharp teeth bared, Irwin felt fear grow.

 

"It's not fast enough," he shouted.

 

He'd barely said something when Greldo appeared next to him and, with gritted teeth, gripped the lower jaw. A hissing sound came as the stench of burning meat wafted from him. Greldo let out a whimper but didn't let go. As his hand glowed blue, showing he activated his card, he struggled to push back the jaw. It barely helped, then Daubutim appeared next to him. He grabbed Greldo's shoulders and yanked him back, causing the boy to hang taut between the hound and Daubutim. A strangled growl came from the hound as his head was slowly pulled away from Irwin.

 

"Keep going," Greldo growled, his face pale and sweaty.

 

Irwin focused on his flame, wishing he could somehow make it stronger. The gray color was spreading further away from his hand, now crawling up the hound's jaw. Angry and pained growls came from behind the hound, but its massive body was blocking the others from entering.

 

Seconds passed by, Daubutim's arms shaking as he continued to hold the hound at bay. Finally, a sigh came from the hound, and its head snapped back, its constant resistance gone as it slumped down. Irwin sank to the ground with it, keeping his hand on the now mostly gray side.

 

Daubutim let go, causing Greldo to thud onto the ground with a pained grunt. His hands ripped free of the hound's jaw, and Irwin saw the blackened palms, slivers of flesh ripped free.

 

An area behind the now sprawling dog became visible, and a smaller version jumped on its bigger brethren. It was moving stiffly and slowly.

 

"I'll keep them away until it's dead," Daubutim shouted as his club and shield appeared in his hands. Seemingly without fear, he stepped up the large hound's head, striking at the incoming hound. Irwin expected it to dodge, and it tried, but the shadows seemed to weaken it so much that Daubutims hit struck it square on the side of its head. It was knocked away, sliding back out of sight, only to be replaced by another hound.

 

Four hounds later, Irwin felt his hand suddenly push forward. The hairs and hide that had turned completely gray crumbled under his touch, and a wheezing sigh came from the hound. Its pupils dulled, the burning fire gone. Daubutum let out a strangled shout as the head of the hound suddenly collapsed in a cloud of gray particles.

 

Where's the Linchpin? Irwin thought as he searched around, wiping the thick dust away. Suddenly his hands touched something hard and square, and he pulled them back to reveal another card, common and with a tiny hound on the cover. A summon! He almost placed it in without thinking, then held back.

 

"Ambraz, where is the Linchpin?" he shouted, looking at the Anvil. The ground shuddered, cracks ripping through the surrounding walls. Startled cries from outside, and he heard the hounds run away.

 

"The hound was the linchpin," Ambraz shouted. "We need to get out of here before this shard world's portal relocates!"

 

"It what?" Irwin shouted, but he was already up and beside Greldo. The boy was shivering, his hands cusped before his chest and his eyes dull. "Daubutim, help me carry him!"

 

Something ran past him, and as he looked up, he saw Twintin rush through what remained of the cloud of gray dust, pulling a trail behind her. Before he could call out to her, Daubutim arrived, grabbing Greldo around the waist and lifting him. "Run!"

 

Irwin scrambled after Twintin.

 

Outside, the buildings were swaying, and he saw no dogs anywhere. He hoped they hadn't run to the portal. Silvery vines were hovering near some entrances, but the path to the portal seemed clear. Twintin was already halfway, her arm above her head against the sun, and he ran after her.

 

The ground continued to rumble, and when he reached the corner of the street, he saw the black portal flickering ominously.

 

"We have to hurry," Ambraz shouted, and Irwin turned to find Daubutim struggling after him. He hesitated, then waited for the other boy.

 

"Heavy," Daubutim gasped as Irwin put an arm below Greldo, trying to take some of the weight. It made running awkward, but Daubutim did move faster. Halfway across the square, Irwin saw Twintin disappearing inside.

 

"Have to be careful of her," Greldo muttered, his voice slurred.

 

"Yes, but later," Irwin said as they reached the portal. It was shivering, the edges flickering with bursts of red light.

 

"Wait for it to stabilize, then jump in," Ambraz said, landing on his shoulder. "If you jump in now, you might not arrive where you want."

 

Irwin gritted his teeth and waited. The world shook again, and in the distance, he heard a building collapse. Then the portal stilled for a moment.

 

"Now!' Ambraz snapped, and Irwin jumped forward, pulling the other two along.

 

The cold of the in-between hit him like a hammer, and he had a moment to look around the darkness. There was no sight of the tendrils or anything else, and then they were through.

 

A fresh, musky scent wafted over him as the cold receded slightly. Rain dripped on his head as he stumbled forward, almost falling as his foot slipped over the mud. There was no sight of Twintin, but small footsteps led away from the open area back to where he thought they had come from.

 

A high-pitched scream pierced the forest. For a second, he thought it was Twintin. Then he realized it came from behind them. He turned around, but besides the incredibly vibrant green colors of the forest, he saw nothing.

 

Daubutim stumbled to a patch of grass, gently putting Greldo down. Cradling his hands, Greldo had gone limp, his soft breathing the only indication he was still alive.

 

I hope Greldo survives, Irwin thought. He shivered again and summoned his flame, both for warmth and the sense of security it offered.

 

Daubutim quickly unwrapped his jacket from his waist and pulled it on. Then he stepped towards Irwin, his normal dull gaze replaced by one of resolve. "Decide," he said, looking intently at Irwin. "Are you coming with me to my father?"

 

Irwin blinked, hesitating.

 

The screams in the distance went up to a crescendo, then fell quiet. A thunderous roar of victory came, and Irwin paled.

 

"One of the other portals spit out a surge," Daubutim said, then swallowed. "We don't have much time."

 

"How are we even going there?" Irwin asked, looking around. Greldo had thought it was a good idea, and as he heard a distant scream, he made up his mind. Going back to the sorcerers meant trouble now that Twintin was out there. If she told them about Ambraz…

 

"So you are coming?" Daubutim said, suddenly smiling.

 

"Yes," Irwin nodded, and the tall boy grinned wide before turning to Greldo. "And him?"

 

"Greldo wanted to come too," Irwin said quickly.

 

"Good, then let's hope he survives the journey," Daubutim said as he walked back to the other boy. "Help me get him up."

 

Irwin wished he was strong enough for that, as Daubutim had both his club and the shield. If they got jumped, he'd be better able to defend them. Sadly, even if he could lift the other boy, there was no way he could carry him.

 

A few moments later, Daubutim was straining with Greldo in his arms, and they walked towards the forest edge. They had carefully put Greldo's jacket back on, though the boy's head was burning hot.

 

"How are we going to reach your father?" Irwin asked.

 

"We will have to walk to Esterdon Tower," Daubutim said. "Father has a contingent of carded there with at least one teleporter."

 

Irwin stumbled as he recalled the map they were made to learn back in school. He didn't know exactly where Wingnut was, but Esterdon was an old ruined city near the Swamps of Suffocation. If that tower was near the ruins… "How long will that take?" he asked.

 

"I don't know," Daubutim said. "From there to Wingnut is four days on horseback or carriage. I've never traveled on foot."

 

"Four days… we will never get there alive," Irwin whispered, looking at Greldo's unmoving form. "Do you even know how to get there?"

 

"Yes. Father made me memorize all the routes."

 

Irwin wondered what routes Daubutim meant with all when a dull roar sounded from ahead. They both froze midstep.

 

The raindrops that hit his flame sizzled loudly in the silence that lingered after.

 

"They are ahead of us," Irwin whispered. He turned to Daubutim. "Do you know another route?"

 

"Through the forest? No," the boy said, and he shook as another roar came from ahead. He turned pale, looking around with a frown as if trying to decide what to do.

 

Irwin looked at him, then shook his head. As much as he knew, Daubutim was lost when he had to think for himself. With Greldo out, that meant he had to decide. "Let's go see what is going on," he said. "Staying here is no option."

 

As they continued, he realized Ambraz was still on his shoulder, and he carefully picked the Anvil up, placing it in his pocket. As he did, his fingers touched the edge of the card the hound had dropped, and he blinked.

 

Should I slot it or not? He thought, thinking of his other two cards. A few weeks ago it would have been a no-brainer, but now? It took a while for the summons to grow, and they had little combat utility early on. Also, if it didn't get the gigantism skill, it would be near to useless until a year had passed. After a second, he pulled his hand back, leaving the card. He wasn't sure if he would use it yet, but he was definitely keeping it for now.

 

They continued through the forest, jumping at every sound while the rain increased to a thick torrent. Irwin could barely see the tree ahead of him, and the loud rainfall drowned out even the screams.

 

What had been a ten-minute walk in took them twice as long through the mud. The only upside for Irwin was that Daubutim wasn't any faster than he was now that he had to carry Greldo.

 

They didn't even notice when they reached the edge of the woods until they stepped from between the last trees. Streams of rainwater ran down into the lower regions, puddles filling up rapidly. The glow from his flame shone on it, and Irwin suddenly worried about who might see it. He hesitated for a moment, then turned it off, the cold, wet rain instantly chilling him and causing him to shiver.

 

He had lost any sense of direction as he looked around. "Do you know where to go?" he asked, his teeth chattering slightly.

 

"Yes," Daubutim grunted. "We have to travel along the right edge of the forest until we reach the Trevinour river, cross it, and continue across the Denlavi plains."

 

Irwin had no idea where the Denlavi plains were, but the Trevinous river ran from the north to the south part of the peninsula. It was said to be wide enough for ships. Perhaps this is a mistake, he thought as he looked at the other boy. How were they supposed to cross that? And even if they could, until recently, he had never been out of Malorin. Now he was going to travel across the peninsula?

 

A high-pitched scream came from somewhere down the slope before quickly being drowned out by the rain. As if that wasn't enough, everything suddenly lit up, and a few moments later, the ominous thunder of a fall storm vibrated his bones.

 

"We have no food, dry clothes, or camping equipment," he said, staring at Daubutim. "And Greldo needs medical help…"

 

"I can hunt for food until we reach the river, where we can fish," Daubutim stated with a shake of his head. "We won't die from the rain or the cold as long as your flame is around, and Greldo has a card now. He won't die that easily."

 

Irwin stared down the hill, and Daubutim stepped closer to him.

 

"If we stay here, we are going to get killed by whatever came from those portals. We can't help because we lack strength. The sorcerers are in Wingnut," he shook his head as if it was all as clear as day.

 

"You're right," Irwin finally muttered, hating it as it meant he'd be going even further away from home. Taking a deep sigh, he began walking along the forest.

 

I hope I'll see you again, ma, he thought, picturing his mother and brother back in their tiny little house. He'd always wished they had a bigger, more luxurious place, but right now, he wished he could just be there. Shaking it off, he squared his shoulders as much as he could.

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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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