Amelia dreamt of her life on Earth.
She remembered my parents. Their faces were shadowed over. She couldn’t even recall the color of their hair. They spoke in distorted voices, and she sat at a large table as they smiled and laughed and gushed in excitement over her.
She remembered her friends. She didn’t remember their names. She couldn’t even remember what school she went to. She just knew she was a college freshman— she just knew that they welcomed her with open arms. She stood there as a young adult, hearing them call her name. But all she heard were echoes in the distance; bygone visions of the past.
It wasn’t a perfect life. However, it was enough for Amelia. She didn’t need much more than that. She was content.
And it was all taken away.
Her eyes grew wide as a cascading darkness fell upon Her. It consumed her family and her friends in an instant. Twisted tendrils reached out and yanked them into the shadows as their flesh rapidly rotted away and their bones turned to dust, snatching her old life away from her, and thrusting her into a broken world where her worst nightmares were now her reality.
It was like she had been thrown into the deepest depths of the ocean, drifting down as her senses were thrown into disarray, overcome with small, terrible presences. Like staring at a flower made of human teeth, or studying a hand made of a dozen fingers. It was just wrong.
And Amelia saw it. The Fractured Realm revealed itself before her very eyes. She spun around in a panic, but all she saw was the same cosmic web unfurling endlessly. No matter where she turned, no matter where she looked, she saw a world of distorted lines and impossible dimensions. An infinite Void that was all-consuming and all-powerful, spitting out depraved things that filled this broken place. They swarmed towards her, and the Voidgod’s voice boomed.
“You will never be able to live a normal life. You will never be able to see your family again. Your dreams… yOuR gReAteSt DEsiReS… THEY WILL NEVER BE FULFILLED!”
The Fractured Realm shook as the Voidgod spoke. The scintillating stars speckling the dark canvas all around Amelia twisted. They shifted, winking out of existence as something far more malevolent took their place.
Eyes. Millions of eyes. Billions or trillions, even. They filled the dome of darkness, their gaze bearing down on Amelia as she dropped to her knees. A cold gale swept over her as she shivered, and the Voidgod whispered.
“Your only hope for salvation is… me.”
And I opened my eyes. I groaned and sat up in bed. Massaging my temples, I glanced out of the window and murmured to myself.
“Ugh… how many hours did I sleep?” I pulled apart the blinds and saw— the night sky.
It was still dark. The sun wasn’t even close to rising yet.
I sighed and shut the blinds to my windows before falling back asleep.
When I woke up next, my throat was utterly parched. I clambered out of bed and crawled to my bag to grab a drink of water. With my thirst quenched, I huddled underneath my blanket and went back to sleep.
“Fuck, why isn’t it morning yet?” I groggily rubbed my eyes as I saw the first vestiges of the sun making its way up the horizon.
I shook my head and covered my face with a pillow. Maybe I should have gotten out of bed. But I didn’t have a good night’s sleep. So once again, I succumbed to slumber.
This happened three more times before I finally mustered up enough energy to get out of bed. By the time I was fully awake, it was already afternoon. The sun was high in the sky, and I just barely managed to drag myself out of the inn to the Merchant’s Guild.
Today was the day I was going to get paid. Probably. It had been five days since I arrived here in Sudbury. I had explored pretty much everything I could in this city. It was larger than Windrip, so there was more to do here.
But I was still bored as fuck.
The only thing I experienced that hadn’t been utterly dull to me was that dream I just had. And it annoyed me more than anything. I raised my head as I wandered down the streets of the city.
I wondered why I had that dream now of all times. I hadn’t thought much about the Fractured Realm ever since I escaped that nightmare. Perhaps it was because of that brief encounter with the leader of the Frenzied Five— Emory.
He had drawn the power of the Void to face me in battle. Obviously, he didn’t really stand a chance against me since he was still weaker than a voidbeast. But I did find it interesting that he was able to fight with the Void’s power regardless.
It meant he must’ve been with the Sect of the Abyssal Thorns. And considering that he was a member of the Miststorm Riders, that meant that those bandits were probably also aligned with the Sect of the Abyssal Thorns to a certain extent.
To what extent? I didn’t know. I didn’t really care, either. Maybe I should’ve cared more since this was the group that killed Noele’s sister, and the Void was… well, the Void.
But I didn’t really see a problem with it. The Void was always going to exist, and insane idiots were always going to be around too. I couldn’t destroy the Void, nor could I stop people from being either insane or idiotic or both.
I was going to bring it up to Noele next time I saw her. For now, I only had one plan in mind: getpaid.
“Welcome back, Ms Amelia,” the [Receptionist] greeted me as I entered the Merchant’s Guild. “I hope your stay at Sudbury has gone well.”
I just shrugged in response as I walked up to the counter. “Can I collect my payment yet?”
“Of course. [Lord] Salion and Guildmaster Victor have confirmed the authenticity of your feats. They have sent over the payment, and we have prepared it for you here.” The [Receptionist] got to her feet and ushered me to a private room.
I followed her, and the door closed behind us with a shimmer. Runes etched on the metal glowed. Likely an obfuscation spell of sorts to prevent eavesdropping. The [Receptionist] produced a small gilded treasure chest and slid it towards me. She opened the lid, nodding as she gestured at the coins inside.
“One-thousand-and-five-hundred gold coins. But that would be too hefty to transport here. So we have converted the gold to platinum instead,” she explained.
I peered into the box, staring at the platinum coins. It was supposed to be an incredibly large sum— it was far more than most people in Vacuos would earn in their lifetime.
Rural folks would barely earn a hundred to two hundred gold over the course of decades of work, while city folks tended to earn double or triple that. Of course, there were extreme exceptions. Wealthy people were always going to exist, and my understanding of Earth economics wasn’t going to be fully applicable here since this was a completely different world. But even my research wasn’t completely applicable all across the four continents, since wealth distribution often varied by continent, by country, by province, by city, by neighborhood, and even by household.
From what I read, I knew that the average dwarf living in the Ashoreim Republic in Alius had a higher average standard of living and higher average annual income than pretty much every nation in Laxo. But I also knew that the elves in Drazyl didn’t have as much of a thriving economy due to their communal lifestyle.
They had coin, yes. But it was scarcely used compared to Laxo and Alius— relatively speaking, of course— and that was why it was far more valuable than the gold propagated and used here. I probably could exchange each elven gold coin Grat-ra’zun gave me for two gold coins here in Sudbury, at the very least. Unfortunately, I had left the Bag of Holding behind at Brynn’s inn, and it wasn’t like I was in a rush to trade it in.
The sunken continent of Mare supposedly had a bartering economy, but that was rather outdated information from a century ago. Who knew how much things have changed since then, especially with their new ruler who struck back against the elves with a vengeance ten years ago?
Nevertheless, I knew that one-thousand-and-five-hundred gold coins was a lot. But when converted to platinum coins, it looked… underwhelming to say the least.
“Fifteen platinum coins,” the [Receptionist] said. “You can convert the platinum to gold at your local Merchant’s Guild if you inform them ahead of time.”
I stared at the glimmering white coins. They were rather large in size to distinguish them from an ordinary silver coin, and their metallic surface was very reflective in comparison. It was almost like peering into a circular mirror. And at the center of each coin was a small inscription— an enchanted etching that radiated the faintest hints of magic.
The [Receptionist] explained, “If someone doubts the authenticity of these coins, you can bring it to the Mage’s Guild, and they’ll be able to verify these markings with a specialized tool. So don’t worry about using or exchanging these coins as it is very hard to create a fraudulent platinum coin.”
I accepted the small treasure chest, closing it shut. It was about the size of the palm of my hand. I pocketed it and took a step back.
“Thank you,” I said with a polite smile.
“I would warn you to be careful carrying all that money around, but considering that you slew the Frenzied Five, there isn’t much you should be worried about,” the [Receptionist] chuckled, and I exited the room soon after.
I honestly thought I’d be happier.
I probably could retire from adventuring for good at this point. If I was ever in need of cash, I could probably just hop over to a nearby Adventurer’s Guild and complete an A-rank job or two. Either way, I didn’t need to worry about money ever again.
Yet, I didn’t really feel… much. I didn’t feel fulfilled, nor did I feel like I had taken a step closer to living a normal life. After all, my goal was never to be rich, was it?
I sighed. At least I can just buy a house and not have to deal with anything else ever again.
At least, that was what I thought. I decided to take a look at a few properties for sale— listings put up in the Merchant’s Guild. My eyes grew wide as I saw the prices.
“A fucking house costs what?”
I immediately amended my thoughts. Make sure to buy a house in the middle of nowhere. Cities are way too expensive for me.
With that in mind, I finally left Sudbury and made my way back to Windrip.
“Boss! Boss! Boss—” a voice exclaimed.
Odell opened his eyes and grunted. “I heard you the first time, Ray.”
Ray came to a halt as he stood by the doorway, and Odell sat up in the creaky wooden chair. Shaking his head, the so-called boss let out a heavy sigh as he leaned against a large table.
“What is it?” he asked.
“Emory and the rest of the Frenzied Five have been killed! They say an unranked adventurer did it!” Ray said hurriedly. “What should we do?”
Odell frowned, rubbing his chin. “That’s… convenient.”
“Convenient?” Ray blinked. “What do you mean by that, boss? Shouldn’t we hunt down this adventurer?”
“No,” Odell said as he shook his head. The [Bandit Boss] got to his feet and stretched his back. “We stick to the original plan. Emory got himself killed because he refused to follow orders. We’ll use his death to our advantage. Bolster our morale, and silence the dissidents in our ranks. His foolishness has given us a reason to burn down half the Astrad Kingdom.”
Ray shrank back. The young man was one of the few who knew about the Sect of the Abyssal Thorns. But he was new to it all, and as expected, nervous about the whole ordeal.
But Odell wasn’t. “Ready the rest of the Miststorm Riders,” he said simply.
He had been a member of the Sect of the Abyssal Thorns for ten years now. In fact, the only reason he was able to grow his bandit group to its current size and reputation was thanks to their aid and their resources. Planting his hands firmly on the table, he swept his gaze over a detailed map of the Astrad Kingdom and continued.
“Tomorrow, we strike Westwend. Then the day after, Lullin.” He listed out their targets as he traced a finger, marking their path of fury across the western parts of the unassuming nation over the course of the next two weeks. “After that, Skystead, Bellwind, Sunwater, Whiteridge…”
His lips twisted as Ray nodded. The [Bandit Boss]— the leader of the Miststorm Riders— smiled as he raised his head and finished..
“Tomorrow, we ride, and the Astrad Kingdom shall burn.”
“Yes boss!” Ray exclaimed.
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