Life’s Dream made contact with the scribe. A gruff voice spoke into the mind of a dwarven man who stood amidst the slaughter outside the city. Like everyone else, he wore only the most basic of clothes, having not been able to upgrade yet, instead investing in a large axe he carried over his shoulder. However, there was still something odd about the man.

As he walked through the fields outside the city, nobody got in his way. It wasn’t simply his reputation that made them wary of him, but also the blindfold wrapped around his eyes. Even with it, he walked calmly, swinging his axe towards anything that got within his reach. It was clear that he had picked up a skill that enabled him to fight in this manner, or perhaps it was just his natural combat instincts.

Did she make her move yet? The dwarf responded mentally, keeping his attention focused. He could hear every footstep within half a dozen meters of himself clearly, and turned towards the sounds of skittering steps.

Not personally. She should still be at the hunting grounds. One of the halflings acted for her. As the message came through, he lifted his axe, his body slowly rotating. When he brought his arm down, it moved across his torso, waiting for the apex of his spin to shoot outward like a whip. He could feel the crunch of bone beneath his blade, and knew that he had slain his target.

As he knelt down to loot the rat, he felt an absence of the usual currency. A grimace spread over his face as he thought someone might have stolen from him, until he felt a slender length of gnarled wood beneath his fingers. No more than six inches long, it was clearly a wand. A rare drop, if he had to guess. Send someone by to pick an item up from me, I need to get it appraised. As for the scribe, keep watching. If they take him in, then there’s nothing we can do about him. Otherwise, you know the drill.

Of course. I’ll dispatch someone right away. The two of them knew that while they did not truly fear Life’s Dream, there were some lines that they didn’t cross. They could be the tyrants of solo players to rope them in and breed loyalty in them with benefits. However, if they targeted an established group, they would only be inviting a heavy backlash, both from the target group and their own members.

Make the members beholden to the group, and they will fight for you. This was the first meaning of their guild name. The other had to do with a special skill that some of their members focused on, as much as they could in any game that they played. It was why the dwarf wore his blindfold, having long since learned how to discern his surroundings by sound alone.

When the eyes of the beholder open, the festival of blood begins.

Dale, you really scared me, you know? Nuado’s voice came through only a few minutes after the halfling left me. It was easy to spot the similarities between her tone and Udona’s, once I knew what to look for. I mean, I wasn’t sure if you were going to reveal yourself or not, I didn’t know what to do!

I gave a light chuckle as I heard that, sitting in my inn room. Sorry about that. I’m keeping a low profile for now. Once my activity becomes suspicious, I’ll reveal who I am. So… Hikikomori Fox, huh?

Yeah, well… it was the only thing I could think of that I knew for sure you’d recognize as me, without letting anything slip. But what’s this about you needing a workshop? Do you not have your Keeper privileges in this world?

Apparently not. I shook my head, glancing towards my skill list, which only included the Inscription skill that I had started with. Looks like Sarah wasn’t lying. She set these games up so that she’d be able to play as just a normal player. If I want to have my Keeper abilities, I have to use the admin account.

That makes sense. Nuado responded after a moment of thought, though she seemed a bit distracted. I’ll look into getting you your workshop. From the looks of things, we aren’t going to be staying in this city too long, though. We’re going to have to move out in order to secure better hunting grounds.

I gave a small nod of understanding. Honestly, most players would begin to fan out pretty soon. There was only so much that they could do in the three starter cities, and only so much room to go around. That’s fine. I should be able to keep up the production until I need to fast forward again, or get my chakra going. Does this game have a mailing system in place for us to trade through?

It does, but only between main cities. But you’re going for the ninja path again? Guess that means you don’t plan to stay a crafter forever.

I could hear the amusement in her tone at that, my lips tugging upwards. I think I like crafting a bit, it’s easy money for now. But yeah, I plan to learn how to use ki soon. According to the general store, it costs half a silver to learn a basic skill from an NPC. I’m almost halfway there now.

Why not join my guild, then? Her sudden question caught me by surprise, leaving me unable to respond for a long moment. I don’t mean to put you in charge of it or anything. But if you join Life’s Dream, you’ll always have a group to play with.

I don’t think I really align with your guild’s focus, do I? I’m way more of a filthy casual.

Nuado let out a light laugh at that, carried over the message. We’re all casuals to some degree, Dale! But no, our focus is on exploring and learning whatever new information we can about any game we play. I suppose you could call us lore addicts. And with your identity, who would be able to explore more of this world than you yourself?

I’ll… think about it. I remarked casually. For the time being, I didn’t have any immediate plans to join any powers. Once Tsubaki was done with her training of the invasion army, I intended to team up with her and Hela to explore for a while.

No rush. We literally have all the time in the world. For now, I’ll look into getting you your workshop. As long as you continue making enough items in it for us to cover the regular fees, we can keep it maintained. We might even be able to upgrade you to an automated workshop, eventually.

Okay, questions for later. Apparently, there was a way to automate crafting in workshops, which was good to know. But, given that there was no real magic involved in drawing the scrolls, it made sense. It would basically just be a modified printing press. Of course, ingredients would still need to be provided for the ink, at the very least.

Either way, it was time for me to get back to work. If I can continue making medium quality scrolls, then it would only take me another five scrolls before I could afford to get my ki skill. Thankfully, five scrolls were easy to make, and it was only a matter of time.

After finishing the one I was working on and moving back towards the general store, I noticed the halfling had been waiting for me outside the inn. She gave a polite wave before walking alongside me, not really saying anything. It gave off the feeling that she was playing the role of my escort or bodyguard. Maybe to ward off that other guild, show them that I was under their ‘protection’?

It didn’t matter much what their reasons were. All that I needed to know was that she wasn’t bothering me with my work. So, when I arrived at the store, I ordered enough supplies to make five more scrolls. This way, I’d still have a bit of change left over after getting my ki skill.

Thankfully, I quickly learned that it was easy for me to make a medium quality scroll, so long as I followed along with the pattern. I couldn’t be sure if I could unlock an even higher quality by improvising my own rules, or just continuing to grind out this one method. Maybe the direction that I draw the lines could influence the quality, as well as their order. It might even be better to go at specific speeds.

Thoughts for later. I muttered inwardly with a shake of my head. Finishing off the five scrolls had been equally easy, and left me with a good chunk of copper. Once I left, I saw Jessex raising an eyebrow at me. We had added each other to our friends lists while walking back and forth. “Not making any more right now?”

“Going to learn a new skill.” I answered quietly. “Any chance that you know where the monk trainer is?”

“Huh? Oh, sure… wait, no, not really.” She seemed a bit confused at first, making it obvious that Nuado hadn’t told her about my plans. “I take it you’re done with crafting for the night?”

“Unless I want to test out how one of my scrolls work in actual combat.” Seeing as she didn’t know where to go, I received directions from a guard. Apparently, there were several trainers that could teach players how to use their ki, so I went with the closest one.

What I ultimately found after following the directions given was an elderly demon with wrinkled skin, the skin of his wings torn in several areas. By demonic standards, he looked like a cripple, leaning against the side of his house with a long staff in his hand. Even his eyes seemed to be failing, looking incredibly clouded.

I couldn’t tell if this was Vivi’s design, or maybe this character was a war veteran. Either way, I approached him and offered a polite bow. “Excuse me, sir, but I would like to learn how to activate my ki.”

His head turned towards me, his eyes briefly growing clearer before he held out his hand. When he spoke, it was with a raspy tone, as if he had been without food or water for too long. “Fifty… coppers, please.”

I had expected the price, and immediately retrieved the coins from my inventory. To my surprise, the small copper coins that I had originally put in turned into five larger coins when I pulled them out. A display of an automatic currency converter, from the looks of things. I placed the coins in his hand and he nodded, pushing off from the wall.

I didn’t have the ability to sense ki yet, but I could see how he had activated his. His posture straightened, his eyes clearing. He still leaned heavily on his staff, but it looked like it was more out of habit than need. Only his voice remained as dry as it had been before. “In order to channel your ki, you must look inside yourself. Find the wellspring of power, and call upon it.”

Before I could do as he instructed, his staff suddenly swept up in a quick movement. The tip of it pressed against my chest, and I felt the warm, familiar energy of ki push into me from his staff, guiding me towards my own. I latched onto the sensation, even though I already had an idea where to look from my real life experiences.

It didn’t take me long to find the low pulse of my own ki, hidden deep within my heart. And as I focused on it, it came to life.

Congratulations! You have received guidance on how to use a skill! Ki Control skill has been unlocked at level 1!

I offered a polite bow to the man, before looking down at my fists. At level two, I had only fifteen points of ki, but I wasn’t sure how a single point in this game compared to what I was used to. What I did know was that I would need to train this skill before I was able to use it in combat, and to do so I had to move back to my inn room.

Making my way through the town, I once more caught sight of the demonic ‘talent scout’ that had tailed me earlier, but I paid him no mind. He seemed content to watch from a distance, so I was going to let him.

When I was back in my room, I immediately sat down, cross legged on the floor. Anyone who practiced ki outside of the game would know that the first step to true mastery was to establish a ki path. I just happened to have access to the most advanced ki path of anyone in the world.

If only I was able to actually use it… there was no way to automatically create my ki path that I knew about, so I had to do it the hard way. By grabbing a small wisp of ki, and slowly channeling it throughout my right arm. With how weak the energy currently was, I wasn’t confident in creating a path that spanned my entire body, and instead chose to start by enhancing a single limb.


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