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Forgotten Quest (Book # 1): LitRPG Fantasy
Forgotten Quest (Book # 1): LitRPG Fantasy
Forgotten Quest (Book # 1): LitRPG Fantasy
Электронная книга423 страницы6 часов

Forgotten Quest (Book # 1): LitRPG Fantasy

Автор Max Rik

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Immersion virtual reality doesn’t just exist, it thrives! Enter the world, filled with dragons, wizards and secrets. Game will exceed all expectations of fans.
You play your favorite online game, beware.
Playing in the forgotten chains of quest, our Hero opens access to characters and weapons that are no longer in the modern game. But is he ready for what awaits him?
Are you strong enough to step in the virtual world?
In his pursuit, Hero delves into the mysteries of secret Forgotten Quests. His goal is to complete every mission, learn all of the secrets, and master every ability. All he has to do is survive long enough.
It might be hero hardest challenge yet.
ЯзыкEnglish
ИздательMagic Dome Books
Дата выпуска9 июн. 2022 г.
ISBN9785001166634
Forgotten Quest (Book # 1): LitRPG Fantasy
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    Forgotten Quest (Book # 1) - Max Rik

    Forgotten Quest

    Max Rik

    Book#1

    LitRPG Fantasy

    Forgotten Quest. Book # 1

    Copyright © Max Rik 2021

    Cover Art © Peter Groom 2021

    All Rights Reserved

    From the Author:

    Following an agreement with the Literary Agent, this LitRPG Fantasy of books was re-released now in a brand new title and new artwork.

    Table of Contents:

    Chapter One. Beta Version

    Chapter Two. The Shadowslayer

    Chapter Three. Service to the Dark

    Chapter Four. Wolf Blood

    Chapter Five. The Best Men of Maxitor

    Chapter Six. Magic is Black and White

    Chapter Seven. Real Life, Real Death

    Chapter Eight. Light Mage and Necromancer

    Chapter Nine. New Guild

    Chapter Ten. History of the Person and History of the Persona

    Chapter Eleven. The Necromancer's War

    Chapter Twelve. Double Count

    Chapter Thirteen. Great River

    Chapter Fourteen. Pursuit, Boarding, and Another Romance

    Chapter Fifteen. Hiji's Quest

    Chapter Sixteen. The Wild Lands

    Chapter Seventeen. Battle in the Black City

    Chapter Eighteen. The Black Schooner

    Chapter Nineteen. Egghead's Palace

    Chapter Twenty. Real-Life Goblins

    Chapter One. Beta Version

    EVEN IN THIS desolate, mangled world, where the foundations of all things had collapsed, there were some things that endured. There still existed things of everlasting value. Whiskey, for example.

    Jack had noticed the shine of bottle glass in the truck bed on a previous trip and decided to stop here, should he need the money. This was what those items of eternal value were for – to help one through the rough times.

    There were no longer automobiles that ran on liquid fuel and few people knew that these kinds of trucks were called pickups. Jack knew. He generally knew quite a lot about the old world because he earned his living as a Walker, which meant that he roamed the Wasteland in search of old-world treasures. If he were to be honest, though, he simply liked to travel. He always dreamed of making his way to some far-off place, where no one had been before. At least, not any of the residents of the Clusters, dragging out their boring, miserable existences near the Barrier of New Atrium. The problem was that the further you got in the Blighted Wasteland, the more dangerous it became. You won't get very far...

    The rear tires of the pickup had sunk into a deep hole, so the cabin had gotten stuck raised toward the sky. In the truck bed, bottle glass gleamed under a layer of dirt and mud. Jack looked around, detected nothing new on the gray plain under the gray sky... He tossed his backpack down, pulled on tarpaulin work gloves, and got busy excavating.

    He raked aside the broken fragments and tugged an unearthed bottleneck out of the caked trash, then shook off several years' worth of hardened dirt. The remnants of wooden boxes turned to dust under his gloves and the infernal flies buzzed overhead. When he had worked about halfway to the cabin, he found the first intact bottle. Jack wiped it reverently with his sleeve, gently shook it to hear the sloshing of eternal value inside, checked the sunlight... and began to dig again.

    Half a day's work and his haul amounted to nine bottles. Jack stowed them in his backpack, each carefully wrapped with rags. He was stuck here for the night. No one traveled at night in the Wasteland. The cabin door, naturally, was locked – he would have to break it. It was easy, as everything here had rotted away or rusted through long ago. It was odd that the glass was intact. The driver was, too. There was even a half-smoked cigar hanging between the yellow teeth of his skull. In the skeleton's right hand was a revolver, in the left – a crumpled, blackened lump. Jack wondered what the dead man had taken when he set out on his final journey. It turned out to be a charred banknote with a barely recognizable 100 on it. The driver had drunk his fill of the whiskey from the truck bed – an empty bottle stood on the dashboard in front of him. Then one last cigar, lit with a hundred-dollar bill. Then... bam.

    Very carefully, so as not to disturb the driver, Jack sat down beside him in the passenger seat.

    You ever been to Alterra? he asked the man, who died God only knew how long ago. I bet you'd love it. Judging by the ending you set up for yourself here, you were an okay guy, knew a thing or two about games. Pretty classy, deciding for yourself when and how to die.

    In front of the driver and Jack, through a thick patina of dirt on the windshield, the huge, red sun sagged toward the straight line of the horizon. The pickup had been heading west when it broke down. Maybe it had been evening then, too, and the sun had shone like this on the driver's face as his lit his last cigar with that bill...

    Choose for yourself, when and how you die, Jack repeated, uncovering a bottle. It has a lot of class.

    He planned to deliver most of the whiskey to a merchant for a very nice sum of money, but he did open one bottle. Taking a drink, he felt the pleasant wave of heat slide down his throat... and reached for the glove compartment.

    Hey, brother, I see I wasn't wrong about you! Jack declared, pulling out a small console tangled in thin cables. He had to set aside his bottle so that he could carefully fish out the sensor gloves and blocky goggles, which were fitted with a plastic ring that wrapped around the head. You were one of the originators! In the beta version of Alterra! I'd heard that it dated back to before the catastrophe, that we inherited it from you, our ancestors.

    Jack almost reverently tried on the antique virt-headset, fiddled with the sensor gloves, and carefully wound up the cluster of long sensor cables. It was a pretty unwieldy system. Nowadays, the console used to enter the virtual world looked much more compact. The batteries had obviously run down. He decided to recharge the device and try to enter Alterra from the pickup driver's account. However, it could only be charged in his trailer and then... Then he could try to enter Alterra from the driver's old account.

    If you left any unfinished business, buddy, I'll try to finish it, he promised the dead man. It can't be that fate accidentally brought us together. Nope. This is a quest line that someone thought up. Someone up there.

    Jack took another sip, his eyes narrowed at the red rays of sunset and thought: this guy brought all the most important things – whiskey and Alterra. Fantastic choice! The only choice. Definitely things of everlasting value.

    * * *

    All the next day, as he walked across the gray plain, Jack wondered what the late pickup driver could have left in Alterra. When the Gendemic began, it destroyed everything – daily life, culture, laws... and Alterra. Civilization had survived on a few small, safe islands. Those like New Atrium. Evidently, it was to one of these splinters of the safe world that the driver was trying to escape. He brought with him only what was most important... but never made it to his destination.

    Gradually, the survivor’s lives adjusted, namely when the alpha-citizens of New Atrium restored Alterra. They even allowed the omegas, the residents of the ghetto, to log into this wonderful world. But in the restored Alterra, just like in real life, the alphas had many more opportunities. That driver had seen a version of Alterra where everyone had equal rights, where all the joys of the virtual world were equally available to everybody.

    The Blighted Wasteland was behind him, and the Clusters of the ghetto stretched out before him. Walking through the slums, Jack could barely restrain himself from running home, so he could leave this filth and dive into Alterra. Not through his own avatar, but through another, older character – a sort of granddaddy of the virtual world. All the while, he had to constantly look this way and that because these areas were rotten to the core.

    Admittedly, even the most bat-shit crazy creeps didn't bother Jack, as a rule. The fact that he was one of the veteran drifters was enough to scare off the riffraff. Jack took deliberate care to look menacing. He was husky, slouching, with a shock of sun-bleached white hair sticking out from under a wide-brimmed hat and had a face covered in scars... and, of course, wore a large, formless canvas cloak with dirty, frayed flaps. You could hide anything under that kind of cloak.

    Today, only once did Jack notice a group of teenagers who stopped as he approached and had begun to whisper. They were dangerous guys – too puny to fight. These guys would use any dirty trick to bring you down fast, with the first hit. He held back a step and stuck his hand under his cloak. It was enough. The little suckers scattered like cockroaches. Jack liked this cloak. It always worked like a charm.

    He came up to trailers scrapped together from the trash of dilapidated buildings, iron containers, and tangles of thorny bushes. Above it all hung an intricate web of cables. In the distance, the shining towers of New Atrium stood, petitioned off from the poor Clusters by the unassailable Barrier wall. The fortress of the alphas, masters of Alterra.

    Near his own hovel, Jack was met with another delay. When he emerged from the cluster of trailers, his neighbors came pouring out, complaining over one another that every night, Phil, after getting high, would holler and scare the children. Jack howled internally. So many obstacles on the path to important things! But he preferred to maintain good relationships with these women. They looked after his home in his absence, meaning that they scared suspicious tramps away from the trailer. They were better than any pack of guard dogs. He would have to deal with Phil, who, of course, screeched that he sang very quietly and that he just couldn't control himself when performing. In Alterra, he was a famous bard and when he sang before crowds of critics, they all loved him but these old geezers knew nothing about art...

    Jack didn't say anything, just bent down and very pointedly picked up a rusted reinforcement rod. That did the trick. Phil changed his tune at once. He began moaning that he'd try to restrain himself and sing a bit quieter.

    Jack finally managed to shake everyone off and make it to his own trailer. He needed to eat, organize his equipment, clean the revolver from the pickup... but he just couldn't wait any longer. He hooked the strange device up and stared at the blinking light indicating that the batteries were charging.

    The driver had been a simple fellow. The password to Alterra was written in marker on the plastic case of his console, and retinal identification hadn't existed then. The camera set in the old headset didn't have that option. Not like that anymore...

    While the console buzzed back to life after its decades-long sleep, Jack untangled the sensor cords. Another person wouldn't have been able to figure out this antiquated mess, but Jack was a Walker. He'd seen his share of all sorts of strange things and could imagine the thought processes of the people who had lived before the Gendemic.

    The sensor gloves were obvious. The old console also came with several sensors on cords, the longest of which attached to his ankles and the others circled his chest like a belt. It was a lightweight analogue to a virt-suit, which was sensitive to a player's slightest movements and transmitted it into the form of a full-fledged virtual character.

    Jack placed the sensors and put on the goggles. The console was ready for operation. A prompt appeared requesting him to enter his personal code and Jack typed in the string of letters and numbers that were written on the case. Finally, another prompt popped up addressed to Andrew Vigo, the character name of the console's previous owner.

    Nice to meet you, Andrew, Jack mumbled. Let's see where you left off.

    * * *

    Andrew Vigo had stopped in the dungeon of a dilapidated temple. Or maybe a palace. At any rate, the developers had had something massive and pompous in mind. It was a spacious, vaulted room with columns and buttresses, built from inky black stone. And it was completely empty. No furniture, no signs to show what the cellar had been used for before the building above it collapsed. It was indeed destroyed – sunlight pierced through a huge hole in the dome.

    Jack loved unfamiliar places. He loved open spaces, the distant horizon... but he also loved all kinds of unconventional dungeons. If he had his way, he'd travel all over Alterra. For the moment, the only continent known to omega-players was Stoglav. It was huge, though, as Jack hadn't even discovered all its areas, not even close. His dream was to discover a new land. It had to be out there, somewhere. Fit a ship, fill it to the brim, gather a team, and set off into the uncharted virtual expanses... maybe he didn't need anything else to be happy.

    He wondered, how long it had been since someone visited this place? If it had survived since the oldest versions of the game... perhaps, it was some isolated location that could no longer be entered or exited? Or maybe just the opposite and the dungeon was standing right under everyone's nose. However, it was so neglected that it was of no use to anyone. Alterra was huge, after all, and there were many nooks and forgotten places.

    Piles of stones, the fragments of broken columns and carvings, had crumbled inside, evidence that the outside walls had been demolished from above. Something large and powerful had broken into the dungeon and created that enormous hole. The pickup truck where he had found Vigo's final refuge could have easily fit through that gap.

    Attention!

    This version of the game is out of date. Update download in progress!

    Update download in progress!

    Update download in progress!

    The character froze and the image of the basement was obstructed by static. He would have to wait. Jack used the time to check out the weapon and equipment slots. Andrew had reached level twenty-four and, it seemed, made his career as a warrior and adventurer.

    Twenty-four. Not much by today's standards, Jack murmured. He had already reached level thirty-three himself and planned to keep going. But who knows what kinds of resources there were in your time? Maybe by those standards, you were pretty awesome.

    He had a lightweight helm and chain mail armor with some defense bonuses, nothing special. A bastard sword in the weapon slot... and a dagger. That dagger was the most interesting of all. In virt, it looked completely black, both the handle and the blade. When Jack drew it from its sheath, a murky haze flowed out around the blade, as if the weapon were emitting a stream of dark mist. Conversely, it also seemed to glow. The dagger radiated darkness around itself just like a candle emitted light. If he looked at it for a while, an info-window appeared:

    Shadowslayer Dagger

    Level: Legendary

    There was nothing else – no bonuses, no instructions. Their ancestors had been terse. The modern design of Alterra provided much more informative descriptions.

    The updates finally finished downloading and the image smoothed out. Jack took a few steps into the depths of the dungeon, toward wherever Andrew Vigo had once set out. That man traveled down here for something. There may be nothing valuable in this place, or there might be something here. Jack walked around several pieces of black debris covered with carvings. Ahead, something glittered among the stones. Jack started to move closer, but the image in front of him began to shake and an admin message floated before his eyes:

    Attention!

    User Andrew Vigo, you have been absent from Alterra for 2.#?? / undefined / years.

    To verify your identity, enter the six-digit code sent to your personal communication device. You have 30 minutes to verify your identity. If you do not enter the code within this period, your account will be suspended.

    Aw, dammit!

    Although, not surprising. Without retinal identification, you had to jump through these kinds of hoops. What was with the personal communication device? Jack checked Andrew's conversations but there was nothing resembling a six-digit code. There was nothing new – just a few admin messages and a single message. Andrew hadn't been a very sociable guy.

    Out of curiosity, Jack looked at the message since it wasn’t very long. Someone with the username Doblin-Doe wrote to Andrew:

    That passage from the legend that you were asking about goes like this:

    "When the Dragon God cast out the King of Demons Azeroth, he, dying, peered at his shadow and said:

    'Oh, how splendid my Shadow is!'

    The King of Demons let a tear of delight fall. It was the only tear shed in his entire life because demons do not cry, and Kings least of all. This tear held within it all things, life and death, beauty and ugliness, cruelty and compassion. The tear fell onto the Shadow of the King of Demons and pierced it, like a thorn pierces silk."

    There wasn’t anything else. I don't know why the hell you need this overwrought crap that the writers come up with.

    After he finished reading, Jack realized that he didn’t do the very first thing he should have done! It could only be explained by the fact that he was in the body of someone else's character and it still didn't feel like his own. Remembering himself, Jack opened the map of Alterra and examined it – oh, boy, he was far north. At the edge of the Fasheer marshes. Jack's own character hadn't made it this far north and this area remained uniformly gray for him. In Andrew's version of the map, a bizarre, wandering line led to this place from Svetlograd, the capital of Havian. It looked like Andrew had doggedly walked specifically to this place. Jack pushed on, avoiding the debris... He had less than a half an hour to figure out what he was looking for.

    Frowning, Jack looked at an area on the map near the spot where the tiny triangle representing his character was. Ruins... and a portal. It was the familiar silver circle of a standard portal, but with a golden lock superimposed on it. A closed padlock. What was that?

    He shook his head, gathering his wits. It was a locking spell. This sometimes happened when a guild or high-level player discovered a new area or, more likely, got stuck in a place without people, then performed the ritual to seal the local portal, restricting access for others. To ensure no one could block all public portals, the ritual was expensive enough that people didn't use them too often.

    Did that mean that there was someone else here? He looked around, thinking. No, not necessarily. The portal may have been locked and whoever did it was outside somewhere. Or in here... it was impossible to tell.

    Closing the map, Jack looked very closely at the glittering thing he saw earlier. Dim light filtered in through the opening above, causing rainbow sparkles to play off the small object that was lying on the floor among the black debris.

    He cautiously approached it and bent over a crystal-clear droplet, incongruously clean and transparent in the surrounding black stone.

    Tear of the Demon King Azeroth

    Level: Epic

    Attributes unknown

    Epic? That was essentially the highest level. The only thing higher than epic-level items in Alterra were what they called prime relics. Only a few of them existed and dated back to when the gods created the world. Jack couldn't even begin to imagine how much such a thing might be worth.

    Well, well... So, this is where the ultimate battle between Azeroth and the Dragon God took place...

    Now Jack looked around the ruins with a profound respect. None other than the Dragon God himself made that hole in the roof when he had caught up with his enemy in his last refuge. It was in exactly this spot where the King of Demons last saw his shadow.

    Whatever its attributes, an epic-level item can't be cheap, Jack said, resuming his conversation with the long-dead pickup driver, And I understand why you died as you did. In fact, it's a shame. To reach your objective, to see the epic-level Tear, and – bam! The world fell to pieces, the electricity cut off, Alterra wouldn't load... and then your pickup flew into a pit... Fate – what a bitch!

    Jack bent over the Tear.

    All that's left is to figure out how to get my avatar here. Judging by your map, that old thing, there’s a portal here, but I can't use it. If I sign on my account, this portion of the map will be gray to me. Moreover, the portal is locked, which means that neither of us can use it. To come to you here, I’d have to stomp across half the continent. Maybe while I still have Vigo's avatar, I can take the Tear somewhere and hide it a bit better within half an hour? I don't know when I'll be able to come for your legacy.

    The Tear was one quarter the size of a fist and was quite light, but when he tried to lift the artifact, he felt resistance. The sensation didn't last long, though – the bottom part simply had a conical shape and was stuck in the inky stone. It wasn't too difficult for Jack to pull the tip out of the pile.

    Then the floor came to life. A concentric wave ran across the coal-black tiles. Something made of the same ebony as the room gathered toward the center, toward the little recess left by the Tear. The thing was swelling and rising... Jack backed away and a dark figure, like a man draped in a loose cloak, began to grow out of the floor in front of him. It was black, of course. The stooping, silent figure grew and grew... the Shadow! It was the Shadow of Azeroth himself!

    Like a thorn pierces silk, he remembered the words from the message! The Tear had pinned the Shadow to the floor, fastened the darkness to the black stone, and Jack had pulled that pin and released the Shadow. Although the Shadow hadn't done anything threatening so far, Jack sensed the danger. A dark, deadly danger. Such a malevolent and insidious creature like the King of Demons couldn't possibly depart this world without one final trick. And Alterra's writers, even those who wrote the texts for the beta version long ago, could not pass up the opportunity. Fortunately, Andrew Vigo had prepared for this. Remembering the black dagger, Jack yanked it out and when the dark, stooping figure lurched at him, he met it with a long thrust.

    The dagger pierced the blackness. He felt the impact of steel against the Shadow but... nothing happened. The Shadow continued to move toward the recoiling Jack, who was backing away, stammering:

    Hey, that's not fair! The Shadowslayer should have killed you! What the hell?!

    He turned and ran to the opening, shot up the rockslide toward the light and tumbled out. It turned out that, in his hurry, he had climbed the pile of rubble up to the second floor. The ground was three meters below him, so that fall came hard.

    You receive damage!

    You lose 4 hit points!

    To hell with it. It would regenerate.

    Judging by the clatter of stone behind him, the Shadow wasn’t far behind. Jack glanced around. Ruins stretched out around the destroyed palace. Fallen columns, statues, and remnants of walls – everything was black. Even the creeping shoots were entangled in the rock. There was no end in sight to this demon city boneyard.

    Winding through the ruins in the direction of the sealed portal, Jack glanced behind. The Shadow was heading for him, picking up speed. Daylight didn't scare it. It touched a piece of stonework in the place where its shoulder should have been under the dark cloak, and rocks sprayed out in all directions. The Shadow raced forward, colliding with the remains of buildings and destroying everything that it struck.

    Among the ruins ahead, Jack noticed movement and swerved toward it. The sound of smashing stone never ceased. The Shadow stayed on his tail.

    On the sunny lawn, a bunch of ugly green goblins were scurrying about between the boulders. Jack ran straight for them. The one closest to him dropped the black stone it had been dragging and bared its yellow teeth. Jack kicked it with his boot and kept running. The rest of the little beasts scrambled after him but the Shadow crashed into them. Jack, already turning the corner of a squat building, heard a piteous squeal. He ran along the wall, hunting for a place he could slip into and hide.

    The Shadow tarried a bit. Goblins were screeching so pathetically that it was clear they wouldn't distract it for long. A small green figure flew over the wall that Jack was running along. The dead goblin flipped in the air, its limbs swinging limply, and smashed to the ground. The squealing ceased. Jack, not stopping, slipped into a moss-covered crevice, turned again, then once more. It looked like he had lost it, but probably not for long.

    Attention!

    User Andrew Vigo, to confirm your identity, enter the six-digit code.

    Time remaining: 20 minutes.

    Chapter Two. The Shadowslayer

    BLINDLY WAVING away the messages obstructing his view, Jack started running toward an arch. Were these the remains of the old city wall? No, it was just a courtyard wall. Ruins continued beyond it. On the other side of the wall, he could hear voices. Young, clear, and excited... this area wasn't completely deserted, then. There was someone else here besides the goblin NPCs. Jack took off across the courtyard in the direction of the voices.

    Kill it!

    These two are mine! Don't touch them!

    He could hear the clatter of weapons and goblins screeching. Jack glanced around but the shadow was nowhere to be seen. He then very carefully peeked through the opening.

    There were about a dozen players goofing off on the other side of the wall. They were too far away for him to read their stats, but he got the general idea. It was a group of low-level players killing the goblins here to earn XP. There was no one else in the ruins, so it was a special location. In these kinds of places, players could earn XP faster by killing NPCs. These guys looked like the initiates of a guild.

    Jack had never been in a guild. He was too... How to put it? It was just that he didn't like being responsible for others and always believed that people should be in charge of themselves. It wasn’t right when the head of your guild called the shots for you, nor was it right for you to do the same for other guild members. That was why he appreciated the way the man who created Andrew Vigo had set up his own death. He had chosen for himself and followed through.

    Most players in Alterra adhered to entirely different principles. Like this situation, for example: one of the more experienced guild fighters opened the way to the abandoned city, sought out the portal, and now he could lead the initiates here to hunt. They were having a ball – Jack heard their excited shouting, heard the goblins squealing. The goblins were small and very aggressive. Their programming instructed them to attack without hesitation, not even realizing that they were simply skewering themselves on the player's swords.

    If he booked it to the portal right now, the hunters might get caught up in the moment and attack him... And what was the point? The portal was locked.

    Then something changed, and Jack could easily guess what it was. The crevice through which he had been watching was narrow and it was difficult to see, but the excited shouts ceased. The players were retreating, huddling together. Jack saw them look toward their leader- the experienced warrior who had brought them here. He was easy to pick out by his powerful armor.

    What the hell? the warrior asked loudly. This wasn't here before. Try your arrows!

    Now that the entire group was in Jack's field of vision, he could see there were more than ten people. Some of them equipped crossbows. Arrows rained down, but the squad continued to retreat. The players backed away; it was clear they couldn't win this battle. It was one thing to hack little goblins to pieces, but it was another thing entirely when a creature that swats arrows away like flies is chasing you.

    Come on, come on, run for the portal, Jack urged. That's right, get worked up enough that you don't even notice the strange player run out with you. I'll teleport with you, find a bank, and leave my treasure there for my character. It's easy, you guys, just run for the portal! The Shadow will chase after you and I’ll slip through!

    Attention!

    User Andrew Vigo, to confirm your identity, enter the six-digit code.

    Time remaining: 15 minutes.

    What are you doing?!

    Jack even pounded his fists on the rocks in frustration. These idiots, instead of booking it to the portal and saving their own asses, decided to fight the black apparition. While the portal, judging from the map was just on the other side of the yard! The Shadow floated closer... Now Jack could take a proper look at the creature – it was a tall, dark silhouette, a shadowy plume trailed behind it along the rocks, like a long cloak. The beast was corporeal in the sense that it cast a rather normal shadow in the sunlight, albeit one with a slightly grotesque form.

    The dark figure stretched out its arms, two spears of absolute darkness, toward its attackers.

    It was a quick encounter. The Shadow easily blocked any weapons aimed in its direction and broke them effortlessly. It increased its speed and crashed into the crowd, darting around between the fighters. Now their cries, which they initially used to motivate themselves, became cries of alarm. The Shadow managed to kill a few people before the rest scattered in different directions.

    Fools! Jack declared in annoyance when he checked the map and saw that no one was running toward the portal. What a bunch of dimwits.

    The Shadow darted around the ruins – overtaking, thrashing, and destroying. And remained between Jack and the portal. The timer was steadily ticking. A new message popped up before him:

    Attention!

    User Andrew Vigo, to confirm your identity, enter the six-digit code.

    Time remaining: 10 minutes.

    Time to change the plan, Jack said to himself.

    He walked to the end of the wall, peered out to be certain that the Shadow was focused on the fleeing group, then scrambled from one hiding place to the next, making his way to a pair of fighters hiding in a pit behind a fallen column. They were laying low, watching the clearing, where the Demon Shadow of the King flitted in a complicated zigzag – from the prostrate form of one enemy to the next target. Their bodies were slowly vanishing.

    Jack went around the would-be warriors' hidey-hole and crouched over the pit.

    I see that you're in a bit of trouble, he announced in a hushed voice.

    They nearly jumped out of their skins.

    And who are you?! one asked. Where did you come from? These hunting grounds belong to our guild!

    Jack spotted their guild insignia, two crossed shovels. Brotherhood of Gravediggers. It sounded badass, but this pair definitely didn't look all that bold.

    "I'm an errant knight, saving all who find themselves in danger. See the white horse and suit of armor? No? Oh,

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