Darkness... All he could see in this moment, was darkness. He was lying on the ground, disoriented and confused. A voice suddenly spoke to him.
"Ah, Ash. It's been a while".
The elf sat up. He suddenly knew exactly where he was, even though it had been a while.
"It's only been a few days, Evitagen".
A familiar figure emerged from the shadows. It wore a mask in order to cover whatever horror was hidden behind it. It was draped in a cape that seemed to radiate all colors one could imagine, depending on which direction you turned your head.
"I've been thinking, dear customer. Isn't it time for another deal? It seems you have made good use of my wares from the last time" Evitagen said.
Ash knew all too well that the happiness he had felt the past few days, was thanks to the being in front of him. He stood up, facing Evitagen.
"Depends on the wares and their price" He said, smiling slightly. Ash had first-hand experience with this demon's prices, and how it had its way of not revealing the price, before it was time to pay.
"I couldn't help but notice the way you took a liking to my ⌈ Negative Blade ⌋, so I figured you might be interested in obtaining that power? I can offer you more, but my prices will go up along with the power you're seeking".
The former slave knew that accepting Evitagen's proposal would be a bad idea, so he decided to ask a question he knew the demon wouldn't answer.
"What's the price for level three Negative Energy?".
"Oh my, you've taken an interest in my proposal? Very well, I shall name my price. Reach level 20 by the end of the month, and the power will be yours".
Ash was dumbfounded. It seemed like such a low price for power that could easily eliminate the kind of enemies he was currently having trouble with. Seeing no reason to refuse, Ash nodded.
"I... I accept".
"Excellent, then I shall take my leave" Evitagen said. He then went on to snap his fingers, resulting in the immediate collapse of the space.
The elf found himself in his bed, drenched in sweat. The sun was shining through the windows in the room, he had rented with Robinia's money. She had given him a few gold coins, as thanks for saving her.
"Better get to it, then" Ash said, as he rose from the comfort of his bed.
He put on some clothes, grabbed his permanently borrowed black cape, and went to get breakfast which was included in the price for the room.
At the bottom of the stairs that led to the ding hall, he was met by a receptionist. It was a quite lovely looking human female. She guided him to the table that was reserved for him in the mornings.
"The usual, sir?" She asked.
"Oh, sure. Thank you" Ash responded.
They exchanged smiles before she went to cook his food, which consisted of an omelette and a few pancakes. It was quite the simple composition of food, but to Ash, it was the perfect way to start the days in Elcrada.
'I suppose I'll have to go visit the guild, so I can get registered as an adventurer'.
When he had finished eating, he went directly to the guild, where he was met by a smiling receptionist. This was one of the things Ash loved about Elcrada. Everyone seemed to be smiling.
"I'd like to register with the guild" He said.
"That'll be five silver" The receptionist said, while pulling out the necessary paperwork from under his counter.
Ash handed him the five silver coins, and glanced at the contract he would be required to sign. It didn't seem to be anything malicious, so he signed it.
"Your registration is complete. If you would please follow me" The receptionist said, gesturing towards a door located behind the counter.
They walked through the door, and found themselves in a circular room, filled to the brim with people of all kinds of ethnicity. They were standing in front of a massive bulletin board, on which there were tons of requests for different kinds of labor. One of them read:
⌈ Goblin Subjugation Quest ⌋
Rank Requirement: Iron
Reward: 2 Gold Coins
Slay 5 goblins around Elcrada
'Quite the nice pay for slaying a few goblins' Ash thought.
"I'll leave you to it, then. Oh, one last thing.. Do find yourself a party. It makes things easier when you're not alone" The receptionist said, before leaving through they door, they had entered through.
Ash tore the request, he had previously looked at, down from the bulletin board.
He had already qualified for Iron Rank, since his level and stats were quite high. He brought the request to the counter, where he was deemed suitable for the quest.
"Don't go dying. Adventurers aren't as common as they used to be!" The receptionist shouted after Ash, as he left the building.
After leaving the Guild, Ash ran to Elcrada's outer wall, where the people in the watchtowers kept watch over the surrounding area, shooting any monsters that got too close to the town.
He showed his Iron Plate, and was allowed through the gate. After that, he ran to the forest that surrounded the walled city. Ash was hoping to find a goblin camp, similar to the one he had found earlier. He would have to be a lot more careful when fighting them. But then again, the goblins he fought before had required the attention of Silver Ranks.
It had been a few hours since he had entered the forest before he saw something resembling a camp. He figured it was a camp, because of the light which most likely came from a campfire.
He decided to scout the place before attacking, so he tip-toed as close to the camp as he could possibly get, without getting noticed.
It was indeed a goblin camp. There were a total of seven goblins. Ash thought it would be best to analyze the biggest goblin among the seven. If there was another Goblin Bruiser among them, he would have to pick another camp to attack.
"Analyze" he whispered, when he had located the largest goblin.
⌈Name: ??? – Level 5⌋ ⟨Regular Goblin⟩
Magic Affinity: 1
'Splendid' Ash thought to himself.
He analyzed the rest of the goblins just to be sure, but the biggest threat remained the big one that didn't have any skills, nor did it have particularly good stats. Ash decided that assassinating it would be the best course of action, so he snuck as close to it as he could. He used the large rocks and bushes as cover, until he stood behind it. None of his enemies had noticed him yet.
Ash pulled out his dagger and stabbed the goblin in the back of its head. Blood spurted everywhere, as he pulled the dagger out of the goblin's skull.
The goblins were confused at first, but quickly came to their senses, reaching for their weapons. Ash wouldn't let them get armed, so he stabbed the nearest goblin in the kidney, slicing upwards so its innards spilled out.
Two goblins approached him with their clubs held high. They were ready to strike at Ash's head, but he was faster than them. He held out his palm, preparing to throw a spell at them.
"Negative Surge" He shouted.
Since the goblins only were a few meters away from him, they were impossible to miss. The one to the right was hit in abdomen. It was quite unsightly watching its life force being drained from its body, as a result of the spell. It fell to the ground. Dead.
He followed up with ⌈ Negative Burst ⌋, in order to block the incoming attack from the other goblin. The black mirror of the soul reflected the goblin's bad memories, which paralyzed it for long enough, letting Ash slit its throat.
The remaining three goblins attacked simultaneously, but they were far away, so Ash had enough time to prepare. His plan was to kill one of them with Negative Surge, stun the next with a kick to the face, giving him enough time to stab the remaining goblin in the face before killing the stunned goblin.
The plan went without a hitch.
Ash cut off the goblins' ears and took their belongings, excluding their weapons. It could all be sold, and the ears were proof of the goblins' deaths. Following that, he pulled out the piece of parchment Evitagen had given him during his days as a slave.
⌈Name: Ash Tsuga - Level 17⇑⌋ ⟨No Class⟩
Magic Affinity: 194⇑
Skills: Negative Energy ⌈Lvl 2⌋ , Martial Arts⌈Lvl 3⇑⌋, Knife Fighting⌈Lvl 2⇑⌋
Spells: Negative Burst, Negative Surge.
'Level 17, huh? Quite the improvement, compared to before'.
He folded the parchment, put it in his pocket, and headed back in the direction of Elcrada. Since he had collected this many items, killed so many enemies, and levelled up, he might be in for a promotion.
Thoughts like that were swirling around Ash's mind. He was so lost in thought, that he didn't notice them before it was too late.
"Hey, look over there. I found one!" Someone shouted.
The lone elf was ripped out of his state of contemplation. He looked around until he could see who was shouting. A party of four people were running in his direction.
"He killed the fucking goblins, we were supposed to kill. Get him!"
"He has loot on him, so we'll probably make a greater profit from killing him!"
Things like that were shouted. Ash realized the situation he was in. He drew his knife and held out his palm, ready to defend himself.
"You fucking bastards..." He mumbled, preparing to use Negative Surge.
"Negative Surge!" He shouted. Since his Magic Affinity had risen by a lot, so had his accuracy when using spells. Therefore, he hit the nearest bandit, who seemed to be the weakest, in the chest.
Such pathetic sounds came from the before so confident robber, as he was losing control of his bodily functions. It took a few seconds before he drew his last breath, and fell to the ground.
"He killed Jared. That fucker...".
The one talking was the guy who seemed to be the party leader, seeing as he wore the most expensive-looking items.
Sharp pain suddenly came from Ash's shoulder. He looked at it, and saw an arrow stuck in it. He looked around and noticed an archer, located in a tree. Ash pulled out the arrow, held out his palm and used ⌈ Negative Surge ⌋.
A loud thud could be heard, as the sniper hit the ground. Dead.
'Fuck! There were more of them than I thought'.
A whooshing sound came from Ash's left, but he had already noticed the rogue, who was taking a swing at him.
"Negative Burst!" The elf shouted.
The rebound from the rogue's own hit, as it hit the mass of darkness, caused him to trip and fall over, letting Ash stab him in the neck.
Killing bandits like these brought him no pleasure, but strangely enough, it didn't have a negative impact on his emotions either. That scared him a little bit. How he was able to kill people without batting an eye.
Every time Ash finished off one of the bandits, he could feel his strength grow by leaps and bounds. They were probably stronger than him, but because of his Dark Magic which was unknown to most people, he had an unfair advantage.
The bandit leader had made it to Ash. Behind him stood their mage, who seemed to be a healer.
"How troublesome" He said, and engaged in combat with his armored opponent.
Ash took three stabs at him, before the bandit could even make one swing with his greatsword. Unfortunately for Ash, the armor was too strong for him to penetrate it with a dagger.
The burst of wind, that followed the sword swing, knocked Ash back by a few meters. His opponent was extremely strong, there was no doubt about that.
It was the healer, who was using some kind of spell, the elf didn't know.
Light started to emanate from the enemy magician, who quickly followed up with another spell.
An arrow of what appeared to be pure mana, condensed into blue light, flew towards Ash, who was still stunned.
The elf screamed. He hadn't screamed like that since he was tortured for the first time. It was pain so intense, that it felt like his body was being torn to shreds from the inside. Almost as if the energy stored inside him was trying to escape through every pore in his body.
He had misjudged the magician. He wasn't just a healer. He was also an attack-type mage, and he was a skilled one at that.
Ash was slowly recovering from the pain, but it was too late. The bandit with the sword, had already reached him. The elf was kicked so hard that he flew a few meters, until he hit a tree trunk.
"Oy, Helmuth, was this really worth it?" The mage asked, pointing at the elf that laid sprawled on the ground.
"I don't think so, but who's idea was it in the first place? Huh?!".
It might be because of his blurred vision, but Ash thought he saw a dark figure emerge from of his vision.
A distorted voice started talking to him.
"Dear customer, you have upheld your part of the deal. You have obtained the power you sought. Make good use of it".
And like that, the figure was gone.
The elf knew that if he wanted to survive, he would have to stand up. He tried his hardest, using the tree trunk as support. He finally succeeded in standing up.
The two bandits were still discussion whether or not attacking Ash had been a good idea, so he used the time their argument took to check his stats once more.
⌈Name: Ash Tsuga - Level 26⇑⌋ ⟨No Class⟩
Magic Affinity: 240⇑
Skills: Negative Energy ⌈Lvl 3⇑⌋ , Martial Arts⌈Lvl 4⇑⌋, Knife Fighting⌈Lvl 3⇑⌋
Spells: Negative Burst, Negative Surge, Negative Blade.
"Negative Blade!" Ash said.
A dark mass of shadows gathered around his arm, forming a scythe that stuck to his arm. He knew exactly how to use it, so he rushed at the bandits, ignoring the intense pain that came from all over his body.
"Helmuth, he's coming!"
An Arcane Arrow few in Ash's direction, but he blocked it with Negative Burst. He wouldn't stop his charge no matter what.
He had made it to the armored bandit, and as the bandit's sword was closing in on Ash, the elf made an upwards movement with his arm.
"Argh..!" The bandit said, grabbing the remaining piece of his arm. The rest of the arm was lying of the ground.
The enraged elf rushed past the screaming bandit, and jumped at the panicking mage behind him.
"How did you become so strong?! You monster!"
Ash didn't care about being called a monster. He only cared about slaying the enemy in front of him. He gathered all his strength and leaped towards the mage, separating his upper body from his lower with a flick of his wrist.
Once again, Ash felt his power grow. It felt amazing. He turned around, facing the terrified fellow on the ground.
"I can give you money.. Please! I can-"
The merciless elf ended him before he could finish pleading for his life. There was nothing to gain by keeping them alive anyway.
'When did I become this cynical?" Ash thought, as he was depriving the bandits of their belongings. He equipped the rogue's armor, since it matched his fighting style the best. Freedom of movement was important for an agility-dependent fighter, such as Ash.
He put all of their belongings in a rucksack the armored warrior had been carrying. A twisted grin spread on Ash's face, as he started heading back towards the town of Elcrada.
"How's that for good use, Evitagen?!" He screamed at the demon in his mind.
And just like that, Ash came to the realization that he could never be like others.