《Death: Genesis》23. Untenable


As the party trudged along the edges of the Trollmoor Bog, Abby glared at Julio’s back. Even as her feet sank into the ankle deep and putrid mud, a searing fury enveloped her entire mind. Inevitably, she turned her sight inward, finding the curse Julio had branded upon her soul. It was an intricate thing, and because it was so complicated, it would dissipate slowly over time. After all, Julio was no runemaster who could keep the thing empowered indefinitely. Instead, the curse was a skill he had either found during his adventures or one he’d purchased via contribution points. Given the nature of the curse, she leaned toward the former. The Champions of Light weren’t the bunch of pious saints their name implied, but there were lines the guild simply wouldn’t cross.

Julio obviously didn’t bear the weight of such scruples, but that was no revelation. Stories of the man’s lascivious nature were common enough among the citizens of Beacon, so it shouldn’t have been a surprise when he’d branded her soul with such a despicable curse. If she’d have had any fewer points in wisdom, she might have succumbed to its full effect. Even with the protection afforded by her high mental stats, she was in no small degree of danger, should she push against the boundaries of the curse.

As it was, the effect was fairly simple. When Julio gave an order, every cell in her body wanted to obey. It was only because of her high wisdom and well-developed willpower that she was able to resist. However, with resistance came pain – and, of course, the man’s gleeful laughter. Julio hadn’t pushed it too far – not with her, at least; Vladimir hadn’t been so lucky, and he already bore a series of self-inflicted wounds, all ordered by Julio – but it was coming soon. She knew it, and judging by the leers of Julio’s men, they did, too. Doubtless, they’d seen many men and women succumb to their leaders’ curse.

Abby could probably break free, and if it came down to it, she would certainly try. Hopefully, she could take a few of the detestable group with her when she did. However, doing so would create a significant backlash. The longer she could wait it out, the weaker the curse – and the resultant backlash – would become. That was reason enough by itself to wait until the last possible moment, but there was also Vladimir’s fate to consider.

The Russian giant was only a few levels behind Abby, but his power level was even lower than that might suggest – especially when it came to the mental stats. Despite looking the part, she suspected that he didn’t even have any achievements to bolster his power. The result was that even if she helped him break the curse, it would rip him apart along the way. And she wasn’t willing to sacrifice her friend and companion.

As they made their way through the swamp, Abby only paid cursory attention to her surroundings. They were only at the edge of the swamp, so it was unlikely they’d run into the powerful creatures that had given the bog its name. Instead, she watched her captors, looking for anything that might facilitate her eventual escape. She didn’t see much, save that they were, overall, even weaker than she had first thought. Even Julio had proved shockingly inept when the gaborin had resisted his skills.

Not that the knowledge did her any good. She wasn’t immune to the strange auditory abilities he’d chosen, so it wouldn’t come down to martial ability or stats, where she thought she might have had an edge.


Finally, as the sun was beginning to set, the party found a rare island of dry land. It was only about forty feet across, so it would only barely accommodate all of them, but it was the best refuge from the ubiquitous bog they could find.

Julio ordered them to stop, then turned to Abby and said, “Make your camp, my love.”

Abby’s fingernails dug into her palms as she resisted the curse’s compulsion. She could have ignored it, but to what end? The pain wouldn’t be worth it – not for something so small. So, she retrieved some tinder from her enchanted pack and set about following the order. Once the fire had been lit by one of her fire starters, she activated her ability [Makeshift Camp]. Immediately, she felt her vitality surge and her mana regeneration increase.

The skill provided a twenty-point boost to both vitality and wisdom, which was a huge increase for just about anyone. But that wasn’t its most desirable effect. Instead, that title belonged to the shimmering wall that sprang up around the small island, extending a few feet past its borders. It would stop most wildlife, and whatever it didn’t outright stop, it would slow down. Abby suspected that [Makeshift Camp] was one of the primary reasons Julio had asked her to join the expedition, much less kept her around.

But there were other reasons, too. Every time the lecherous man looked at her, Abby felt like she was covered in a disgusting muck that far outstripped anything in the surrounding swamp. The man was a disgusting lech, and she wanted nothing more than to put a couple of arrows through his eyes.

“Don’t do anything rash,” Vladimir rumbled, putting his hand on her shoulder. “He’s not worth it.”

“Kind of feels like it’d be worth it,” she muttered, but she knew he was right. Even if she somehow managed to kill him, there would be plenty of questions when she returned to Beacon. After all, Julio was one of the most powerful outer members of the Champions of Light. If he were to get killed, it would be a great loss to the guild. By comparison, Abby was nothing.

“Our time will come,” the man said. “Be patient.”

She shook her head, but she didn’t respond. What was there to say? Vladimir was right, and she had little choice but to wait and see what happened. That didn’t make things any easier, though. She quickly claimed a spot by the fire and pulled a piece of dried meat from her pack. She didn’t like travel rations, but it was all that was available. The disgusting swamp was teeming with life, but it was either inedible or far too dangerous to hunt.

Abby had been sitting there for half an hour, staring into the flames, when she felt someone approach from behind. She didn’t need to turn around to identify her visitor as Julio; even restrained, his aura was unmistakable – like clashing cymbals and lascivious intent, all jumbled together. He didn’t bother asking for permission before he sat beside her.

“I’ve been wondering something,” he said, resting his forearms on his knees. His black leather armor glistened in the dancing firelight, and he cut a handsome, rakish figure. It was a lie, though. All of it. He’d shown himself a coward, and even without everything else, that would’ve been reason enough to hate him. “Perhaps you’ll be so kind as to shed some light on it for me.”

Abby felt a mild compulsion, but she pushed it down. A sharp pain erupted in her side, but it was easily ignored. “What?” she asked.


“You and the barbarian – is there something there?” he asked.

“We are friends and battle companions,” she answered truthfully. There was no reason to lie. Even though he was the weaker of the two, Vladimir was like an overprotective big brother to her, and had been since they’d met four years before. Back then, he’d been far more powerful than her, but as the years passed, she’d passed him by. Abby was grateful that his attitude hadn’t changed one bit in the interim. He would lay down his life for her in an instant, and she would do the same.

“Nothing romantic, then?” Julio asked.

Abby didn’t answer, but her silence was enough of a response to satisfy the man. Since Abby had been reborn into the new world, romance had been the last thing on her mind. She hadn’t had good luck in that department in her old life, and it had left a bad taste in her mouth. Instead, she’d chosen to focus on growing stronger and more powerful – a sentiment that had led her to the Champions of Light.

“Can you go elsewhere?” she said, finally glancing in Julio’s direction. “You make my skin crawl.”

“In a good way or a bad way?” the man said with a blindingly white grin. “I’ve been told I have quite an effect on –”

“She said to leave,” Vladimir interrupted, suddenly looming over the seated Julio. The giant Russian was good at a lot of things, but looming was something of a specialty. With his hulking frame, massive axe, and bear-like appearance, he was the very epitome of a barbarian warrior. “I suggest you do as she says.”

Julio didn’t bother responding, and for a long moment, it seemed that he would simply ignore Vladimir’s interruption. But then, with a sigh, he simply snapped his fingers. The next instant, Vladimir exploded, sending a cascade of bone, blood, and other viscera sailing through the air. It was so sudden that it took Abby a few seconds to even process what had just happened. But when her brain finally caught up to reality, she could only stare at Julio in horror and disgust.

By contrast, Julio seemed entirely unperturbed by the fact that he was suddenly covered in gore. He smiled again, saying, “I hate it when people interrupt. You can’t say I didn’t warn him.”

Abby’s mouth gaped in disgust as she scrambled away in an awkward crab-walk. She wasn’t trying to escape, but rather, she had succumbed to a primal need to distance herself from the monster who’d just killed her companion.

Julio had obviously detonated the curse. That was the only explanation that made any sense. Even at level nineteen, there was no way that Julio had the means to so easily murder a warrior like Vladimir. Certainly, killing the big man wouldn’t have been difficult for Julio, regardless of the method. But to explode him? That was something altogether different, and it was beyond anything Abby had ever seen.

“W-why?” she managed to mutter. Steadying her voice, she continued, “Why would you do that? You could have just ordered him to silence, and he would have been compelled to obey.”

Julio shrugged, saying, “But where’s the fun in that?”

Abby stared at the man in disbelief. Idly, she noticed that a few of his cohorts were laughing at their boss’s statement. She’d just lost the only person she could rightly call a friend, and they were giggling like schoolchildren. It was enough to ignite Abby’s anger, and before that flame, all her fears were swept aside like so much detritus.

Her mana surged, targeting the foreign rune that had branded itself upon her soul. She couldn’t force it out. Nor could she take it apart, a skill that some runemasters were rumored to be capable of. She didn’t have that deft of a touch, and even if she did, understanding those complicated whorls and symbols was all but impossible. She was far more likely to make things worse than to unravel the thing. But there was another way to deal with unwanted curses.

Abby gritted her teeth as she flooded the curse rune with as much mana as she could force into the small space. It resisted, but ultimately, it had no will of its own. She easily overcame its meager defenses. She felt a creak in her soul as she filled the rune to capacity, but she kept pushing. Bit by bit, she forced more mana into it until, at last, it cracked.

Pain erupted in her side as the rune exploded, taking quite a bit of her flesh and a good measure of her soul with it. But the damage wasn’t fatal. She would heal. The rune would remain until she could get the curse cleansed, but it wouldn’t be enough to appreciably affect her combat ability. That was a worry for another day, though. For now, she had to escape. For now, she needed to survive.

Julio had already begun his response, whipping his katana out of his scabbard. Before he could activate his skill by banging the blade against his bracer, Abby already had her bow in hand. She conjured an arrow even as she drew the string back, letting it loose. It flew true, guided and empowered by the wind to hit precisely where she intended. But she hadn’t aimed for a kill shot. She had no confidence in taking him down like that; his endurance was likely far too high. Instead, the silvery arrow slammed into his right wrist, the impact sending the sword flying from his hand. So, disarming him was the next best thing.

Grimacing from the wound in her side, Abby sprang to her feet as she conjured another arrow. She fired it at one of Julio’s henchmen, downing him with a single shot. Then she repeated her actions as she retreated from the camp. The moment she crossed the threshold of her skill, [Makeshift Camp], she pushed the bulk of her remaining energy into it. A second later, another of Julio’s curses slammed into the mostly transparent barrier, sending ripples of energy arcing out along the boundaries of the camp.

It was something she’d discovered soon after acquiring the skill. Not only could it keep monsters and other wildlife out, but with some effort and quite a bit of mana, she could reverse its polarity to keep enemies inside the camp as well. It was effectively a prison, so long as her mana held out. Sadly, that wouldn’t be long, considering that she’d been forced to expend quite a bit of energy to forcefully explode the curse rune.

She had no choice but to flee. In the dark. Through a monster- and troll-infested swamp. But as horrible and terrifying as the creatures in the bog might be, they were nothing compared to what she was leaving behind. Julio and his ilk were exactly as detestable as she’d first thought, and even as she fled through the swamp, clutching the bloody wound in her side, Abby silently cursed herself for ever putting herself and her friend in such an obviously terrible situation. She was smarter than that. She should have known better.

However, she knew exactly why she had taken the chance. If she hadn’t been determined to grow more powerful before, she certainly was now. Julio had shown her the price of weakness, and it was a lesson she intended to take to heart.

Still, as Abby distanced herself from the scene of Vladimir’s murder, she vowed that before everything was done, she would avenge her friend’s sudden death. Vladimir had been a good man and a stalwart friend, her constant companion through countless adventures.

And now she was all alone.

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