Soulmancer – Chapter 4: Training and Forum…

Once the chat was unlocked, all of the Walkers started chatting in the Forum at the same time. They were expressing their frustrations and anxiety.

Anonymous 4477: That was it, after being silent for three days?! The admin doesn’t talk much. Rumbling about how we can use the ‘Verdes’. Really? And how ‘Demerits’ are part of the Fortress of Dungeons or whatever.

Anonymous 4787: Hey, stupid. Shut the fuck up! Don’t let the unexpected grand entrance fool ya. The main solution is to find the admin… beating him to a bloody pulp after raiding all the dungeons.

Anonymous 3750: Dumbass! I felt as if my heartbeat was beating like the drums of liberation. Haha.

Anonymous 3752: Ah, you’ve got anger issues or something? Stop making a racket.

Anonymous 3749: Just ignore the ‘bastard…4787’ and report him to Beelzebub.

Anonymous 4975: Excuse me? Admin? Can you please tell us a method used by High-Walkers to get back? We have been here for three freaking days already.

Anonymous 4974: Does this mean we D-Walkers aren’t getting the method to return? I want to see my daughter already. Ugh!

Chats steadily flooded through Izel’s head as he gathered his thoughts, feeling total dismay at the occasional update. It was obvious that raiding all the dungeons in a short time was impossible. Who knew how many dungeons existed? They’d probably be slaying monsters for many more days, or perhaps even months. Would it be smarter to refuse to raid the dungeons and stay in the waiting room?

Probably not, he tilted his head, disapproving of that notion. Verdes could only be earned in dungeon raids, essential for survival unless he wanted to starve. The fairly brown-skinned teen could only go so far with the few Verdes he earned from past raids, unable to purchase weapons or skills.

Sixty Verdes might seem like a lot, but that illusion shattered after a quick scan of the Trading Center. ’60 Verdes simply wasn’t enough,’ he thought to himself. Not even a single grain of rice could be obtained without Verdes. In any case, as always, he would have to continue accepting raids.

Sucking his teeth, Izel clapped his palm resoundingly, then picked up the plain-black leather scabbard attached to a belt lying next to the bed. It was the weapon he acquired in the second tutorial.

Unsheathing the sword, he was greeted by the notification of the weapon.

[Iron longsword (ungraded)

A brittle and one-handed iron longsword.

Durability: 2.5/5

Effect: Damage +10

Demerit: The lower the durability, the more the blade becomes rusted and weakened.]

The notification indicated a significant decrease in durability, worsening the status of the blind man’s trusty longsword after the last raid. He frowned as he delicately ran his fingers over the blade’s surface, realizing it was in a far worse condition than its appraisal suggested.

Though the effect remained unchanged, he doubted if the sword could carry him through the next dungeon. He needed additional protection alongside his debilitated weapon. Izel’s capabilities surpassed those of an E-rank dungeon, but facing unknown monsters in the next one made him uncertain about his weapon’s ability to endure the strain.

Reliance on equipment for self-defense against surprise attacks, difficult to evade with his reflexes, urged caution. Luck couldn’t always be relied upon. He had several reasons to consider upgrading his weapon.

“… might’ve been better off with a steel sword,” he mused. Izel had never explored any affinity for weapons beyond swords and standard techniques like slashing, thrusting, and parrying. It wasn’t laziness but a lack of consideration for its necessity that halted his exploration.

However, now he pondered its importance.
Light armor with quick mobility suited a beginner-friendly fighting style, easier to adapt to than heavier armor. Defensive light armor could improve survival chances. He aimed for something light, and fast, with an added gear skill to enhance movement, crucial for his vulnerable body.
After an hour of contemplation, he made a decision: ‘Trading Center.’

Experienced hunters minimized the damage by combining swords or spears with armor. The list detailed each weapon’s attributes, and Izel narrowed his choice based on specifications. Closer to a military vest and an eastern katana would suit him best. To master the equipment, he knew practice was crucial.

A few minutes later…

[You have purchased an Esoteric Steel Military Vest (E)]

[Verdes Deducted: 25]

[Verdes Remaining: 47]

After a slight spatial rupture, the acquired equipment materialized into existence. Feeling the vest’s structure and black matte-leather texture, he immediately wore it underneath his dark cloak. It would help protect him from the force of oncoming hits and reduce the effectiveness of his enemies’ sound-based abilities.

Although a little expensive, the configuration and thickness were just right, with high-quality steel and foam shock absorbers to engross and block E-rank attacks. Other Hunters might think vests are weak, but that wasn’t always the case. He chose to check the military vest’s details.

[Esoteric Steel Military Vest (E)]

[Description: This military armored vest was made and used by an evolved race of ‘Kwanyan’ in 1423 AD. The exterior is made with five layers of high-quality black steel, and the interior is made of ultra-high-molecular-weight “polyethylene” shock aegis.

Effect: Absorbs the impact of sustained attacks.

Demerit: Attacks to D-rank strength or above can destroy the armor’s layers. Also, an overwhelming difference in weight will engulf the Host when worn for the first time. Thus, this strange consequence would adapt to the Host over time.]

Ever since the monster outbreak from Vulkan, their realm, into Elilaum a century ago, the development of equipment and weapons has skyrocketed. Super-light and sturdy military vests like this one are worth at least 10,000 Lupi in the general market.

“Hmm. Probably more in the black market, though,” Izel pondered doubtfully.
His sense of money had dulled a little after spending three days in the fortress. The price might’ve been higher due to recent tariff increases and other settlements. It was a hefty price that an E-rank hunter would find ridiculous to spend on an item compared to a weapon.

Moreover, acquiring such an amount of Lupi would have required an insurmountable amount of hunting E-rank monsters. Given his previous trash rank, it would have been significantly harder for the blind man to obtain in the real world. But now, it didn’t matter since he wouldn’t casually expose the armor to anyone.

Taking a deep breath, he positioned himself in the vest; typically, his posture was decent. Training seemed worthwhile, given that his improved stats made handling the sword much easier. But currently, Izel was in his best condition.

To hone his reflexes, he practiced fighting and moving in the vest while wielding his sword for two hours. Finishing the brief training, he paused and scanned the Trading Center again, where the system voice monotonously listed the items available.

“Damn it, I never thought moving in this armor would be so light yet difficult,” he thought in frustration, feeling an awkward lightness in his upper region compared to his lower region. If it weren’t for the room’s passive recovery, Izel’s body would have been exhausted, gasping for air, and possibly keeling over from tiredness after such training. The strange lightness in the upper section was due to the vest.

“I guess the demerit was true to its words for the ‘lightness’ being overwhelmingly strong,” Izel sighed in dismay, unable to adapt quickly enough despite knowing it was just the demerit doing its job. Instead of giving up, a flame of resolution began to well within his heart.

“Instead of waiting for ‘it’ to adapt to my body, I will just adapt to its weightlessness,” he decided, determined to master the vest’s strange ethereality and improve his reflexes in the process. Firmly, he gripped the sword hilt, showing that a blind man could possess as much determination as anyone else.

Finally, he needed to purchase something, even if it was small and for emergencies. The Trading Center’s low-cost, and thus low-ranked item category, echoed in his mind. Plenty of varieties were listed…

‘Stop! Purchase!’ Inwardly, Izel contemplated specific items flashing through his mind.

[Boost Potion (F-)]

[Effect: Temporarily doubles stats for five minutes.

Demerit: The host experiences extreme pain.]

He also bought two daggers;

[Feeble Dagger (F-)] X2

[Description: An old, brittle dagger with
dulled edges.

Demerit: Single application. It will shatter after use.]

He didn’t hesitate to purchase all the items he wanted for emergencies, and as always, each had a demerit. At least, in comparison to a demerit he saw a few months ago that needed his balls to function, they were decent enough. He couldn’t imagine who in the Fortress of Dungeons would create such a negative effect. Who knew? Perhaps it was some system bug or malfunction.

‘Fortress: equivalent exchange, my ass,’ Izel cursed, stressfully.

[Verdes Remaining: 12.]

As the balance of his Verdes echoed within his mind, he smacked his lips. Still having enough points to purchase some new food supplies and also about to consume the remainder of his old food supplies, his stomach suddenly growled.

“…”

“Alright, alright, meals are coming right up. Hehe,” he carefreely stroked his belly and began to resupply his food reserves.

[Otherworldly Wheat Bread (N/A)] X4

[Description: A very soft wheat bread produced by the ‘Korotan’ Empire in the 2nd century AD.

Demerit: Addictive.]

[Otherworldly Waterskin (E)] X4

[Description: Somewhat tasty and sometimes salty. However, it’s rather drinkable but chilly water from the frost pool of an icicle sanctuary.

Demerit: May cause dehydration if overdosed.]

[Otherwordly Jerky (N/A)] X4

[Description: Roasted and dried meat from a Brown White-snow Bear from the base of Mount Everest, in a world called ‘Earth’ in the Milky Way galaxy.

Demerit: Bitter flavor in taste and may contain artificial ingredients, in which overconsumption might lead to a loss in fat and carbs.]

He assumed it would suffice to sustain him for a while. Munching on his old supplies—two wheat breads, jerky, and waterskins—the blind man delved deeper into his thoughts. He contemplated how the ‘Boost Portion’ could aid in prolonged fights by temporarily enhancing his stats.

The five-minute buff seemed ideal for any formidable opponents he might encounter during the fortress’s next raid. He pondered the downside: ‘Demerit: extreme pain.’ It was yet another aftermath of surpassing the Host’s physical limit. Izel shivered, considering the future agony he’d endure after boosting his stats. Once the demerit reverberated in his mind, he resolved to search for ‘pain resistance’ or ‘tolerance skill,’ but the cost was staggering—a minimum of 150 Verdes.

Internally, he swallowed hard before cursing. ‘Damn you, Fortress of Dungeons, or whatever made this shit!’

After venting his frustrations, he calmed his mind, focusing on the next item he’d acquired. ‘Feeble daggers for unexpected situations,’ he thought. Thanks to [Flawlation], he could anticipate attacks that would otherwise be in his blind spot. If used cleverly, it might become his best method for redirection or launching surprise attacks.

As he gripped the dagger’s blade with hands seemingly feminine in stature, he contemplated its potential…

[Feeble Dagger (F-)]

[Description: An old, brittle dagger with dulled edges.]

At the presentation of the item’s status, those words echoed in his mind. ‘Screw it; it’s been called ‘feeble,’ but weak things still have their uses,’ he frustratedly declared, stowing it in his pocket-sized bag. It was enough ‘battle’ supplies for now.

Izel sighed, placing chunks of bread and jerky into his mouth. He nibbled on a piece, realizing its confectionary and bitter taste, along with its mouth-wateringly soft yet dry texture. There was still plenty of time left before the next raid, so he had numerous hours to get used to his vest. Before continuing his training, the blind man silently sipped some tasty water to help him swallow the bread and jerky.

‘Ah, that’s the ticket!’ Relaxed, the mint-flavored water refreshed his body, soul, and stomach, relieving his hunger and stress. However, the sweetness and oddly inconsistent saltiness of the bread blended with the bitter-flavored jerky and water took some getting used to. Despite some time passing, he hadn’t grown accustomed to the discomfort of the vest’s lightness around his upper body.

Yet, there was a noticeable difference in his light swings, thrusts, and reflexes, as well as abrupt changes in movement. If Izel couldn’t get used to them, it would almost certainly cost him in the upcoming battle. But both his body and mind were in pristine condition; even if he tired out from training, the waiting room would quickly recover him. Therefore, after training, the obvious choice was to rest before entering the anticipated dungeon.

The D-rank dungeon raid begins in 17 hours and 32 minutes.

During training, he re-enabled the Forum’s narration to monitor the other Walkers’ chats, suspecting potential intelligence leaks before the raid. After the admin’s abrupt departure, the situation momentarily calmed, and the Forum appeared more organized than before. However, that impression faded swiftly when the following chats flashed before his mind.

Anonymous 4685: Screw this shit. I can’t use my spear or shield because my proficiency isn’t as high as during my hunting days.

Anonymous 4756: Me too. I’m a necromancer, but with low proficiency, I can only summon two or three skeletons. Damn, I miss my legion.

Anonymous 4243: I don’t care about any of that. I just hate how low my stats are right now, even after clearing the tutorial and the F-rank dungeon. I almost died in the E-rank dungeon raid.

Anonymous 4539: Ah, I see… I just acquired the archery skill, but I have to build up its proficiency to survive the next raid.

Anonymous 4396: At least you hunters know what to do. What are non-awakened people like me supposed to do? Can I even pass the upcoming D-rank raid with 40+ per stat? I’m nervous.

Anonymous 3987: Try trusting in your survival instincts. You should also buy a new sword, a spear, a shield, or even a bow with some arrows. Just make sure to practice as much as possible.

Anonymous 4787: Damned. I wouldn’t have to do this if I had my old stats and skills. It’s all thanks to that shitty admin.

Anon 4787 has been reported to Beelzebub.

→ You have been warned.

Anonymous 4787: Who the hell reported me? You fucker. I will fucking kill you.

→ Due to excessive profanity and a pre-existing warning, you will be banned for 24 hours.

“…”

Anonymous 3749: Finally, a breath of fresh air. That should serve as a warning to others.

The chats remained relatively unchanged except for the sudden report and subsequent blocking of a particular Walker causing a stir. Anxiety, skepticism, and desperation saturated the Forum as every Walker nervously prepared for the imminent raid.

However, none of this applied to Izel. Despite receiving the Hunter’s test, he barely scraped through. He considered himself worthless as an F-rank Hunter and even worse as a non-awakened individual. His blindness, he reckoned, somewhat assisted him. He sensed a change within himself in the Fortress of Dungeons, confronting death, despair, and agony daily. Perhaps, it was a blessing for a lifetime of suffering due to being born blind.

With his sensory skills and the newfound [Soul Assimilation] ability enhancing his stats, he believed he could climb the ranks of the awakened society. Positive thinking became Izel’s only recourse during training for the next raid. The battlefield grew tougher with each raid, surpassing both the tutorials and the F-rank desert raid.

The increased competition seemed rooted in Hunters on Elilaum re-establishing themselves and accelerating their skill acquisition, while others honed their abilities faster than ever. To catch up, he needed to push his training to its limits each time. His growth was directly tied to survival.

Izel had to train two to three times harder and more efficiently than anyone else. This way, his journey to becoming the strongest would be more strenuous than the road to Eden. He pushed his body until it collapsed. Thankfully, the recent stat increase and auto-recovery in his room slightly altered his exhaustion rate during training. He was a different person from the one ready to give up just three days ago.

Stats, skills, and weapons: Izel gained more within the fortress in days than he ever could outside, where he waited for death in his cozy yet mundane room with dulled senses. His will to live had almost faded. But if he continued to adapt, improvise, and overcome, he knew he’d surpass not only the High-Walkers but also the ‘Ascenders’ in the outside world—those above both High-Hunter and High-Ranker.

His time of powerlessness, humiliation, freeloading, and worthlessness due to being blind and abandoned was over. His parents saw him as a cursed child, but he would prove them wrong. From his F-rank fate on Elilaum, he conquered the tutorial, the F-rank dungeon, and even the E-rank raid. If he survived the next one and kept tackling every dungeon thrown at him, everything he dreamt of would be within his grasp. No, he would achieve much more.

The Fortress of Dungeons wasn’t where he’d meet a futile end. The raids promised rewards and Verdes to further bolster his power. The higher the raided dungeon, the greater the gain. Then, the possibility of returning to Elilaum emerged. His primary aim was to clear the D-rank dungeon.

The D-rank dungeon raid begins in 15 hours and 15 minutes.

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