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Lichbane: A Deckbuilding LitRPG (Goblin Summoner Book 2)

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CAPITAN SIN NOMBRE

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Goblin Summoner
A Deckbuilding LitRPG
Tracy Gregory

P.W Hillard Fiction

Copyright © 2021 P.W Hillard Fiction
All rights reserved
The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons,
living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.
No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any
form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without
express written permission of the publisher.

Cover design by: GetCovers.com

Contents
Prologue
Chapter One
Chapter Two
Chapter Three
Chapter Four
Chapter Five
Chapter Six
Chapter Seven
Chapter Eight
Chapter Nine
Chapter Ten
Chapter Eleven
Chapter Twelve
Chapter Thirteen
Chapter Fourteen
Chapter Fifteen
Chapter Sixteen
Chapter Seventeen
Chapter Eighteen
Chapter Nineteen
Chapter Twenty
Chapter Twenty-One
Chapter Twenty-Two
Chapter Twenty-Three
Chapter Twenty-Four
Chapter Twenty-Five
Chapter Twenty-Six
Chapter Twenty-Seven
Chapter Twenty-Eight
Chapter Twenty-Nine
Chapter Thirty
Chapter Thirty-One
Goblin Summoner – The Rules

Prologue

The

soul screamed in agony, the pain of its death lingering in its
ephemeral form. It was something that Magdalena still wasn’t used
to. Her two thousand year training period was barely halfway over,
and the shrieks still set her on edge. This one was particularly bad,
the wailing causing her form to resonate in a way she couldn’t
describe.
“Anything?” Helena said. The goddess was peering over her
protégés shoulder at the scroll in Magdalena’s hands. Behind her was
an endless sea of stars, each one not a burning ball of nuclear fire
but an entire reality. The energy exuded by existence caused them to
shimmer brightly. Most were glowing a pleasing warm soft white,
though some were a vicious red. “We’ve lost another one this
morning.”
“This one looks fairly standard,” Magdalena said, reading from
the scroll. “Died plugging in a faulty appliance. Lived a pretty good
life, no major sins, but no big heroic ; moments either. Just an average
normal person. It’s certainly a lot…louder, than most.”
“That can happen, depends on how painful the end is.
Sometimes it’s not even the physical pain, more the shock of it.”
Helena flicked her golden hair over her shoulder. Like Helena, she
was wearing a long flowing robe covered in swirling colours that
moved over the surface of the cloth. Helena was almost twice as tall
as her trainee, a natural consequence of her earlier creation. There
simply wasn’t enough divinity to go around these days.
“Maybe they might be a good fit? They certainly haven’t done
anything horrible in their lives.”
Helena let out a long sigh. It was not the first time Magdalena
had shown a worrying sympathy for the mortal souls. “How many

times. It’s not about if they were a good person or a bad person.
What we’re looking for are particular skills. It doesn’t matter who
wielded them in their past life.”
“I know…but…”
“But nothing.” Helena crossed her arms and glared at her fellow
goddess. “You know our purpose.”
“Seeking heroes for the great game,” Magdalena said, the words
dull and lifeless. She had said them a thousand times before. It was
her role in things, to search through all the souls of the cosmos
looking for those who would be suitable heroes for worlds that
needed them. There they would be pitted against the forces of the
adversary, battling for control of that reality and the precious scraps of
divinity it contained. Magdalena was nothing more than a recruiter for
an army that spanned the universe, another soldier in a battle older
than time itself.
She hated it. Finding a soul suitable for being a hero was like
looking for a particular grain of sand along a long beach. It didn’t help
that so very often the skills necessary came attached to souls who
had lived horrible lives. Competent fighters, charismatic leaders and
brilliant strategic thinkers were rarely nice people. The souls deemed
unworthy were sent to the beyond, their fate outside the knowledge of
the gods. For all Magdalena knew she was consigning good people
to oblivion simply because they wouldn’t make effective soldiers.
“That’s correct. All that matters is winning. It’s our job to pick the
souls that will best help us achieve that. You don’t want the adversary
to win, do you?”
“No…” Magdalena didn’t want that, no goddess did. Without the
divinity gathered from the worlds they couldn’t exist. She just wished
they didn’t have to be so callous with their methods. Magdalena had
seen into the mortals’ lives. She knew they worshipped the gods, and
whilst their specific depictions were normally wildly off, without fail the
mortals believed that living a good life would be rewarded. To
Magdalena what they were doing felt like a betrayal. The mortals
deserved better.
“I thought not. Now, I have other trainees to oversee. Send this
soul to the beyond and then keep looking. We don’t have all century

to waste.” Helena turned, her robe swishing behind her as she
walked off. There was no building beneath her sandals, no structure
holding her aloft, she simply strode across the void, reality rippling
beneath each step.
“We don’t have all century to waste…” Magdalena said, her pitch
shifting up and down as she mocked her superior. “Maybe if you
weren’t constantly checking on me.” She made a gesture obscene in
four dozen worlds towards the void then turned back to the still
screaming soul.
It was an odd thing to look at. A single shimmering orb the size of
a human head, the entire sum of a person’s lifeforce condensed
down into a small area. It would be a humbling sight if it weren’t
screaming constantly like a lost child. That was ruining the majesty
somewhat. Magdalena took another glance at the scroll in her hands.
This soul didn’t have the makings of a hero, at least not by Helena’s
standards. No experience in combat, no leading of great armies, not
even the most basic magical ability.
That was hardly surprising, the soul was from Earth, a world with
no understanding of magic. Not even a basic grasp on the arcane
systems that underlined reality. The exact manifestation of that magic
varied from world to world, and Earth was unlucky enough to be at
the bottom of that barrel.
With a flick of her hand, Magdalena opened the portal to the
beyond. The soul seemed to shrink, almost like it was afraid of what
lay past the threshold. It was a normal reaction. Magdalena had
heard from some of the other gods that some souls were so afraid of
being dead that they clung to their worlds, terrorising the living as
ghosts or phantoms.
“You’ve got good reason to be afraid,” Magdalena said. She
raised her hand and prepared to whisk the soul to its ultimate fate,
but something stopped her. It wasn’t right, the soul before her had
lived barely twenty-seven years, it deserved to live. With a second
swish of her hand, the portal closed, another replacing it. Rather than
the endless black that had been there previously, there was now a
temperate forest beyond, vivid green leaves rustling gently in a
pleasant breeze.

Magdalena thought about it for a moment. Helena would never
know, and she would feel better having given just one soul another
chance at life. They could still send a suitable hero soul through once
one was found. This shrieking orb would just get to live out the rest of
their lives in another world. The reality they would find themselves in,
a world called Acamida, was a place brimming with powerful magic,
its occupants harnessing the arcane power in a unique way.
“We can’t have you going in with nothing…” With another swish,
a mote of light formed above the soul. It drifted gently down to the top
of the glowing orb and was quickly absorbed into its mass. “There,
that’s a little better. Right well, off you go. Before anyone notices.”
A sweep of the arm sent the soul careening through the portal,
the rift sealing quickly behind them. Magdalena snapped her fingers
and another soul appeared before her. It immediately began to
scream. Reaching into her robe Magdalena began to examine the life
of the soul before her.

Chapter One

Gareth

hit the ground with a thump, rolling across the damp earth
before bumping up against a tree, the rough bark scratching his skin.
He felt sick like he had been riding the world’s worst designed
rollercoaster. He tried to retch, but nothing came out, his stomach
empty. He had no idea where he was. The last thing Gareth
remembered was buying a new console from a guy in a car park. The
whole thing had been obviously sketchy but trying to get one of the
consoles through normal channels had proved impossible, entire
shipments bought out by bots in an instant. Gareth was certain he
had gotten it home and plugged it in, but that memory was fuzzy, out
of focus, almost dreamlike. It can’t have been real.
Sitting up, Gareth tried to take stock of his surroundings. He was
in a forest, though he had no idea which one. There were a few
wooded areas around where he lived, and it could have been any one
of them. The trees that stretched up into the sky around him weren’t
familiar, their bark a darker shade of brown than the ones he was
used to. It had been a long time since Gareth had gone wandering in
the woods, so he assumed he had simply misremembered.
He reached down, trying to pull his phone from his pocket. The
guys he had met in the car park must have done something to him.
Gareth’s hand felt nothing, no familiar smooth glass edge. His panic
at missing his phone meant it took him a moment to realise he felt no
pocket at all. Glancing down, Gareth realised that he was wearing
nothing. He had been stripped naked, all of his belongings missing.
Gareth began to shiver as he suddenly felt cold, a reaction that was
only partly psychological. The wind was starting to pick up.
“Ok, Gareth. Not the smartest idea to buy a console from some
guy on the internet in the middle of the night.” He was talking to keep

himself calm. It was clear he had been robbed, and Gareth
considered himself lucky he wasn’t dead in a ditch somewhere. “They
could have left me my trousers though.”
Crossing his arms over his chest in a vain attempt to keep warm,
Gareth tried to get his bearings. He looked at the nearby tree,
examining its bark for moss. He remembered seeing on television
once that moss only grew on the east side of a tree. Or was it north?
Gareth couldn’t remember and he realised it wouldn’t matter anyway.
Knowing which was which didn’t matter when you had no idea where
you were, to begin with.
Something glimmered in the undergrowth nearby, catching the
light from the sun. It was high in the sky, and Gareth assumed it had
to be close to midday. It was just past midnight when he had arrived
in the car park, so that left him with around twelve hours missing. It
didn’t explain why he had woken up flying through the air, the thud
against the ground shuddering him awake. There was no one else
around, so the only explanation he could think of was someone had
placed him into the branches of a nearby tree. They probably thought
it was funny.
He bent down and rummaged around for the object. He was
hoping it was his phone, but Gareth’s hand settled on something
much larger. Picking it up, he discovered it was a simple leather box
with a flip-down lid.
“A deck box?” He instantly recognised it. Gareth was something
of a connoisseur of card games. He had played them all, from the
famous big names to niche anime-based Japanese exports. He loved
everything about them. The strategy behind deckbuilding, pulling off
an intricate combo, even the tactile feel of sleeved cards in his hands.
The design of the deck box was a little roughshod for his tastes.
Someone had stitched it together themselves from scraps, the
different coloured leathers clashing with each other. A small metal
symbol had been glued to the front, the source of the gleaming. It
was a small blob with two long triangular points stretching outwards
on each side.
Despite standing in the middle of nowhere, totally naked,
Gareth’s curiosity got the better of him. He opened the lid of the deck

box and peeked inside.
Brilliant light began to pour out, a rainbow of colours that swirled
around him. Gareth could feel himself floating into the air, the energy
lifting him from the ground. It flowed into him; the light absorbed into
his skin as it raced to meet his bare flesh. It was over as quickly as it
began, Gareth floating in the air for a brief moment.
“Not again.”
Gareth hit the ground, grunting as he did. It was the second time
in ten minutes he had slammed into the damp dirt. His knees, elbows,
and less family-friendly parts of his body were stained with mud.
Words appeared in his vision, large bold letters sitting squarely in
the centre of Gareth’s eye line.
Bonding complete. Deck affinity assigned- Goblins.
Starting cards generated.
Mana levels linked to deck. Cards adjusted based on
statistics.
The words turned to mist, fading away after a moment.
“What is going on? Is this a dream? No, it can’t be.” Gareth
rubbed his aching knees. No dream could hurt like that. He
considered for a moment that it could be a television show or an
internet video, but the light show he had seen was beyond what
Gareth understood was possible. Lifting him into the air when he
wasn’t wearing a wire harness was proof enough.
Whatever weirdness Gareth was experiencing, it would have to
wait. Getting home was his first priority, along with a long bath and
some fresh clothes. He brushed himself with his hands, a vain
attempt to shake the dirt from his body. Gareth was surprised to find
the presence of a belt.
A thin strip of leather with a simple clasp, the belt grabbed tight
to his waist. Hanging from it was the deck box, the belt running
through a loop on the back. The metal symbol shimmered at him,
almost like it was pleased with Gareth noticing it.
“Ok. This is beyond weird now. Can I get some clothes please
magic box?” Nothing happened, no swirling pillars of light or
cavalcade of colour. “Worth a try.”

With no other ideas, Gareth simply picked a direction and began
to walk. As a kid he had played in the woods near his town, building
forts and running through the trees. Without shoes, it was
considerably less fun, the debris on the forest floor jabbing into his
feet as he walked. It was a distinctly unpleasant experience. Getting
his hands on a brand new console was the least of Gareth’s desires
now. He just wanted revenge, and trousers, not necessarily in that
order.
There was a loud rustle in some bushes ahead and Gareth came
to a stop. He still suspected he was being watched, and it was always
possible that the people who had attacked him were still lurking
about. He crouched down, his sole experience at attempting stealth
learnt from videogames. He crept forward, one arm outstretched
before him, his palm open. The noise was growing louder, the rustling
joined by a kind of high pitched squeal.
The undergrowth exploded into a flurry of leaves as a creature
leapt from within. It was a strange thing, its body made of twisted and
gnarled vines; plant life fused into the shape of a boar. Two red eyes
glowed from within the gnarled tangle, whilst long sharp looking
thorns took the place of tusks. The creature lowered its head, vines
creaking as it moved, and charged.
Gareth was frozen in place, unable to move in time as the beast
thundered towards him. He closed his eyes, bracing for the coming
blow.
A brilliant light pushed its way through his closed eyelids, a loud
noise not unlike a plate shattering filling the air. Gareth felt no blow,
so opened his eyes to take in what had happened.
Floating in the air before him, was two cards. Each had a golden
glow around them. The design of each card was an intricate mass of
swirls, hundreds of delicate sweeping gold curves that never touched
one another. It was beautiful to look at. The creature was laying on
the ground nearby, struggling to get to its wooden hooves.
Shield broken. Empowered card added to castable spells.
There was those words again, floating in Gareth’s vision. He tried
to wave them away with his left hand and was surprised to find that
several more cards were following his hand as it moved. They were

different from the others, with no golden glow around them. They
were covered in elaborate artwork and filled with text. Gareth moved
his hand experimentally and found there was a delay to the cards
following his motions, each card floating a little closer as his hand
moved over it. They only followed if he moved past the row of cards.
The card at the end was slightly different, having the same
golden light as those floating before his body. It seemed to glow
brightly as Gareth moved his hand over it. The monster was still
struggling to stand, so he examined it quickly.
Lightning Blast
Spell
Mana Cost: 1
Deals 2 damage to target monster.
“Unleashing the fury of the storm always has a certain
timeless appeal to it.” – Archmage Kaladear
The artwork on it was a painting of a lightning bolt, blue electric
set against the white of a snowy mountain peak. Gareth could feel the
card moving closer to his fingers. It wanted him to touch it. Without
any other options at hand, he did exactly that.
The card thrummed with power, a glow washing over it. Motes of
blue light gathered before Gareth, building into a crackling ball of
electricity in less than a second. The ball exploded into a bolt of
deadly energy, crashing into the creature as it finally found its footing.
The beast exploded, showering Gareth in bits of plant and some kind
of thick green liquid.
Vineswine defeated. 50 experience points gained.
Experience points? Gareth couldn’t believe what he was reading.
Experience points would imply he was playing a game, but no game
Gareth had ever played was this realistic. It would explain a card
giving him the ability to fire lightning at least. It was still floating there,
the faint golden glow outlining it. Experimentally, Gareth touched it
again. Nothing happened, and he leant in closer to check the text
again. Target monster. Gareth had played enough card games to
know that the card wasn’t responding simply because there were no
monsters left to target. His second glance at the text confirmed that
there was a cost to casting the spell.

Gareth looked around for some kind of indication as to what a
mana was. In games, it was normally a blue bar, but he couldn’t see
anything like that. Realising that the cards were floating by his left
hand, he checked his right and was pleased to see two blue floating
orbs, each the size of a coin, above his knuckles. Gareth assumed
that was his mana based on nothing more than a gut feeling.
He examined one of the other cards. Alongside Lightning Blast,
there were four others. Two of them were more copies of Lightning
Blast, which seemed strange to Gareth. His usage of the first one
hadn’t discarded it from what he was already calling his hand in his
mind. Of course, having more copies did improve the odds of drawing
one, and with no frame of reference, Lightning Blast could be one of
the most powerful spells around. The next card along was very
different. It had a drawing of a small green creature with long pointed
ears and some extra text.
Puny Goblin
Monster - Goblin
Mana Cost: 1
Attack rating: 100 Defence rating: 100 Hit points:1
“Little blighters are nothing more than an annoyance.”- Last
words of famed explorer Trent of Hosterfield.
Gareth’s exploration of his other cards would have to wait. Two
more vineswine had come thundering through the undergrowth, their
eyes glowing vivid crimson as they rushed at Gareth. He looked down
and realised he was still covered in the gore of their kin. It probably
wasn’t a good idea to stand around in a forest filled with strange
monsters reading cards in the nude.
At least his new attackers were a chance to try out the Puny
Goblin. Gareth touched the card and it began to glow vibrant white.
The light shifted, flying ahead of him, and changing its shape. The
glow faded, the card gone and replaced by a creature that was
incredibly underwhelming. It was barely two and a half feet high, its
bulbous head and long ears too large for its body. The creature was
wearing rags over its modesty but little else. The goblin’s face was
flat, just two small slits for a nose. Its eyes were bright red and its
mouth was filled with razor-sharp jagged teeth. The goblin’s limbs

looked flimsy, barely enough to hold the creature up. It looked up at
Gareth expectantly.
“I don’t know, attack one of those plant-boar things maybe?”
The goblin nodded and charged at the nearest vineswine. At the
end of its fingers were a set of jagged nails and the little creature
raised them high like they were knives. The two vineswine had
stopped their charge, confused at the sudden appearance of a goblin.
Gareth took a quick look at his right hand. One of the glowing
spheres had turned grey. The goblin cost one mana to summon, so
the change made sense. What confused him was that the Lightning
Blast hadn’t done the same. He decided to help the goblin out,
touching the golden glowing card.
Lightning sprang out, striking the vineswine just behind the one
the goblin was swinging its nails at. It was the one that Gareth wanted
to attack, the spell understanding his intent as he cast it. The goblin
glared at him as parts of the vineswine landed on its head.
“Sorry,” Gareth said with a shrug. He glanced at his mana. Still
one blue orb and one grey. The Lightning Blast hadn’t consumed any.
It had to be something to do with the gold border, that was the only
difference between the copies that Gareth could see.
As the goblin attempted to land a blow on the vineswine, Gareth
knew he should be freaked out by all of this. Here he was summoning
goblins and shooting lightning at monsters. Despite the cold wind on
his skin, being lost in a forest and missing all of his belongings,
Gareth had to admit that this was very cool. Game, TV show,
whatever it was, it felt amazing. This was always the fantasy
presented by the card games Gareth loved so much. Become a
wizard, summon monsters, and cast spells. Here he was making that
a reality. He was grinning from ear to ear.
The goblins nails raked the side of the vineswine as it tried to
evade, digging deep into its vines. They tore away, the little creature
having more strength than it looked. With a squeal the monster fell to
the side, its legs twitching a few times before stopping.
Vineswine defeated. 50 experience points gained.
Vineswine defeated. 50 experience points gained.
Level up – Level 2 reached.

Current Exp 50/150
One skill point gained.
Things were getting really strange now. A tough ask considering
Gareth had summoned a goblin to fight for him. First experience
points, now he was gaining levels. He had no idea what that even
meant to him. He had a skill point, but no idea how to spend it, or
what spending it would even achieve. Gareth understood card games
and had played plenty of role-playing games in his life, but whatever
this was seemed to be a mash-up of the two.
“So, what do we do now?” Gareth said to the goblin. The little
creature just shrugged and turned back into a ball of light. It rushed
into the open deck box, the light winking out as it went inside. “Well,
thanks a lot pal.” The rest of the cards flew back into the box, the lid
sealing itself.
Looking back down at it, Gareth realised the metal logo was the
head of a goblin or at least a crude facsimile of it. The notifications
had said something about having a deck affinity for goblins, whatever
that meant. Another gust of cold wind reminded him that he needed
to find clothing or shelter, preferably both.
As he began to walk, something caught Gareth’s eye, faint motes
of gold floating from the grass near the body of one of the vineswine.
Gareth bent down and picked it up, examining the object in his hands.
Rugged vine collected.
It was a strip of thick vine from the dead monster. Why exactly it
had been glowing Gareth didn’t know, but the fact it had come with a
notification told him it was important. He went to place it in his pocket,
forgetting for a moment that he didn’t have any. Instead, Gareth
tucked it into the band of his belt. The vine was slightly sticky and felt
unpleasant against his skin.
“Great. Dirty and now sticky as well. This isn’t going well at all. I
hope whoever is watching this is having fun!”
Grumbling to himself, Gareth resumed his walk into the forest.
He had to reach the edge at some point or come across another
person eventually.
***

It had been several hours, and Gareth had gotten nowhere. The
forest seemed endless, stretching out into infinity around him. His feet
were in agony, filled with shards of rocks and sticks. His whole body
was covered in scratches, more than once he had wandered into a
cluster of brambles hidden behind a tree. So far, no other monsters
had threatened him, but Gareth suspected it was only a matter of
time.
A scream caught his attention. A cluster of birds flew into the air,
scared by the noise. Gareth began to run towards it. A scream wasn’t
a good noise, but it was the first sign of human life he had
experienced all day. It hadn’t been far away, just past the treeline
ahead so Gareth sprinted as fast as he could.
His emergence into the clearing generated a second scream. It
was understandable, a naked man covered in mud and scratches and
with leaves caught in his hair bursting through the treeline wasn’t the
most comforting thing to see. Gareth wasn’t thrilled with it either as a
first impression.
In the middle of the clearing was a woman. She was wearing a
flowing black robe that was clasped together with a simple bronze
broach. Her face was soft and rounded, her long blonde hair draped
over her shoulder in a braid. She was pointing at Gareth with one
hand as she screamed, the other holding her knee tight to her body.
“Woah, woah! I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you,” he said,
suddenly aware of his nudity. He covered himself with his hands.
“Didn’t mean to scare me? You’re running around the forest
naked in the middle of the day!” the woman said, jabbing a finger
accusingly at Gareth. She had a point.
“Not by choice! I woke up like this and I’ve been lost here for the
last few hours. I have no idea where I am. Last thing I knew I was in a
car park by a closed down newsagents.”
The woman’s eyes narrowed. “You woke up here? A few hours
ago? Is…is your name Gareth by any chance?”
“Yeah, it is.”
“Oh no. Oh no, no, no. You do one nice thing for someone and
this is the price you pay for it.” The woman slumped backwards onto

the ground; her arms stretched wide as she stared up at the sky. “I
suppose you think this is funny, don’t you?”
“Not really. It’s very uncomfortable. I’ve very quickly learnt exactly
why our ancestors started wearing clothes. I’m also guessing this is
why nudist beaches are popular. I’d rather sand than all of this.”
Gareth gestured at the forest around him with one hand, keeping the
other covering his modesty.
“No, not you! Them!”
“Who is them?”
“Those uptight bastards up there. You save one soul from
possible oblivion and this is what they do to you? Typical. You tried
buying a new games console last night, right?”
“I did yeah…how do you know that?” Gareth eyed the woman
suspiciously. If she knew so much about him then she was probably
in on whatever was happening to him. “Who even are you?”
“You can call me…Magdalena, or Magda for short if you like.
Was never a fan of my full name. I am a goddess! You can save all
your preening and fawning for later.”
“Sure, I’ll get right on that,” Gareth said with a roll of his eyes.
“Yes well, up until a few hours ago you were dead. That console
you bought was a fake and plugging it in…well that didn’t end well for
you.” Magda sat up and adjusted her robe. “I guess it’s the kind of
thing you can laugh about now.”
The words sparked something in Gareth’s mind, his previously
fuzzy memory becoming crystal clear. He could remember plugging
the console in now, the immediate and excruciating pain vivid in his
memory. The sensation of dying, of everything going black, came
back to him, and he knew instinctively that Magda was telling the
truth about his demise.
“It’s not very funny,” Gareth said, trying his hardest to sound as
serious as possible.
“Give it a few days. Besides you’re alright now anyway, thanks to
me. Look can we just…hang on.” Magda stood up and reached down
to the bottom of her dress. Now she was standing it was obvious that
she was short, much shorter than most, barely coming in at four and

a half feet. The robe she was wearing had been made for a much
taller woman.
Magda tore at the cloth, ripping away a large strip from the
bottom. It was a surprising display of strength from a woman so
small. With her robe now a more suitable length she offered the strip
of cloth to Gareth.
“Cover yourself up. I can’t take you seriously like that. The wild
man of the forest look doesn’t suit you.”
“I’ll bear that in mind next time I’m dumped into a forest with no
clothes. Turn around please?”
Magda did as Gareth asked, averting her eyes. “You still haven’t
said thank you, you know? For bringing you back to life. It’s the least
you could do.”
“The least I could do? I never asked you to bring me back. I
might have been perfectly happy dead for all you know.” Gareth tied
the strip of cloth around his waist. He felt like a caveman, but at least
he had something covering him for now. “Isn’t the afterlife supposed
to be all eternal happiness and stuff?”
“Eh, not so much. Either you’re suitable to be reincarnated as a
hero, or you go to the beyond and what happens there is anyone’s
guess. Oblivion most likely. That’s what happens to most people.”
Magda turned back around. She walked up to Gareth and looked up
at him. “Were you always so tall?”
“I think you’re just very short.”
“Gods damn it! Talk about adding insult to injury.” Magda put her
hand on her head and measured her height against Gareth’s chest.
“So,” Gareth said, adjusting his shoulders and straightening his
posture, “I’ve been chosen to be a hero?”
“You? No. Heroes need a long list of skills. Good in a fight, can
get others to do what they want, understand that the ends justify the
means-”
“Psychopaths then?”
“Basically. I…I didn’t think that was fair. There are so many
people who lead decent enough lives that deserve a second chance.
You just happened to be the soul I was judging when I decided to do
something about it. Thought I could send you into another life

unnoticed. I was wrong, clearly. Next thing I knew I was falling
through the sky. This is obviously a punishment of some kind.” Magda
crossed her arms and pouted. “I was just trying to be nice.”
“I’m sorry, I feel like this is all my fault somehow.”
“It is all your fault! If you weren’t doing all that wailing and
moaning as a disembodied soul I might have moved on. Did you at
least get the deck I sent you in with?” A thought occurred to Magda
as she spoke, and she began to scan the ground around her. She
smiled and began to walk across the clearing.
“The cards? That was you?”
“Kind of.” Magda was scrabbling about in the grass looking for
something. “Every world has some amount of magic in it, some more
than others. Earth is low, low down on that totem pole. It manifests in
different ways on different worlds. Here, it takes the form of a deck of
cards. You’re probably seeing information you’ve never seen before,
right? Experience, levels, that kind of thing?”
“Yeah, I am.”
“Those are always there, on every world, even yours. The more
magic there is the more you notice them. On Earth they’re invisible,
but here you can access that information. You probably have to start
back at level one though, on account of having a new body. Aha!”
Magda stood back up and with a flourish spun around. In her hands
was a deck box, one made of silver, its sides covered in an ornate
filigree. On the top, cast in gold, was a set of wings. “At least they
didn’t leave me defenceless. You know, I think this is a mortal body.”
Magda ran her tongue over her teeth. “Feels weird.”
“You get used to it. So, what do we do now?” Gareth said. Mortal
body or not the goddess had to have some idea of what he was
supposed to do.
“You know…” Magda said, tapping one of her cheeks with a
finger. “I don’t actually know.”

Chapter Two

It had been a strange morning for Gareth. Going from dead, to alive,
to escorting a goddess through a forest was certainly a new
experience. After Magda had picked up her deck box, she had been
wrapped in the same energy he had. Gareth assumed it was a
binding process, linking the deck to the user. He had to admit that he
was a little jealous of Magda’s, his simple leather box paled in
comparison to hers. A weakness for fancy boxes and elaborate
playmats had always been something Gareth had. Back on Earth,
there was an entire cupboard full of neoprene mats with scantily clad
anime women on them that would no doubt confuse whoever would
be clearing out his flat. Probably the landlord, Gareth didn’t get on
with his family and hadn’t seen them in a few years.
“So,” he said, breaking the silence that had fallen as the pair had
walked. “How does this all work then? The cards, the levels, all of
that?”
“Oh, I’ve got no idea. Never had to deal with any of that myself,”
Magda said with a shrug. “Not exactly my wheelhouse. I’ve spent the
last thousand years training to be a soul-judge, and before that, well I
didn’t exist.”
“You didn’t exist? I thought gods were supposed to predate the
universe?”
“Oh, some do. But with more and more need for heroes across
the different worlds, we need more and more gods to judge souls. I’m
from the newest generation.”
“I suppose that makes sense. So, you really know nothing about
how any of this works? Down here that is.”
“Nope, I’m as clueless as you. Just a weak, stupid, helpless,”
Magda’s speech slowed as she realised her situation, “easily killed,

ageing, prone to getting sick-”
“Yeah, I get the point. You’re mortal now. It’s not so bad. At least
you don’t have to send souls off to wherever they go anymore.”
Gareth came to a stop. He could hear something, a low rumbling
noise that was slowly building. “Do you hear that?”
“Yes, I think it’s my stomach. Is this what being hungry is? It’s
awful.”
“You get used to it. I could do with some food though. I haven’t
eaten in…well, I guess I haven’t eaten ever. You did say this was a
new body. You could have, you know, spruced it up a bit.”
Magda came to a stop, turning to face Gareth. “Well, you were
being placed into a new world, I thought it would be confusing enough
without having a different body as well.”
“Why didn’t you just send me back to Earth?”
“Acamida was the world I was looking for a hero for. I figured
sending you here would be less likely to draw attention. It was all very
spur of the moment.” There was another loud rumble. “Ok, that wasn’t
my stomach this time.”
Gareth grabbed Magda by the shoulders, pulling her into a
nearby bush. “Stay low, something’s coming.”
They crouched in the bush, trying to keep themselves as hidden
as possible. Gareth was right, something was making its way through
the forest, the ground shaking slightly with every step. A shadow
began to cast over the pair as the beast approached. Whatever it
was, the creature was huge. It snorted loudly.
“Oh, come on, I’m sure we can reason with them.” Magda stood
up from the bush and began to walk towards the creature. “Good day,
sir, my companion and I are lost in this forest and require aid.”
Gareth sighed and stood up. He could see Magda standing
before the beast, an enormous thing of knotted roots. It reminded him
of the vineswine, though much bigger, and with a more bovine form.
The monster looked at the pair with glowing red eyes and levelled the
long branches that acted as horns.
“Excuse me? Hello? Sir?” Magda was waving her hand before
the creature’s face. It began to drag one of its wooden hooves across
the ground.

Gareth ran forward, his hand falling to the deck box at his belt.
He flipped it open and was pleased to see his cards sliding out from
within and floating by his left hand, his mana appearing on the right.
Three more cards floating in front of his body, framed in gold. He
remembered getting hit by the vineswine. These had to be the shields
the notification had talked about.
He barged into Magda’s shoulder knocking her out of the way as
the monster charged. Not eager to test how resilient his shields were,
Gareth dived in the other direction, the beast trampling through the
gap between them. It ran past a nearby group of trees, vanishing out
of sight. Gareth could still hear it, and from the noise could tell it was
coming about to attack a second time.
“What was that for!” the former goddess protested as she
clambered to her feet. “I was trying to ask for help.”
“That’s a monster, you’re not going to get any help from that.”
“How was I supposed to know that? When I see mortals, they’re
all just glowing orbs of energy.”
“Brought back to life and I’m going to get killed protecting this
girl,” Gareth muttered to himself. He stood up, shaking the dirt off
himself. The strange living plant would be back soon. “Open your
deck box, get ready to fight!”
“Oh, right, yes.” Magda summoned her cards. They floated in
roughly the same places as Gareth’s did. He noticed that her shields
were showing the card backs to him on their front as well as their
back. His had to be the same. He glanced down at his hand of cards.
One Lightning Blast, one Puny Goblin, and two he hadn’t seen
before. One was a spell whilst the other was a monster. He didn’t
have time to read both, so chose to examine the monster.
Goblin Soldier
Monster - Goblin
Mana Cost: 2
Attack rating: 250 Defence rating: 150 Hit points:1
“He’s got a sword, and he only kind of knows how to use it!”
Gareth tapped the card, watching the same summoning effect
unfurl as the first time. When the light took shape, it was similar to the
Puny Goblin, though this one was wearing what could be called

armour if you were being generous and wielding a sword that was
much too big for it, the blade dragging across the ground.
“Fight that…thing coming at us,” Gareth said, directing his order
to the goblin. The creature nodded in response, its ears bobbing as it
did. Glancing at his right hand confirmed that all of his mana had
been consumed summoning it. “Might want to summon something as
well.”
“Uh, oh, yeah. I think…this one.” Magda selected one of the
cards in her hand. The card vanished. A gentle golden light began to
settle on the goblin. “Did that do anything?”
“I mean, I meant choose something that made a monster to
help…you know what, never mind. What did you even cast?”
“Something called Holy Boon? It’s plus two hundred to attack
and defence rating, whatever that means.”
Gareth had to admit that it was an impressive effect. It had
effectively doubled the goblin’s power. He made a mental note of the
spell. Knowing what Magda could do would be useful. A quick look at
her hand told him it had only cost one mana. A single spell having the
same power as his two mana monster at half the cost hardly felt fair.
The bovine creature returned, trampling through the
undergrowth. The Goblin Soldier charged, letting out a high pitched
war cry as it rushed forward. It was having a noticeably easier time
carrying its sword. The little monster ran directly at its much larger
opponent and swung its blade overhead, the edge of the sword
meeting the fast-moving plant-creature. Its head split in two, the
goblin lifting from the floor entirely as its sword got lodged in the
centre of its victim’s torso. The two of them slumped to the ground,
the goblin standing back up and giving Gareth a tiny thumbs up. It
vanished in a burst of light, returning to the deck box.
Bramblebison defeated. 100 experience points gained.
Level up – Level 3 reached
Current Exp 0/225
One skill point gained.
“Oh! I gained a level. I’m not entirely sure what that means but
it’s exciting, isn’t it!” Magda was physical jumping up and down with
joy.

“Wait, you’re level one? A goddess is level one?”
“Yes well, I’m assuming that’s because I’m in a brand new body,
same as you. I’m not normally this…short.” Magda gestured to herself
as her cards flew back into her deck box.
“Fair enough. Still don’t know how to spend these points we have
though. There has to be some way. Maybe we need to use some kind
of trigger phase or something.”
“Maybe try focusing? I’m not really an expert on all this, sorry.”
“So, you know about this kind of stuff, but not how it works?”
“You know about whales, but not how they work.”
“I…uh,” Gareth wasn’t sure how to reply to Magda’s statement.
“You know what, you aren’t wrong. We should check the body, see if
there’s any loot.”
“Loot?”
“Yes, you know, glowing items we should pick up.” Gareth had
already knelt down by the dead creature, searching the ground
around it for the tell-tale glowing motes.
“Oh, yeah that’s magical residue. That’s a good point, we should
grab anything like that, it might be useful. I really want to know how
we spend these points now. It’s probably not a good idea to bank
them, we wouldn’t want to fall behind the residents of this world.”
“We’re probably way behind everyone else, they’ve had, you
know, full lives here. We’re starting off in…I’m guessing late twenties
for you? Hard to tell with how short you are.” There was nothing
around the beast Gareth could see. He was disappointed, though the
thought of tucking another sharp vine into his loincloth didn’t appeal.
“Can we leave the height out of this? It’s a sore spot.”
“Sure, fine. I’m going to try that focusing thing, see if it works. I
suggest you do the same.”
Gareth took a deep breath in. He had seen focusing and
meditation techniques only on television and was basing what he was
doing on that. He let his hands come together, his eyes shut, and
slowly breathed out. He tried to think only of what he wanted. He tried
a few variations. Skills, spend points, level up and then finally menu.
He could feel something, a spark in the back of his mind and opened
his eyes to find a menu floating in front of him with several different

options. There was one that showed the cards he owned, one that he
thought was a deck editor of some kind, another for equipment, and
finally one for skills. There was space below for another option, an
area left tantalisingly empty.
Lifting a hand, Gareth tapped the skills icon experimentally. The
menu changed, bringing up a list of different abilities, along with a
description of their effects.
Deck limit: Increases the maximum mana value of your
deck. Increases five points for every two ranks.
Deck size: Increases the maximum size of your deck.
Increases by five cards for every two ranks.
Mana reserve: Increases available mana by one for every
five ranks.
There wasn’t many to choose from, at least not at the moment.
There was plenty of space below for more and Gareth suspected that
they would fill in eventually. He was still level one, effectively a baby,
magically speaking. He assumed more would appear as he gained in
levels. He put his two skill points into mana reserve. It wouldn’t do
anything yet but having more mana was going to help in the long run.
“I worked it out! You just focus and think-”
“Menu, yeah, I got it.”
“Oh,” Magda looked dejected. She began to play with the bottom
of her braid. “Well,” she said, her shoulders shaking from side to side
as she spoke, “I put my point into mana reserve. More spells is
always going to be better.”
“Yeah, same. What’s your deck affinity by the way? Mine’s
goblins, I’m assuming that’s why I have so many goblin cards.”
“Oh, I got angels.”
“Angels!? That hardly seems fair.”
“Don’t look at me, I didn’t pick it. I just made sure you had a
deck. Everything else was on the rules of this world.”
“Angels. Maybe I would have liked angels…” Gareth trailed off
into incoherent mumbling.
“We should keep moving, try and find our way out. There could
be more of those things.”

“Yeah, maybe your angels can just fly us out.” Gareth was more
than a little bitter about how the decks had shaken out. “Come on,
who knows how far we have to go.”
***
The forest was a strange place. Gareth had caught glimpses of
more wildlife as they walked, though wildlife was a wildly inaccurate
term. The creatures he saw were all made of plants woven together.
Even the birds were keeping aloft on wings made of leaves. Gareth
was no expert, but the physics of it didn’t seem to work. He assumed
it had to be magic keeping the birds flapping through the air. It was a
strange feeling, knowing that magic was real. It had been the thing of
stories all his life and now he was summoning monsters and throwing
lightning.
He focused his thoughts as they trudged onwards, opening his
menu. A dirty look from Magda told Gareth that his menu was
invisible to her, the goddess bemused at first as to why the human
was prodding randomly at the air. He selected the card list option and
began to read through everything he owned. Lightning Blast, Puny
Goblin, Goblin Soldier. There was one more card in Gareth’s
collection. He selected it and the card leapt from the menu so he
could read it.
Goblin War Banner
Relic- Goblin
Mana Cost: 1
Increases the attack and defence ratings of all Goblins you
control by 100
“Flag is being generous. They’ve just stolen two pairs of
underpants and tied them to a broom.”
That was interesting. It was less of an increase than Magda’s
Holy Boon, but if Gareth had multiple monsters summoned it could
very quickly outpace it. It wasn’t so useful at the moment, but Gareth
was hoping that increasing a few levels would change that. He still
didn’t quite grasp how mana worked exactly. It hadn’t regenerated
after he had summoned the Goblin Soldier. Perhaps it didn’t, or it
could just take an extremely long time.

He closed the card list and selected the deck option just below.
As Gareth expected it brought up the exact composition of his deck. It
was simple, three copies of each card he had comprising his deck,
twelve in total. It wasn’t a lot of cards. Normally Gareth tried to keep
his options down to the minimum possible, it was good practice to
increase the chances of drawing what you wanted. This was too far
the other way; it would be hard to fit different spells consistently into
such a small number. At least increasing deck size took only a few
skill points.
At the top of the deck screen was a fraction, nineteen out of
twenty. The tag next to it made it clear that it was a maximum mana
cost for the cards in his deck. That was an interesting wrinkle. It
would prevent Gareth from loading up on all the most powerful and
expensive cards straight away. He wondered how he would get more.
He couldn’t imagine that opening booster packs was a thing.
At the top of the menu was some text, and Gareth leant in closer
to read it.
Goblin Affinity- All Goblin cards reduced in cost by 1 mana.
That was interesting. It would mean that all of his goblin cards
were actually more expensive than he thought, the displayed cost the
number after his affinity took effect. That was everything except
Lightning Blast. Gareth suddenly felt very outclassed. If Holy Boon
was two hundred in both stats for only one mana, and was a spell,
that meant his goblins were extremely underpowered for their cost.
“Great,” he said, throwing a glance at Magda. “Saddle me with
the rubbish deck type.”
“You say something?” Magda said. She had taken the lead as
they walked through the forest, reasoning that her appearance was a
lot friendlier than Gareth’s.
“No, nothing. How big do you think this forest is? It goes on
forever.”
“Some worlds are nothing but forest. Not this one though, or at
least I don’t think so. It’s hard to keep them all straight honestly. I see
a lot of different worlds. Well, I saw a lot. Guess I don’t anymore.”
Magda kicked a nearby shrub, the plant receiving the full force she

could muster. Smiting was a lot less impressive when done with a
simple wooden sandal.
“Ah, don’t worry, we’ll get you back up to godhood. Somehow.
That’s probably why they tossed you down here.” Gareth adopted as
deep a voice as he could muster. “Go learn humility amongst the
mortals and then you shall be allowed back into the heavens.” He
coughed, the voice hurting his throat. “You know that kind of thing,”
he said normally.
“I don’t know. They kind of just dumped me down here without
any kind of notice, or trial. I hope you’re right. Being mortal is so…
strange.”
“We are pretty weird. I’ll give you that.”
“I wonder what the adversary is doing on this world?” Magda said
as she ducked under a branch.
“The what now?” Gareth didn’t like where this was going.
“The adversary. The forces of darkness, evil incarnate. That’s the
whole point of us sending heroes to different worlds, to stop the
adversary from taking over.”
Gareth picked up his pace, bringing himself alongside Magda.
“And what happens if they do that? Take-over I mean.”
“Oh, they harvest the world for its divinity.”
“Oh right. Of course. How stupid of me to ask. What does that
even mean? I’m not a god, so you’ll need to explain it to me like I’m a
child.”
Magda came to a stop and plucked a leaf from a nearby tree.
“So, you know how mortal creatures need to eat. Things like this leaf,
or flower? I don’t really know. I’m still really hungry, can I eat this?”
“No, I wouldn’t think so. You were explaining divinity?”
“Oh right, yes. Divinity is an energy force generated by worlds
and the people in them. Without it, the gods would wither away to
nothing. It’s kind of our food. It’s also what we’re made of. If there’s
not enough, no new gods.”
Gareth found himself nodding along. It made a strange sort of
sense. “I get it. I think. Not sure I like the idea that gods are basically
eating us.”

“You give off divinity without even realising it, and you don’t need
it.” Magda held up the leaf in her fingers. “It would be like eating this
only after it’s fallen to the ground.”
“Again, don’t eat that.” Gareth could feel his own stomach
churning. He was incredibly hungry, and neither of them had eaten or
drank since first appearing in Acamida “We will need to find
something soon though. You would think there might be berries or
something in a forest like this. Or perhaps mushrooms.” Gareth
realised that his previous survival experience on Earth consisted
solely of knowing what curry house had the leftovers that lasted
longest. “Then again, might not be a good idea. Could be poisonous.”
“It’s such a hassle. When you’re a god you can just look down on
everything from above. Moving about on the ground is such a pain.”
“You know,” Gareth said, looking at the tree Magda was stood
next to, “that’s not such a bad idea.”
***
It was a terrible idea. Gareth had climbed trees as a kid, but it
had been a solid fifteen years since doing that. It was a lot harder
than he remembered it being and it didn’t help that the bark scratched
at his exposed skin as he clambered up. Gareth was more scratch
mark than man by this point, and he began to worry about infection.
He had no clue what the world outside the forest was like. There
could be skyscrapers and cars, or there could be people living in
caves. He had no idea which. Magda was no help on the matter. Her
knowledge of Acamida extended to how the people there accessed
magic, what the world was called, and that was about it. Gareth
understood, he had worked enough terrible jobs in his life to know all
the details blurred together after a while, and Magda’s previous task
didn’t sound like the most rewarding thing. He could understand her
desire to save someone, anyone, and Gareth was glad it had been
him.
A few more excruciating minutes of climbing later, Gareth found
himself at the top of the tree. He stood up, balancing himself on a
nearby branch as he looked out at the forest around him. It stretched
on for miles, a sea of green running for as far as he could see on
every side. His heart sank, it would take days to get out of the forest

at this rate, and if they didn’t find food they would starve first. Gareth
had briefly considered eating the bramblebison back when they had
killed it but the plants that comprised the creature had lost their colour
almost immediately, turning a horrid brown.
“You see anything?” Magda shouted from the base of the tree.
“Just more trees. And some more trees. Oh, and more trees.
This forest goes on forever.”
“Oh.”
“Yeah,” Gareth said. “Oh, is right. I have no idea what we’re
going to…hang on I see something.”
Drifting gently above the tree line was a thin wisp of smoke,
barely visible in the afternoon sky. Several more were clustered
around it just beyond, easily mistakable for clouds. They were close,
just a few minutes away by foot. It was back the direction they had
come, meaning that frustratingly they had wandered past it without
realising.
“There’s smoke, to the...I’m going to say north? I think. Assuming
the sun here works like it does on Earth.”
“So?”
“Smoke means fire, and fire means people. People with food,
clothes, and an idea of where we are.”
“True,” Magda said, moving close to the tree in an attempt to see
Gareth. She immediately regretted the decision, forgetting for a
moment that loosely draped cloth was all that was covering her
companion. “It could also mean any number of dangerous things. You
would be amazed by some of the things people do. There’s some
right horrible people out there.”
“Sure, but most people tend to be alright. Besides, where else
are we going to go? No matter which direction we pick it’s a long
walk. This is our best chance.”
Carefully, Gareth began to make his way down the tree. He slid
from branch to branch until he was close enough to the ground to feel
confident in making the drop. He regretted it immediately on landing,
the force of the impact amplifying the jabbing sensation from the
twigs covering the forest floor.
“Are you ok?” Magda said. “That looked painful.”

“Oh, it was.” Gareth arched his back. He couldn’t do anything
about the pain in his feet, but he hoped stretching would help relieve
his aching muscles. Climbing the tree had been more strenuous than
he expected.
Magda stepped close to him and placed her hands across
Gareth’s chest. She stared at them, her eyes narrowing as she
focused.
“Uh,” Gareth said. “What exactly are you doing?”
“I’m trying to heal you. I thought maybe I might still be able to do
that at least. It’s not working.” Magda began to press harder against
Gareth’s chest, her brow furrowing as she did. “Nope, nothing. Sorry.”
“Thanks, you uh, tried at least.” Gareth turned away from the
sulking goddess and began to walk in the direction of the smoke.
“Come on, they might have a real healer where we’re going.”
“Uh excuse me,” Magda said, her protests unheard by Gareth as
he walked off. “I’m a very capable healer, I’m just divinely challenged
at the moment. Are you even listening to me? Gareth?” She took off
after him, the pair vanishing into the treeline.

Chapter Three

From

their hiding place behind a moss-covered log, Gareth and
Magda peered out at the village before them. A simple cluster of
stone cottages was nestled within the trees, thatched roofs protecting
them from the weather. They were arranged in a circle around a well,
the placement of the houses more a suggestion than a rule. It looked
like the kind of medieval village Gareth had only seen in movies
before. The real examples he had visited during museum trips as a
child had involved a lot more mud than this.
The residents of the village had gathered around the well. That
was where the issues had arisen. Magda had wanted to march into
the village, declare her godly status and then simply demand things
from the populace. That terrible idea had been stopped by the
presence of the armed men standing around the villagers. It was
clear that they were being held against their will.
“So, what do we do now?” Magda said, glaring over the log.
“Those guys don’t look very friendly. Some of them have swords.”
“Yeah, these guys have a definite bandit vibe to them. It’s weird
they have swords though,” Gareth said. He was counting the different
men, keeping track of them by their outfits. There wasn’t that many,
only four by his count.
“Not really. If you’re planning on threatening someone, it helps to
have a weapon.”
Gareth shook his head. He had only known Magda for a few
hours and already he thought her worryingly naïve about the way
things actually worked. “No, I mean why carry a sword when you
have one of these.” He tapped his deck box. “Flinging lightning
trumps getting close to stab someone. You don’t bring a knife to a…
magic fight, I guess.”

“Oh yeah. What about that guy, he’s got something hanging off
his belt.” Magda pointed to the far side of the well. Leaning against
the wall of a house was someone clad in a set of mismatched leather
armour, a hood over their face. They had their hands in their pockets
and on their belt was a small silver box.
“Good eye. Maybe not everyone gets a deck? Doesn’t look like
any of the villagers has them. This does give us an edge though, if
only one of them can use magic. If we pick off the guys with swords,
then it’s two on one.”
“Sorry, you want us to fight these guys? That’s crazy. I don’t
know about you but I’m not keen on testing the mortality of my new
body. Getting attacked by monsters is a little different from picking a
fight on purpose.” Magda ducked back down behind the log. “Let’s
just wait for them to move on.”
“No.”
“No? You can’t just say no!”
“Yes, I can,” Gareth said. “I’m supposed to be a hero, remember?
Look at those people? They’re clearly terrified. We have to do
something. You’re a goddess right, aren’t you supposed to be a
beacon of good or something like that?”
“Fine. Fine. I’ll help you.” Magda rolled her eyes. She thought
she had been clear that Gareth wasn’t picked to be Acamida’s hero.
“You know these guys could be way higher level than us, right?”
“Probably. The thing is we’re new in this world. If we spend all
our time trying to track down things the same level as us, if that’s
even possible, we’re going to stay behind forever. We need to catch
up. That means being daring.” Gareth pointed at a nearby log. “You
see that? It looks hollow, and I bet someone could sneak in close to
the village going that way. If they were short enough to fit into the
log.”
“No. No way. Not doing it.” Magda crossed her arms and pouted.
“It’s bad enough they made me this short. I’m not going crawling
around on my hands and knees as well.”
“Come on, it gives us the element of surprise! That’s a good
thing. We’ll need all the advantages we can get. You just crawl in the
log, get to the end, and summon a monster. Once it draws the

attention of the bandits, I’ll come in behind them with Lightning Blasts
and give them a shock. Literally.”
“You think maybe you ended up with the Lightning Blast card
because of how…well, you know?”
“I don’t want to think about that,” Gareth said.
“You seem eager enough to send other people to their deaths.”
“Hey, I died because I bought a dodgy console. These guys are
threatening some innocent people. I assume. That’s a whole different
thing karmically speaking. Besides from what you say they’re
probably going to end up as famous heroes in some other life just
because they know how to hold a sword.”
“You’re not wrong.” Magda adjusted her robe, checking briefly
that her broach was secure. “Fine, I’ll crawl into the log, but if you tell
anyone I did I’ll make you wish you got sent into the beyond.”
“Understood.”
Gareth watched as Magda crawled across the ground, keeping
her small frame low to avoid detection as she approached the log. He
understood her trepidation. It was hilarious to look at. It was hard to
believe that the tiny woman was a goddess. He knew it was true, his
still slightly hazy memories confirming it, but Gareth had a strong
suspicion no one else would believe her. From the look of the village
and its technology level proclaiming yourself a god was a good
shortcut to being burnt alive.
Once Magda had vanished into the log, Gareth turned his
attention back to what he was assuming were bandits. He tried to
size them up. One was substantially larger than the others, his sword
almost twice the length. He would be Gareth’s first target. The other
two were much smaller. Gareth was hoping that size wouldn’t matter,
getting blasted by lightning wasn’t pleasant no matter who you were,
but taking out the big guy first was a smart plan just in case. Now
Gareth just had to hope that the bandits counted as a monster.
Otherwise, his Lightning Blast wouldn’t work.
He was intrigued to see what Magda could summon. She had
been tight-lipped about the monsters available to her so far. It didn’t
matter. Causing a commotion was her primary goal. If her monster

could take out a bandit or two in the process, then that would be a
bonus.
The one with the deck, that was going to be the real challenge.
Gareth only half-believed his two on one reasoning. That deck user
could be dozens, maybe even hundreds of levels higher than Gareth
and Magda put together. It could easily go wrong. Gareth felt he at
least had to try. He had been less than honest with Magda about his
reasons. Helping the villagers was a nice side benefit, but the
goddess hadn’t seen fit to drop him into a new world with either
clothes or money and the prospect of earning both was too good to
pass up. Assuming the villagers were suitably grateful.
His hand went to his deck box. He didn’t want to open it yet, the
glowing risked giving away his position. At least Magda was hidden
by the log she had crawled into. All Gareth had to do was wait for her
to summon a monster, the signal to start the attack. Gareth found he
was holding his breath, the anticipation building in his chest.
A bolt of light shot out from the end of the log, coalescing into a
new form. It wasn’t what Gareth had expected. Rather than a
dramatic towering figure carrying a flaming sword and sprouting
massive wings, it took the shape of a small squat creature. It looked
almost like a fat baby, were it not for the adult looking face it had. Two
tiny wings were beating frantically in a desperate attempt to keep the
summoned creature aloft. In its hands was a miniscule bow and
arrow.
“Well, now I don’t feel so bad about the goblins thing.” Gareth
leapt out from his hiding place. The appearance of the chubby angel
had done the job, the bandits rushing towards it. Gareth watched as
the creature fired a tiny arrow, the metal spike knocking the larger
bandit from his feet as it hit him. The diminutive creature packed a
surprising punch.
Gareth opened his deck box and summoned his hand of cards.
He reached down to cast a Lightning Blast and was dismayed to see
it wasn’t there. Two Puny Goblins, a Goblin Soldier, and a Goblin War
Banner. Rapidly reconsidering his options, he summoned the two
Puny Goblins back to back. It would even out the numbers at least.

“Who in the eight hells are you!?” The bandit at the far side of the
village was sprinting past the well, cards floating by their outstretched
hand. Three golden glowing cards floated before their chest forming a
magical shield ready to protect against attack. With a flick, they cast
one of their spells, energy forming into a cluster of knives that
launched through the air.
Gareth didn’t have time to react. Light filled the air before him as
the flurry of blades collided with the cards that formed his shield. One
of the shield cards moved to his hand, a golden glow outlining it. It
was a Goblin Soldier.
“Just a concerned citizen!” Gareth glanced at his right hand. Both
mana orbs were grey, and that meant no more spells. Not an ideal
situation with an angry deck-wielder rushing at him. Another couple of
knife spells and he would be in trouble. His goblins had gone to work
immediately, snarling at one of the bandits. They had backed him into
a corner, the bandit swinging their sword ineffectively over the short
creature’s head. The odd fat flying angel was keeping the other
pinned down behind the wall of a house. “When I saw these villagers
in peril I had to step in!” Gareth was trying his best to sound as heroic
as possible. He wasn’t sure it was working.
“Don’t stick your nose where it doesn’t belong!” The deckwielding bandit touched another card, the familiar light of summoning
taking shape before them. It was hard to get a good look at their
features under the hood. The light coalesced into a familiar shape. It
was a bandit, specifically one identical to the larger bandit felled by
the angel’s arrow. Gareth glanced over to where the body was and
realised it had vanished.
“Magda! These bandits, they’re monsters! Summoned by the
cards.”
“Oh, that’s clever.” Magda was squeezing her way out of the log,
her robe tugging at her shoulders as it caught on her knees. “A oneperson bandit gang is useful.”
“What even is this?” the hooded figure said. “A naked guy and a
child?”
“I’m no child!” Magda was incensed, her face going red. “You
should be kneeling before me, mortal, I’ll have you know I’m-”

“She’s sensitive about her height,” Gareth said, cutting off
Magda. He didn’t need the villagers turning against him. “Now, how
about we discuss your surrender?”
“Get karked!” the cloaked figure shouted. Their tone made it
clear that they were swearing. “You don’t get to tell me what to do!”
“That’s…a weird thing to say.” The words were familiar to Gareth.
It felt like something he would have said back when he was fifteen.
“Look, it’s obvious that the other bandits are from your cards. You’re
outnumbered here. The wise thing to do would be to back down.
Nobody needs to get hurt.”
“What are you waiting for?” The hooded deck wielder had turned
to their newly summoned bandit. “Get him!”
“Uh.” Gareth glanced at his goblins. They had knocked the bandit
they were fighting to the floor and were busy scratching at them.
“Little help?” Brilliant light flowed into place before him, a second
chubby angel forming. It fired its bow at the charging bandit, the
arrow knocking them down.
“Come on, recharge!” The bandit summoner was shaking their
right hand vigorously, almost like they were trying to shake their mana
back to life. Even from a distance, it was obvious that one of the orbs
was slowly filling with blue.
Gareth looked at his quickly. They were both still a dull grey. He
smiled, his understanding of how it worked improved. The enemy’s
mana had only started refilling once their minion had been defeated.
That had to mean that summoned monsters were a constant drain,
not a one-off cost. It was an important lesson to learn and came with
the bonus realisation that his opponent only had three mana to use.
Either they had neglected to increase it or were low level themselves.
Either option evened the odds in Gareth’s favour.
“Go for it, little cherub angel thing.” The monster just stared
forward, ignoring Gareth’s words completely. “Oh, I don’t think I can
order your monsters about.”
“That kind of makes sense, I think.” Magda was standing with her
shoulders as straight as she could get them in a vain attempt to make
herself look taller. “Well, you heard Gareth, I’m assuming,” she said,
pointing at the angel. “Attack!”

The monster flew forward, its path erratic as its tiny wings
struggled to hold it aloft. It pulled back the string on its golden bow
and fired a tiny arrow.
The enemy deck user didn’t try to avoid it. Instead, they did the
opposite, standing proudly as the arrow struck their shield. From the
outside it was more obvious that an invisible bubble covered them,
the magic briefly visible as it flashed from the impact.
The force of the shield’s magic had pushed back the hood from
the enemy’s head, revealing their face. It wasn’t what Gareth
expected. Beneath the cowl was a young woman, she looked barely
out of her teens. Her skin was pale white and running down the side
of her neck was a row of thick scales. She had no ears Gareth could
see, instead large horns projected from the side of her head, the
reptilian looking growths curving upwards. It was an odd mix, the
lizard-like features studded onto a body that looked otherwise human.
“Oh, you’ve made a big mistake now.” The woman held up her
hand, revealing the filled mana orbs. With a flourish, she summoned
three more bandits. Her mana expended, she touched the golden
rimmed card that had joined her hand, the former occupant of her
shield. It summoned a fourth bandit, despite the casters lack of mana.
“Ah, I get it now. When the shield takes a hit that card joins our
hand and is free to cast. That makes so much sense.” Gareth
counted the bandits rushing at him. There was four, one for each
point of enemy mana plus the one summoned for free. He turned his
head and could see his goblins milling about. One of them had
pushed its grotty finger deep into the small slot that acted as a nostril.
“Hey! How about helping out? Magda, get your other angel over
here.”
“Right.” The goddess put two fingers to her lips and tried to
whistle. What came out was just an embarrassing mass of spit and
air. “Sorry, I’ve never actually tried that before.” She beckoned to her
angel with a wave, the creature flying over quickly.
The bandits were nearly on them, but Gareth had a trick up his
sleeve now he understood how the gold-bordered cards worked. Four
monsters against four monsters, a fair fight at the moment, but he
was about to tip things in his side’s favour. He touched the golden

lined Goblin Soldier that had once been part of his shield and was
overjoyed to see it transmute into the creature.
“Get them, lads!” Gareth pointed at the bandits and his small
gang of goblins charged. The two smaller creatures worked together,
ganging up on a single enemy as they had earlier. The soldier took a
bandit on his own, rushing towards them with its sword wobbling over
its head.
Despite the deadly peril, Gareth couldn’t stop grinning. Whilst
they were only goblins, having a small army at his beck and call was
incredible. Using magic was exhilarating and for the first time, he
realised that Magda might have done him a favour. Back in his old
life, Gareth was going nowhere quickly. Here he was a hero, even if
he wasn’t the official divinely selected one. From the way the villagers
were staring at the battle he could see they were in awe.
The soldier dealt with its bandit quickly, the goblin ducking under
a swing and slicing its opponent across the gut. The bandit exploded
into motes of light, the force of the hit shattering its form. The two
Puny Goblins had pinned down another, reusing their effective tactic
from before. It was going well, an arrow from one of the angels
dropping a third. The menagerie of summoned monsters surrounded
the last bandit.
The girl began to look around frantically, searching for options.
Her mana had begun to regenerate, freed up by the destruction of her
forces, but it was coming in too slowly.
“This isn’t over!” the half-lizard girl shouted. She turned, her cape
swishing as she moved, and began to sprint away. Her last bandit
vanished, transmuting back into light and flying into her deck box as
she ran.
“Should we go after her?” Magda said. She was panting a little,
unused to the excitement. Having a mortal body was still new to her
and her first rush of adrenaline was a thrilling experience. Magda
could understand why mortals would put themselves at risk despite
being so fragile. The rush was exhilarating.
“Nah. No point wasting our time. The village is safe at least.”
Gareth turned towards the villagers. “You are all very welcome! When
we saw you in peril, I knew I couldn’t just stand back!”

There were some murmurs amongst the villagers. The crowd
parted slightly to allow an old woman through. Gareth hadn’t paid
close attention to the crowd, the fight consuming his focus. They were
all human and Gareth was pleased to see that his species existed
across multiple worlds. The woman was all wrinkles, craggy-faced
with porcelain hair tied up into a neat bun. She was using a stick to
walk, a simple branch trimmed to size.
“Are you going to rob us?” she said, her words croaked out like a
frog.
“No? Why would we rob you? We saved you from that bandit.”
The question had confused Gareth. Had she not seen his daring
rescue right in front of her eyes? “Do I look like a bandit?”
“Well, you’re wearing a loincloth and covered with dirt. You don’t
exactly look trustworthy.”
“Oh, right this. Yeah, I uh…” Gareth remembered his first thought
on appearing in the forest, “got robbed. I saw a deal that looked too
good to be true and this is the price I ended up paying.”
The old woman nodded, then tilted her head to the side, looking
past Gareth to Magda. The goddess gave her a sarcastic wave back,
the motion matched by the waggling of her eyebrows.
“And your friend in the weird dress?”
“Weird dress?” Magda was incensed. “I’ll have you know this is a
ceremonial robe. If we were in my realm it would shimmer with-”
“She’s just a snappy dresser. Really into high fashion. It’s all very
strange sometimes, but it’s what she likes. We’re lucky who robbed
us didn’t know what that dress is worth, spared her the indignity I’ve
suffered.”
“So, you’re really duellists?”
“I suppose so.” Gareth had no idea what a duellist was in this
context but agreeing with the woman seemed the right thing to say.
“Well, why didn’t you say?” The old woman’s voice had changed,
losing its croak. She slung her stick over her shoulder and stood up
straight. She wasn’t as fragile as she seemed, her act no longer
necessary. “Not often we get duellists around these parts. Unless you
count that wyrmkin filth trying to rob us. I wonder how someone like
that got their hands on a deck? I didn’t even know that wyrmkin could

use them.” The woman turned to face the crowd, waving her stick like
a baton. “Excitement’s over. You’ve all got things you need to be
getting on with. I’ll take care of our guests.”
The crowd scattered, murmuring amongst themselves about
what had happened.
“Thank you. It’s been…a day,” Gareth said. The excitement of
the fight fading away, he was relieved to have found some fragment
of civilisation amongst the forest.
“Oh, I can imagine. Come on, follow me. It’s not safe in these
woods, lots of nasty nature elementals lurking about. I suppose
they’re no trouble for you pair though. Name’s Agatha, I’m the closest
thing this little burg has to a leader. Thank you for saving Knopton,
most would have passed us by.”
Quest Complete: Save the village of Knopton from the
bandit attack.
Reward:300 Exp
Level Up – Level 4
Current Exp 75/338
One skill point gained.
He was gaining levels quickly, but Gareth knew it would drop off
eventually. The experience points needed was increasing every time.
At least the excess was carrying over towards the next increase. The
notification about a quest was interesting. Magda had mentioned that
a similar system existed on Earth, it was just invisible to people.
Gareth had to wonder how many quests he had have completed in
his life. Quest complete: Put out the bins didn’t have the same ring to
it.
“Well, it wouldn’t be very heroic of me not to step in.”
“If you say so,” Agatha said with a shrug. “We’ve not got much
we can reward you with. I do think we can get you some trousers
though. And a shirt. Can’t have you wandering around the village like
that. Might scare the young’uns.”
Gareth could hear Magda snort with laughter behind him. “If
you’ve not got much,” she said, trying to stifle a giggle, “then why did
that bandit attack you?”

“Who knows? You know wyrmkin, they’re little more than
scoundrels. Probably someone from the camp further into the forest
trying their luck.”
“Do you get many problems with them? The wyrmkin, that is?”
Magda picked up her pace, catching up with Agatha. The old woman
was surprisingly nimble now she had dropped her act.
“Oh, all the time. They’re a right royal pain in the behind. I’ve
petitioned Wildermount to send duellists to deal with them who knows
how many times. There’s no chance you’re here because they sent
you?”
“No, deal gone wrong, remember?” Gareth said. Magda had
turned around, walking backwards for a moment as she mouthed
something. Gareth leant forward, trying to make out her words. He
was certain she was mouthing new quest at him. That wasn’t a
terrible idea. The quest had been enough to jump an entire level. It
was a little disappointing not to get experience points for beating the
card wielding bandit, though they had escaped, so maybe it didn’t
count. Gareth had learnt a lot despite only being in this world for a
day, but there was still so much he didn’t understand. “That said, I’m
sure we can help.”
“Good, good. It’s hard enough living in this forest as is without
thugs stealing our crops. Attacking us like this was the next logical
step for them. Ah, here we are.” They had reached one of the houses
spread around the central well. Agatha pushed it open with a stick
and stepped inside. “Come in, come in. I don’t bite. You’re welcome
to rest here; I’ve got a guest room upstairs for you two. I’m assuming
sharing isn’t a problem.”
“Well, I mean…I don’t see why…” Magda trailed off, her face
turning bright red. She touched her cheeks; blushing didn’t come
naturally to a god.
“It’ll be fine, thank you,” Gareth said.
“Good. I’m going to go find you some clothes. Someone in this
village will have a spare. You too Miss…”
“Magda. I’m Magda, this is Gareth.”
“Right, well, Miss Magda. That dress might be fashionable in
Wildermount, but here you’re going to get caught on a branch at the

wrong time and find yourself beneath the hooves of a bramblebison.
I’ll rustle up something more suitable.” Agatha nodded to the pair,
then stepped back outside, pulling the door shut behind her with her
stick.
Magda slapped the back of her hand against Gareth’s chest with
a loud thud. “Why do you keep speaking over me? It’s annoying!”
“Because you can’t go about telling everyone you’re a goddess.
You’ve seen the horrible things people have done, right? How many
of those were because of a religious belief? You’re going to get
yourself tied up atop a bonfire if you carry on.”
“I’m just trying to make sure everyone understands their proper
place.”
“Well don’t. Good idea on trying to press her for a quest. We
need the experience. Something doesn’t seem right though. It’s hard
to imagine that girl we saw as a…what did Agatha call them? Oh
yeah, thugs.”
“She was trying to rob the village.”
“True, but things are never as black and white as they seem.”
Gareth felt a chill waft in from under the door. “I am excited to finally
have some clothes though.”

Chapter Four

Gareth had never been more relieved to put on a shirt in his life. The
clothes that Agatha had rustled up were a little loose on him, and
whatever material they were made of itched slightly, but it was a vast
improvement from wandering the forest naked. Magda had been
gifted with a knee length tightly cut grey dress with a black pinafore,
her broach pinned to the strap. Changing into the clothes in the single
guest room had been a little awkward. Despite Gareth’s nakedness
since arriving, getting dressed in front of someone she barely knew
had felt wrong. Both he and Magda had faced opposite directions as
they had gotten dressed.
Along with the clothes, Agatha had provided them with a simple
meal before wandering off back into the village. It was a soup filled
with vegetables that Gareth didn’t recognise, the bowls left on the
table in the downstairs kitchen. He had sat down and begun
shovelling it into his mouth with wooden spoon provided on sight,
Gareth not quite realising how hungry he had been. Being reborn built
up an appetite. Magda had similarly devoured the soup, choosing to
simply place the bowl to her lips and gulp it down without stopping to
breathe. Gareth had to admit it was slightly impressive.
“So, once Agatha comes back, we ask about those wyrmkin
guys.” Magda tossed the empty bowl onto the table with a clatter.
“Anything we can do to get stronger right?”
“Yeah, makes sense. I thought we were miles behind the people
here, but I don’t know if that’s actually true. That girl who attacked the
village only had three mana. That’s hardly leaps and bounds ahead of
us. Oh, that reminds me.”
Gareth focused and brought up his menu. He had gained
another level thanks to the experience point boost from the quest and

needed to spend the skill point he had earned. He dropped it into
mana reserve, one more and he would have another mana orb to
spend. That would be a big boost, summoning additional creatures
seemed strong, the free Goblin Soldier from his shield proving the
tipping point in the previous battle.
“Right, yeah that reminds me,” Gareth said, closing his menu. “I
worked something out during that whole scuffle. Your shield, the
cards that protect you, when they get destroyed the cards go into
your hand and you can cast it for free.”
“Your hand?”
“Yeah, the cards you can choose from?”
“Ah right,” Magda said, tapping a finger on the table. “I forgot that
you played a lot of card games in your past life. Some people spend
their lives writing books, painting, learning to play an instrument, but I
guess being good at children’s games is good too.”
“That’s very judgmental of you.”
Magda shrugged, her broach shimmering in the light as it moved
with her shoulder. A low fire was casting an orange glow through the
room. “You can hardly blame me. Judging people was what I was
training to do.”
“So, did you pick this world because of the cards thing?”
“Nah, it was just the one that was next up for a hero. Dumb luck
really. Still, it’s good to know that shields thing. It’s helpful. Think you
could work out how more of this stuff works?”
“Probably, with time. I thought maybe we could ask the locals,
but they don’t seem to have any decks themselves. Plus, from the
way they talk about duellists, there’s more to the term than just
having cards,” Gareth said, pushing his empty bowl away from
himself. “So, it’s best just to play along for now. Kind of weird they’re
even out here though.”
“People live in all kinds of weird places.”
“Yeah, but this forest is full of monsters, Agatha even said so
herself. Why build a village in the middle of it? Especially when you
don’t have magic to defend yourself with. What’s to stop a vineswine
just wandering into the village square and trampling everyone?”

“Maybe vineswine just don’t like houses or something? I don’t
know, I think you’re looking for a problem that doesn’t exist. Let it go.
You aren’t the hero, so why bother fretting? Better than being dead.
They’ll assign a proper hero to this world soon enough if they haven’t
already. Let them worry about its problems.”
“What exactly are they?” Gareth said. “This world’s problems.
You mentioned some villain called the adversary, what exactly are
they doing here on Acamida?”
“The adversary is the adversary, you know? Unrelenting evil. The
end of all things. Destroyer of worlds, the devourer of-”
“You don’t know, do you?”
“Look,” Magda said, leaning her elbows on the table. “Up there,
you just do as your told. The adversary is real, you can see realities
being cut off from the heavens every day with your own eyes. I can’t
tell you exactly what they are, that’s a problem for gods higher up the
chain. I can tell you they conquer realities in dozens of different ways.
Evil necromancers, powerful dark lords, demonic masters, that kind of
thing.”
“Those are all kind of the same thing, the big evil overlord type
deal.”
“Hey, if it works, why change it? The fact there’s a divinity
drought proves they’re doing something right.”
“It’s just all a little cliché isn’t it?” Gareth said. He stood up and
tucked his chair back under the table. “Send in a chosen hero to
defeat the dark lord. Heard that a million times before. Not sure how
we’re supposed to go about doing that with nothing to our names.”
“We aren’t going to be doing anything. We aren’t here to save the
world. As far as I’m concerned, your job, your quest if you like, is to
get me back where I belong.”
Quest Accepted: Restore Magda’s godhood.
Reward: Unknown.
The pair didn’t move, both dumbfounded at the notification that
had appeared in their vision. Magda’s demand had spawned a quest.
“Hey Magda, your quest is to pass me that spoon,” Gareth said,
pointing at the nearby piece of roughly carved wood. Nothing

happened, no words appearing in his vision. “Ah, well, it was worth a
shot at least. Guess it can’t be so easy to generate a quest.”
“It probably has to be something substantial. Gareth, I quest you
with becoming a great and powerful hero,” Magda said. Again, there
was nothing. “I suppose it has to be achievable as well.”
“Hey! I can do without the constant put-downs.”
“Fine, fine, don’t take a joke.” Magda leant back in her chair, her
hands grasping the edge of the simply made table. “Where are you
even going anyway?”
“Outside? Agatha has wandered off somewhere, so I thought I
should take a look around town in the meantime. Try and work out
what’s going on around here.”
“Nothing’s going on!” Magda let her chair hit the ground with a
clatter. “Is this going to be a thing isn’t it? You looking for trouble?”
“I wasn’t the one who was trying to wrangle a quest out of
Agatha. You’re just as bad. Look even if nothing weird is going on, it’s
good to get our bearings, right? Find out where all the shops and stuff
are. There’s an equipment tab in our menu and I’m intrigued to find
out what that’s for.”
“Oh yeah. You and what money?” Maga’s face was covered with
the smuggest smirk Gareth had ever seen. “This is why I’m angling
for a quest. See if we can get some coin.”
“If the village has coin to spare don’t you think they would have
paid us for saving them from bandits?”
“Not really no. If they have to pay us to save them from bandits,
then we’re just robbing them in a more roundabout manner. Now if
they send us off to do something for them, well then compensation is
only fair.”
“You know what, fine, that makes sense.” Gareth hated giving the
former goddess the satisfaction of winning the argument. “We should
still take a look around the village though. Just so we know where
everything is.”
“Ok, sure. Better than sitting around doing nothing, I guess. As
long as we don’t go too far. My legs still hurt from all the walking we
did to get here. How do mortals cope, with all these aches and pains
all the time?”

“Badly,” Gareth said. “It gets worse as you get older as well.”
“Fantastic. Don’t take this the wrong way but I hope I never have
to experience that. I don’t plan on staying in this form for longer than I
absolutely have to. This is all very…unbecoming of a goddess.”
Magda pushed her chair back from the table, the legs squealing as
they slid across the stone floor. “Fine. We’ll do what you want to do I
guess.”
***
The village was eerily quiet. Gareth didn’t blame the villagers for
hiding inside their homes. They had after all just been marched out of
them by a bandit and rounded up near the large well that dominated
the central square. The buildings themselves seemed ancient; the
stone covered in damp moss that had grown thick over the long
centuries. Ivy clambered the walls, adding to the makeshift
camouflage of the houses. It was little surprise that Gareth and
Magda had missed the village during their wander through the forest.
Each house was separated by trees, the presence of the greenery
making it look like dozens of hermits had accidentally built their
hidden homes next to each other.
“This place gives me the creeps a little,” Gareth said. “I reckon
somewhere like this could definitely be haunted.”
“Probably. There are a lot more ghosts about than people think.
A lot of folks can’t handle moving on. You seemed to cope pretty well.
You were screaming, but that’s normal.” Magda leant against the well
that dominated the village square. It looked older again than the
buildings, its construction made of simple stacked stones. Curiously it
lacked the heavy plant growth of the other buildings in the village.
Even the grass didn’t dare touch it, stopping a few centimetres
around it in a perfect circle.
“We should drop the talk of the…next bit. We don’t want anyone
thinking we’re strange.”
“Oh, they already think you’re plenty strange. Your being robbed
story didn’t really ring true.”
“You have a better idea?” Gareth said, leaning next to Magda, his
back pressed against the stone. “Can you think of any other reasons
a naked guy and a woman would be hiding in a forest?”

“Well,” Magda said blushing brightly. “When you put it like that.”
“So where too first? I would put good money on this place having
exactly two shops. One for equipment, one for everything else. That’s
normally how it goes.”
“What gives you that idea?”
“Oh, well the levels, the skill points, all of that reminds me of roleplaying games, and that’s how it always is in those,” Gareth said. “I’m
just applying the same logic here.”
“This isn’t a game though. This is a living breathing world. They
just operate on different rules to the ones you’re used to. You know
what is interesting though? If people on your world make games with
similar systems, maybe you’re more aware of magic than you think?”
Magda took her weight off the well. “That building has a sign, I think.
Hard to tell with all the plants on it. Might be worth a look?”
“Sure, seems like as good a place to start as any.” Gareth
adjusted his shirt, the slightly too large garment riding up. Around his
waist was the belt that had appeared with his deck box, the thin strip
of leather holding his trousers up. “We should head out into the forest
no matter what happens with Agatha, try and find some more
vineswine and take them out. We could really use the experience
points. They were fifty experience each, and we need about another
three hundred to level up, so if we can hunt six...”
“Six!? That feels like a lot. They’re not the nicest things. There’s
also those bigger ones out there, the bramble thingies.”
“Bramblebison?” Gareth said. “That’s a good point, that one was
a hundred experience points so any of those we can take out would
be good as well.”
“You realise how insane you sound, right? Wanting to
deliberately wander around looking for monsters? It’s just my luck that
I brought back the one soul who is desperate to remain dead.”
“It’s not about a death wish,” Gareth said. The two had made the
short walk to the building with the sign and he had placed his hand on
the door handle. The sign itself was impossible to read. “It’s the
opposite. I want to stay alive, and to stay alive I need to be a higher
level, right? Higher level, bigger deck, more spells, better chance to
keep on kicking. Risk now means safety later.”

Gareth turned the handle and opened the door, stepping into the
building. The inside was filled with long metal racks, thick strands of
vines hanging from them. The vines were in various states of being
dried, the assembled plants forming a forest within the room. At the
far side was a counter, behind which a handful of garments had been
folded and stuffed onto wooden shelves. A young man was leaning
on the counter, talking to Agatha. The old woman smiled as she saw
Gareth enter, a bell above the door announcing his presence.
“Speak of a devil, I was just talking about you and your lady
friend. Hans, you already know the duellists that chased off that
wyrmkin brigand,” Agatha said, gesturing towards Gareth.
“Hey,” Gareth said, unsure of what else to say. Being introduced
as a saviour felt a little odd.
“Hans here is going to be crafting you a little reward for when you
run off those wyrmkin who have been causing us trouble. It might
look unorthodox, but this here is the best little runecrafter for miles
around. There’s not much he can’t enchant with a good bit of magical
vine and a needle. Just weaves the fibres right in. The upside is you
can’t see the runes, which is nice if you want to hide them.” It was
obvious that Agatha was trying to stoke both Hans’s ego and Gareth’s
desire to own a piece of equipment.
“Come off it, Agatha. I’m ok. I do well enough to make a living in
this nowhere town, but it’s not like the guilds of Wildermount are
knocking on my door,” Hans said. He picked up a length of dried root
and began to peel off strips. “Of course, that’s also because most of
my customers prefer to remain…discrete. Either way, I ain’t doing it.
Riling up the wyrmkin further isn’t going to help anyone.”
Agatha tapped her stick against the edge of the counter. It was a
slow controlled tap, annoyance coming out in well-managed bursts.
“And what if they have more than one deck? If they can somehow get
their hands on one, then there is always a chance they could have
more. I didn’t even know wyrmkin could use a deck until today. You
want that wandering around outside our village?”
“No, not really.” Hans stood still for a moment, his hands resting
on the edge of the counter. “Fine. Fine. I’ll see what I can do. I’ve not
got much in the way of supplies; I could do with some new vine.”

“Oh!” Gareth reached into his pocket, pulling out the strip of
rugged vine he had collected. He offered it to Hans. “Like this?”
“Yeah, that should do nicely. The local creatures are all nature
elementals, so there’s plenty of magic tucked away in something like
this. I’ll see what I can weave this into. Maybe a nice jerkin or
something like that. Give you a bit of protection beyond your magic.”
“So, we’ve got a deal then?” Agatha said. “You solve our wyrmkin
problem, Hans here crafts you a runic item in return. We don’t exactly
have any coin to offer, but runes don’t come cheap. Feels like a fair
trade.”
“We’ll do it!” Magda shouted, pushing past Gareth. “We’ll do it,”
she said, returning to a more normal tone of voice. “Always happy to
help people where we can.”
“I suppose,” Gareth said. “I wouldn’t be quite that chipper about
it.”
“Good. I want you to get them to move on. Out of the forest, to
the far edge, doesn’t matter. How you do that is up to you, but I can’t
imagine they’ll be friendly about it,” Agatha said.
Quest Accepted: Get the wyrmkin to leave the forest.
Reward: Runic item. 600 Experience points.
Gareth didn’t have any frame of reference for the value of a runic
item. From what Agatha had implied it seemed valuable, but he didn’t
know if that was true or just her trying to manipulate him into doing
what she wanted. The experience points was a different matter. Six
hundred felt like an enormous amount, easily enough to jump Gareth
up to the next level. That third mana orb felt tantalisingly close.
“Hang on, if you’re going to go wandering in the forest looking for
wyrmkin…” Hans ducked behind the counter, reappearing a moment
later with two leather backpacks in hand. “Here, they ain’t much, but
it’ll help if you find anything useful. A client commissioned them six
months back and never came to collect them, so they’re all paid for.”
“Does that happen often?” Gareth said as he took the offered
backpack.
“Every now and again. Most of my clients are duellists and well, I
don’t need to tell you how dangerous that can be.”

“You certainly don’t,” Gareth said, his face covered in a fake
smile. He slung the backpack over his arm.
Runic Item equipped: Adventurers’ Backpack of Holding This backpack is enchanted, allowing it to carry twenty-five
different types of items, regardless of their weights or individual
quantities.
The backpack would be incredibly useful. From the way the
enchantment effect was worded it sounded like items of the same
type would only count as a single item for the enchantment’s
purposes, allowing Gareth to collect as many rugged vines as he
could get his hands on. He couldn’t be certain until he tested it, but
Gareth was confident it would work that way. The realisation that
runes could grant powerful benefits suddenly made the quest reward
much more enticing.
“So, any idea which direction we need to go to find these
wyrmkin?” Gareth said, his voice brimming with excitement. “Actually,
a map of the forest, in general, would be really useful.”
“Ah, it doesn’t really work like that, unfortunately. The forest is
constantly shifting around us. Lots of powerful elemental magic here.
What was a safe route one week can be overgrown with towering
trees the next. The village is protected by…a leyline that stops it
shifting about.” There had been a noticeable pause in Agatha’s
speech. “I can point you in the general direction of the wyrmkin but
pinning down their exact location is down to you. I’m sure
experienced duellists like yourselves will be more than capable.”
“Oh yeah, of course.” Gareth wasn’t looking forward to more
wandering about in the woods with no idea where he was going.
“We should get some supplies then,” Magda said. She was
poking one of the vines hanging from the drying racks. “We could be
out there for a few days. Oh, we also need one of those…what are
they called? Like a house, but with poles?”
“A tent?” Gareth said. It was a total guess.
“Yeah! A tent. We need one of those.”
“I’ve got an old one you can have,” Hans said. “I use them when I
go looking for materials in the forest and just got a nice new one. It’s

even got a warding enchantment on it to keep away monsters at
night. You’re welcome to it. It’s just gathering dust otherwise.”
“I’ll put together some food that will last a few days for you. I
think it’s a reasonable request,” Agatha said. She smiled, revealing a
grin missing several teeth. “Glad we could come to an agreement.”
***
Stepping back into the wilds of the forests felt different to the last
time. Having clothes on was a good start, but it was the summation of
everything else. Just the day before Gareth had been reborn into
another world, lost and without purpose. Now he had a quest,
equipment, and a rough grasp on his new magical powers. He even
had a travelling companion, though Magda could be more than a little
abrasive. Gareth didn’t blame her, she was in exactly the same boat
he was, adapting to a new life that very different to her last. It would
take time to get used to, especially for a former goddess.
“You ready?” Gareth said, tightening the straps on his backpack.
He scuffed the toe of his boot into the dirt, the leather already worn by
years of wear. The boots were a donation from a villager, one that
Gareth was very grateful to receive. Walking barefoot through the
forest had been excruciatingly painful. Magda had been gifted a
similar pair, though they looked out of place on her small frame. She
looked like a child trying on her father’s shoes.
“As I can be. You know, this whole scenario it’s… a lot. I just
want to thank you for helping me. You didn’t have to.” Magda
stomped about in her boots, a poor attempt at getting them to fit
better. “Yeah, I know I brought you back and everything, but you’re
not tied to me because of it. What I said yesterday, when I told you
that you owed me, I was…scared. Still am, honestly.”
“Me too. We’re in the same boat, you know? This is all as new to
me as it is to you. I’m not tied to you, but no one else understands my
predicament, do they? Just from a purely practical angle working
together to figure things out is a good idea. Like for a start, how
exactly are we going to find these wyrmkin?”
“Well, Agatha said they’re to the east, and pointed in this kind of,
general direction.” Magda gestured at the trees before her. “So, I
guess we go that way?”

“Wandering off into a forest that apparently rearranges itself.
What could go wrong?”
“Oh, a lot I imagine. Monsters, angry deck users, you know, the
things we’ve already had go wrong.”
Gareth just nodded in agreement. Magda had a point. There was
already someone out there with a grudge against him and untold
monsters were lurking amongst the trees. Gareth found he was
looking forward to finding more monsters, particularly the ones he
knew he could defeat. Getting stronger, that would be the key to
surviving in his new home. That and understanding the precise
mechanics of his new abilities. There was still a lot of unanswered
questions about how cards worked but Gareth found the possibilities
exciting.
“We’ll be ok, I think,” Gareth said. “Nobody in the village has a
deck, and they seemed surprised the wyrmkin had one. They must be
rare. Having magic in a world where a lot of people don’t? That sets
us apart. Probably why they keep calling us duellists.”
“You know I’ve been thinking about that. It’s weird, right? There
are lots of worlds where magic is held in the hands of just a few
people, normally on ones where it takes a long time to learn and
master it, from what I gather,” Magda said. She began to walk into the
forest, Gareth following behind her.
“Makes sense. Humans on my world are fundamentally lazy.
Otherwise, we would all be master tuba players or pro footballers or
whatever.”
“Exactly. Humans can be found in most worlds, though they tend
to share them with others. Your world was an anomaly only having
humanity. Probably the low magic there. Either way, using magic here
is easy, you and I can do it. So why doesn’t everyone have a deck? I
mean the only reason we have them is divine intervention.”
Gareth waited for Magda to clamber over a log, her short height
making it difficult. He simply stepped over it as they continued to walk
into the trees. “Maybe they’re hard to make but easy to use? Like a
computer, pretty straightforward to get to grips with, you can even
tinker about with the insides and all the specifics if you want to get

more complex. Nobody is making their own processer in the garden
though.”
“If you say so,” Magda said with a shrug, one of her backpack
straps slipping down her arm. “Honestly that sounds like gibberish to
me.”

Chapter Five

Walking

through the forest for the second time was very different
from the first. Armed with a pair of boots and his nudity covered by
his second-hand clothing, Gareth was feeling a lot more excited by it.
The trees were taller than any he had ever seen, something that had
slipped his notice during his frantic awakening. Here and there he
caught sight of more elemental creatures hiding amongst the fo