Chapter 76: First Encounter
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Finally a clue to getting out of here!

Roel looked at the countdown and the evaluation on the System’s interface and heaved a deep sigh of relief. Fortunately, it seemed like his and Nora’s situation was just temporary. It was likely to be like the ‘dungeons’ in games.

As for what this ‘dungeon’ was for…

【Progress of Bloodline Awakening: 60%】

He had a feeling that it was for this. The evaluation probably determined how much he could earn from the awakening of his bloodline, especially since the rewards in dungeons usually depended on how well one performed.

“System, what is the evaluation based on?”

【It’s based on the user’s actions, decisions, accomplishments, and many other factors. It’s impossible to list the exact factors at play.】

“I see. I guess there’s something concrete for me to work toward now. What does kingmaker mean?”

【Depending on the road you choose, the results will vary. The power of choice is in your hands. The System will not force the user into making any actions, but it advises the user to heed the spirit of the Ascart House. It will be beneficial to the awakening of your bloodline.】

“Spirit of the Ascart House? What is that?” muttered Roel contemplatively as he ruminated over the System’s words.

He realized that he didn’t have a clue as to what that was. Carter had never spoken much about the values of the Ascart House. His usual lectures were just the usual stuff about how a nobleman should act and the sort; there was nothing special at all.

“Isn’t this problem too tough? Can’t you give me some clues?”

【There’s no one true answer to the questions of the heart. Also, the System advises the user that a man should constantly seek to improve hims…】

“Enough, you need not say anything else,” replied Roel with a wave of the hand, as if to sweep away the System’s constant platitudes.

A carpet placed atop a wooden bed frame for a mattress, Roel lay there pondering for a long while, but no answers came to him. In the end, he could only shake his hand in the air and toss the questions to the back of his mind.

Roel stared at the 60% written on the System’s interface as he quickly calculated how long it would take before time’s up. Considering that the awakening started earlier in the evening and it was now late at night, after the chat they had with Klaude, there was a good chance that his awakening would already be complete by the time he opened his eyes tomorrow morning!

“Eyy, if only it was that easy!”

Roel sighed deeply.

He knew that the awakening couldn’t possibly be so simple, especially since the System deemed it to be ‘Extremely Dangerous’ and that the success rate was only 70%. These two pieces of information constantly dampened his mood.

He was already halfway through his awakening, but he hadn’t experienced anything yet. He wasn’t sure whether this meant that everything was going smoothly or that the danger had yet to come, but in any case, all he could do was mentally prepare himself to deal with whatever might occur.

To be honest, he was already throwing everything to luck since it didn’t seem like there was anything much he could do about the awakening. He had already resolved himself for the worst when he made that decision.

“Come to think of it, there’s still 73 hours till the end of this ‘dungeon’. Is there anything that I need to do? What in the world is the ‘Witness’?”

Roel pondered as he stared at the numbers reflected on the System interface. While he was deep in thought, his consciousness gradually faded, and unknowingly, he fell into a deep sleep.

With gritted teeth, Peter Kater wrapped both his hands around the sword that was plunged into his thigh and pulled it out. At the moment that the sword was extracted, he yelped in pain as blood spurted all over his clothes.

Having one’s femoral artery sliced was no joke. The sheer blood loss could easily take away an ordinary human’s life within a few minutes. However, transcendents had many ways of coping with such a situation.

For those who had recovery-type abilities, such an injury didn’t pose a threat at all, but even for those who didn’t have such means, they could still control their flesh to significantly reduce blood loss. For an Origin Level 4 transcendent like Peter, such a trick was, of course, well within his means.

“Yowch! Damn it! Those two damn scamps!” cursed Peter under his breath as he held his thigh tightly.

Peter channeled his mana outward, and three paintings materialized around him. One of them was the ‘Smiling Mother’ painting that Roel and Nora had seen previously, the second painting depicted a group of girls bathing in a river, and the last one was a noblewoman pulling a pet dog by the leash.

All of these three paintings, by Roel’s standards, looked like things that had crept out from the depths of hell. All of the characters depicted in the painting had empty holes for their eyes, nostrils, ears, and mouth.

In the second painting, the river which the women were bathing in was filled with blood. In the third painting, the dog on a leash was filled with bloody pus on its face, and the noblewoman holding onto the leash looked dried out and withered.

Peter Kater’s reddened eyes moved waveringly amongst the three paintings. He took a look at the deep cut on his shoulder and thigh, and in the end, he grit his teeth and cast a spell on the painting with women bathing in the river of blood.

【Scapegoat
Transfer the wounds you have suffered onto an artwork】

This was a recovery method unique to Peter Kater, though there are plenty of similar skills amongst evil cultists too.

In the next instant, a mist of blood burst forth from the painting Peter had selected. A deep cut appeared on the thighs of the bathing women, and shrieks of agony sounded out loudly. The color of the river grew even more vibrantly crimson.

In comparison, Peter’s injuries began to recover. In just a few moments, the damage to his thigh had vanished without a trace. Seeing this, he heaved a sigh of relief before slowly releasing his grip on his thigh.

While Scapegoat was a powerful ability, it had its limitations too. After transferring the damage, he would be unable to use the painting for the next week. On top of that, this spell could only remove a single injury, so the injury on his shoulder hadn’t healed yet.

Peter Kater raised his reddened eyes once more and assessed the two other paintings floating in midair around him. The colors of ‘Smiling Mother’ looked a lot more faded than before, and the noblewoman walking a dog picture had distorted significantly too. The earlier battle had been harsh not just on Peter but his paintings too.

“I need to find more women’ skin, or else…” muttered Peter to himself.

His strength was built upon his artwork, but these artworks weren’t so convenient as to be able to be used forever. On the contrary, they were as brittle as ordinary artworks. In order to sustain them, Peter would have to continue killing living beings who resembled the characters in his paintings and graft their skin over.

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This was also where his title as the Skin Grafter came from.

Peter had no idea where he currently was, but he could tell that a war had broken out here. There were many soldier squads patrolling the area. An evil cultist like him couldn’t afford to get checked by anyone here. As a result, every single time he encountered someone, a fight would ensue.

To make things worse, there was not a single woman here at all, which meant that he couldn’t repair his paintings! This made Peter extremely nervous. For the first time, he regretted having taken on this mission, though he was more furious at the boy who had landed him in this state.

“That wretched bastard! If not for him… Damn it, I swear that I’ll skin him alive and plaster him on my paintings!”

Just thinking about Roel was more than enough to make Peter clutch his hair in a frenzy. The sheer intensity of his madness instilled fear in anyone looking at him. However, a few seconds later, he regained his calm.

“Yes, I have to find them. I’ll kill that brat to quench my fury. The Ascarts do have a long history behind them. If I use him in my painting, I should be able to rise to Origin Level 3. These lousy soldiers don’t pose a threat to me anyway!”

Peter continued gritting his teeth and muttering to himself as he walked through his foggy surroundings. He turned to the noblewoman holding onto the leash of a dog and instructed.

“Eva, find them with your dog!”

With a loud roar, the skinny noblewoman holding onto a dog leash walked out of the painting. The hideous hellhound began sniffing the labyrinth before heading off in a certain direction. Peter, clutching his shoulder, quickly followed the hellhound and disappeared in the fog.

Roel had a nightmare.

In the dream, he was walking on top of a scarlet ground. There was no water or trees anywhere; everything within sight was scarlet in color. The ground felt like gravel, but no pebbles moved when the wind blew past him.

How weird, Roel thought to himself in the dream.

His fuzzy brain had barely any capacity for thought too. He simply looked at the scarlet ground, listened to the whistling of the wind, and trudged forward without any thought. It was almost as if he was a lifeless zombie driven by sheer instinct.

He couldn’t sense anything else, and his body knew nothing of exhaustion either. He didn’t know where he was headed or what his aim was, but he continued walking on for a long, long time.

It felt like there was no end to his journey. The sun in the sky neither rose nor fell, creating an impression that time had stopped in this world. Like a perpetual machine, he trudged on and on, and finally, he arrived at the endpoint.

It was the boundary of this scarlet world, displaying a battlefield that had long concluded. Heads as big as houses were half-buried within the gravel. Rusty swords as high as towers were stabbed into the ground. Murders of crows circled the sky as they gazed down upon Roel.

At the center of this mess, there was a humongous skeleton that towered like a mountain sitting on the ground. A sword had pierced through its chest. It was cloaked in a ragged cape, and the crown sitting on its head had already long lost its luster. Yet, the skeleton remained imposing and divine like a god.

In the instant Roel laid eyes upon that skeleton, an indescribably excruciating pain suddenly jabbed his nerves, electrifying his numbed mind. The extreme discomfort jolted him back to his senses, and he snapped out of his daze.

At the same time, the eye sockets of the humongous skeleton lit up with a faint glow.

“Who is it?”

An ancient and deep voice reverberated loudly in the air.

The skeleton’s gaze moved downward and locked eyes with the shocked Roel. As their gazes connected with one another, Roel suddenly felt that searing pain in his eyes once more. A faint light formed on the surface of his eyes momentarily before he shut them while emitting a cry of agony.

“I see. It’s you lot again.”

The humongous skeleton seemed to have understood something from observing the screaming child standing before him. His voice sounded disappointed, but at the same time, seemed to carry traces of anticipation too.

“Hm? It’s a young lad this time around?”

The skeleton assessed Roel’s appearance in surprise, but the fluctuations in his emotions were so minor as to be negligible.

“Very well, lad. Answer my question.”

“W-what?”

“How do the dead pass down their power?”

The ancient, deep voice resounded in Roel’s ears, but the suffering boy, who was still covering both his eyes, couldn’t understand the question. He tried his best to raise his head, only to see that the humongous skeleton had already averted its gaze. Turning its eyes toward the setting sun, it remarked.

“You don’t need to answer my question right away. You may take some time to think about it first.”

His voice was calm and placid, seemingly carrying no expectations for Roel’s answer at all. A moment later, he seemed to sense something once more, and he said.

“You appear to have encountered some trouble. Return. However, remember to bring me an answer the next time you come.”

After those words were spoken, Roel found everything before him fading to black once more.

“Haaa!”

In a monk’s cell in the old monastery, the sleeping Roel suddenly shot awake and gasped desperately for air while clutching his blanket tightly. His head was already drenched in a layer of sweat, and his eyes looked unfocused and frantic. It looked as if he had just been jolted awake from a nightmare.

And, that was exactly what Roel thought too.

“Huu! So it’s a dream after all! That scared me!”

Roel was just about to lie back down and rest some more when he noticed a notification from the System. His body immediately stiffened as he gasped in shock.

【’First Encounter’ completed.】
【Calculating results…】

Novel Notes

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ℭ𝔥𝔢𝔠𝔨 𝔬𝔲𝔱 𝔪𝔶 𝔬𝔱𝔥𝔢𝔯 𝔫𝔬𝔳𝔢𝔩𝔰:
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