Chapter 22:

The rhino and the skeleton

I Won't Kill Myself for the Second Time


“I will ask you again. That contract - would you prefer to break it by force? Or make a deal with her to cancel it? Or deprive her of all the power she has? No additional information, that’s all you have to base your answer on and you must use the words ‘I promise’ in it.”

Votr was grinning from his grim seat.

“V-votr, come on, w-why are you doi-”

Despite my attempts to contain them within, some emotions leaked out and contaminated my voice.

“It’s my job and I won’t deny that it’s fun to watch you like that. Man up and pick something already. You can also try out your best move ‘insulting in mind’, if you have balls to do that with me, hah!”

My heart rate was skyrocketing. One wrong choice and it would be over, everything again would be over and I had already learned that for me, even death wasn’t a guaranteed escape route.

“Just for your information, playing for time won’t help, the parasite girl won’t suddenly appear here until I allow that.”

“Fuck!”

I punched the stone bench in front of me as hard as I could, only to regret it a second later. It hurt.

That was my last idea... I can’t allow everything to end just like that!

“George, calm down. Why are you panicking so much? It's like your Three Choices, right? It’s just that there are no guarantees here. Trust me, if you can break through this mental block, you will make a huge step in your soul reformation.”

All I did from the moment I had woken up in this body was to follow the route of the least resistance, grab every opportunistic chance spotted on the side and repeat in my mind that this was the best way for me to live. I tried to convince myself that all I had to do was to wait for a right moment to turn everything in my favor!

Continuing down this road was like a poison. One that made me think every day before falling asleep ‘what am I doing with my life’.

I could nearly hear the sound of something snapping inside my head.

Even I once wanted to be a hero.

“All I have to do is just to break through it?! Fine! I will break through it like a fucking rhino!”

Excuses, whining, playing for time, pleading, insults. They are all useless here. I hate this, I really do. I hate how pathetic I am! This is the thing I hate the most about myself! Never again! I won’t allow everything to end just like that ever again! I won’t kill myself for the second time!
I slapped my cheeks hard.

“Oh? You’ve surprised me for the second time. Did I finally push you hard enough?”

“I promise to pick an answer to your question in the next five seconds!”

*Clap* *Clap* *Clap*

The demon stood up from the sarcophagus while clapping slowly.

“Brilliant!”

My mind nearly went blank from the pressure, only the truest, core desires were left.

“I will break this contract by force!”

With no time to think, this was the first answer that had appeared in my head. After saying that I fell down on the stone bench, my vision was blurry and there were tears in the corners of my eyes.

Votr was still rhythmically clapping in the background.

“That was great! You couldn’t pick an answer so you’ve put so much pressure on yourself that you HAD to pick one or die? Now we’re talking! Damn! I was preparing for hours, HOURS of talking with you in a lengthy reflection session, beginning from the very first memory of your past life and you simply did that? Look! Look at my face! I didn’t have a smile so big in ages.”

The stress I went through in the last few seconds made me want to vomit.

I did it… I really fucking did it! FUCK YEAH! Like a fucking rhino!

When I managed to stop the gastric juices from coming outside I looked at Votr and gave him a thumbs up, forgetting even about his demonic side that seemed so terrifying a moment ago.

“Now, one more time.”

Votr said something strange. Something I hoped wasn’t true.

“Huh?”

“You forgot to add ‘I promise’.”

This time I couldn’t stop the content of my stomach from spilling all over the floor.

“By the way, your whole conviction of not making any promises till you die lasted for about twenty minutes? You’re a masterpiece George, a true masterpiece.”

“,,,”

“Come on. You already know what option to pick, just say it.”

Resigned, with a silent voice, I said:

“I promise to break this contract by force... Now, can I rest for a moment please?”

Without waiting for his answer, I moved to one of the room corners and sat down, with my head hidden in between the knees.

“I will give you a reward for not wasting as much time as I thought you would. Listen well, the truth is… I can’t kill you even if I wanted to. There’s no personal demon that can kill the person assigned to him.”

I didn’t pay him much attention as my head was busy thinking about the promise I made.

I did it huh? I'm really gambling with everything I have and I'm planning to win... I will win!

This feeling is... quite nice.




While I was resting Votr told me more about the three options I had had to pick from.

If I had chosen to deprive her of all the power, he would have told me more about the way to do it, but I didn’t so he just skipped this part.

If I had chosen to make a deal with her, he would have told me more about her true goal, but I didn’t so he just omitted the rest.

Since I had chosen to force her to break the contract, he told me that there were two ways of doing that. One of them was so simple it was borderline stupid, I had to beat her till she agreed to cancel it or demand it forcibly, apparently talking was ok as long as I didn’t try to strike any kind of deal or plead. The other didn’t even require me to meet with Rora, I could use the entire mana rewarded for capturing this spot to cancel the contract.

When I thought about the details, the realization that all escape routes were no longer available filled me with dread, but other than that it also gave me a clear objective of what I had to do. The hesitation was gone.

And yeah, all that drama nearly made me forgot that I still had to complete the challenge first.




“Votr, how much mana is here? I mean, you know, the difficulty of this place or something like that.”

I felt much better after resting, even the distance I kept from Votr was reduced by about one meter. Though we were standing on the opposite sides of the room and I mirrored his every move to keep this buffer zone intact.

“I’ve created a new ranking system to make it easier for you to grasp. I will call the hardest, biggest, impossible ones as death on the spot places.”

“And the others?”

“Worthless. This one is also worthless.”

“...”

The demon apparently liked this new game of ours as he didn’t stop moving even once since it had started and we were slowly approaching our second lap around the room. He had told me that he couldn’t kill me, but the cut on my neck was a reminder that injuring was allowed.

“Alright, alright, I’ve got other proposition. Geez, what an irritable person. What about rating them from zero to ten?”

“Sounds more like it. So, how is this place?”

“Eight I guess.”

“Ain’t that pretty damn hard?!”

“You got it all wrong. Zero’s the hardest. Ten’s the easiest. By the way, the last one you were in wouldn't even make it into the ranking.”

“Where’s the logic in that? Why did you have to reverse it?”

“What are you saying? The lower in ranking you are the better, right? It’s perfectly obvious that zero should be the strongest, most badass one.”

The demon stopped when he was passing by the sarcophagus.

“Let’s start your second challenge.”

“Alright, I’m ready.”

“Ready, huh? Remember this feeling you have now, I don’t want to go through all this again during your next visit.”

With both hands, he grabbed the heavy lid of the sarcophagus and moved it aside. Red fog started pouring out.

“Let the second round of the challenge mode Three Choices begin! The problem to resolve this time is… appease the dead.”

Votr clapped loudly once and three pairs of doors had appeared. One on the left side of the room, one on the right and one opposite to the sarcophagus. All of them were heavy, covered with metal, with large bronze handles.

“Come, take a look inside.”

He pointed towards the source of the red fog. I did as he asked and immediately regretted this decision.

A bog body…

Of course, I was already expecting a corpse to be inside, but not one like this.

It was a cadaver that had been naturally mummified in a peat bog. Staying inside it for years until its skin turned pitch black, became tightly wrapped around the bones and twisted muscles frozen at bizarre angles. Scarce remains of brown hair were still clinging to the scalp. Its nails broken and protruding. Even the internal organs were preserved.

All of that made it even scarier and creepier compared to a normal human skeleton. It looked as if its eyes could open at any moment.

“They will in fifteen minutes and that’s your time limit, behind one of those three doors is an item that will allow this poor soul to remain asleep. You know the rest, good luck.”

Said Votr and disappeared among the red fog.

There was no time to lose and I already had an idea of how to deal with my challenge mode.

Alright, the timing’s good, please work in this place! Tell me what happens when I open each door!

One - Action: Opening the left door.

Reaction: Finding a wrong room and being attacked by a skeleton.

Two - Action: Opening the right door.

Reaction: User dies due to a poisoning.

Three - Action: Opening the opposite door.

Reaction - Finding the correct room and being attacked by a skeleton.

Just as I thought, after giving it a precise question it had provided me with a precise set of answers, which in this situation was an invaluable help. However, a new problem appeared.

“Twelve minutes.”

The demon's voice made me realize that time was running out and I had to move.

Maybe I can deal with it like with the goblin.

On three.

One, two, three!

I pushed the handle of the correct door and opened them fast, closed even faster. Half a second later, there was a loud sound of impact coming from the other side.

“Shit!”

My hand holding the handle was shaking. If I didn’t know that there was an enemy waiting for me, I would already be skewered by his spear. Despite that, I still had the clarity of mind.

No kicking. But, it looks like my plan B will work just fine. That empty skull can’t open the door after all.

“Ten minutes.”

Carefully, I reached out my hand as far as I could towards the handle, pressed it, pulled the door and run in the opposite direction. The skeleton began to move right after that.

Luckily, he wasn’t too fast, he just walked in my direction with the spear, ready to stab. I lured him to the midpoint of the room and moved towards the wall with the intention of evading with as much of a margin as I could while using the stone benches between us as natural obstacles.

Everything was going well until I run back to the correct room, when I went inside and turned to close the door, I saw the skeleton’s spear flying towards me.

The spear cut through the air and before I could even think about dodging, it whistled right next to my head. He missed.

I shut the door and dropped down to my knees breathing heavily. Sweat was dripping down to the floor. If he had aimed at my torso and not head that would be the end. I cheated death for the second time and required a moment to collect myself.

“Seven minutes.”

I slapped my cheeks hard and took few deep breaths.

In the room were a simple chest and the thrown spear. Inside the chest, I found an engagement ring. I counted to sixty to calm down some more, took the ring and thought about taking the spear, but decided against it. It would only slow me down. Nevertheless, after a bit of effort, I managed to broke it in half, just in case.

Open the door, no skeleton, run to the corpse, give it the ring, happy end.
Open the door, skeleton close, evade or push aside, run to the corpse, give it the ring, happy end.
Open the door, skeleton close, evade or push aside, doesn’t work, ignore everything, run to the corpse, give it the ring, happy end.

Crawl to the corpse if needed.

Got it.

I flexed all muscles and put my entire weight into opening the door as fast as possible. There was a loud collision noise and some resistance, but I had no time to think about it. It was the best possible situation as I didn’t see the skeleton nearby, I focused solely on running and handing that ring to its owner.

“Two mi-, well done.”

Votr had reappeared from behind me and patted my back. I collapsed on the spot.

“I-I did it?”

Everything happened so fast that I still had troubles with believing that it went so well. It had probably used my yearly allotment of luck.

“Yup. Want to rest some more or shall we continue?”

“Give me five minutes and bring out Rora. I've got a promise to keep.”

This Novel Contains Mature Content

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