Chapter 3:

Valley of the Shadow of Death

Face of Eternity : The Star and the Rose

We were stuck in some spooky valley in the middle of nowhere, all because something went wrong with the Manona crest. Fear gripped me like a bear hugging its catch. There was no place like home, and God only knows how far away that was right now.

I sat down on the ground and started crying. I wanted to go home. I didn't want to stay in this spooky valley forever!

"Waaahh! Aahhh! I wanna' go home! Aahh!"

Maybe if Uncle were here, it wouldn't be so bad...but I was all alone with someone I didn't know.

Indena glared down at me with frustration.

"Hey, shut up!" She growled. "I'm tryna' think here! I hate Kids...such a pain."

"No! I'm too scared!"

"Yeah, so am I." She sighed, brushing around her lips with her finger. "Alright, this stupid portal thing must have F'd up and sent us somewhere. But where are we?"

My Elysium Positioning System wasn't working at all, I couldn't get a read on our location. So we definitely weren't in Elysium. What was this new world we'd discovered?

Luckily, my LOCATION tab was already recording environment data for me, so it was starting to write out a map of the valley. I think the map only captured about forty meters away from me before I'd need to move around. Otherwise, everything beyond was covered by the fog of war.

My crying slowed to a stop while I searched around the map. There were a lot of things going on, so let me explain how it worked.

This map is a 3D rendering of the environment around me. Up until now, most of it was usually filled out. This was due to the Elysium Positioning System, or EPS, constantly updating the location.

I and anyone who was friendly to me appeared as green arrows, pointing in whatever direction we were facing. So we were smack dab in the middle of the map.

A few yellow dots were moving around the map, most of them looked like they were up in trees, or scurrying around a few meters away, those were animals. The size of the animal determined how big their icon on the map would be.

There were really weird icons all over the place. Some of them looked like location markers, but they had question marks over them. Others had words in Nazalian, which read "limam," or "locked." Not sure what that meant.

If only I could find a legend or something to tell me what each icon meant. Maybe the HELP tab had something?


Nothing. Too bad.

Well, as useful as this map was, it wasn’t giving me much info on where we were.

So, what I learned from the map didn't really help, since it basically said we were in the middle of nowhere. I wasn't sure how this happened. We weren't even in a Nalnara gate, so how did we teleport?


"Indena…?" I wiped the tears from my eyes. "Can I see the Manona crest?"

"Yeah, sure."

She offered her wrist over, then I pressed the release button to undo it from around her arm, but it wasn't coming off.

"What the…?"

From what it looked like, it was locked in tight. Only daddy had access to unlock it now. I might have too, but I wasn't familiar with these enough.

Luckily, I still had access to the teleportation log. The crest wasn’t malfunctioning as far as I could tell, but something did input a command to send us to this place. There was no name, and the destination was blank, but the log of our teleportation was recorded.

So, if this thing was working, that meant we must have somehow traveled through some kind of mana stream. There had to be a portal somewhere, but I didn’t see anything. Unless the portal was hidden. Or maybe…

“Maybe there's a mana cave near us?” I mumbled to myself.

Nalnara gates weren’t exactly the only way to use the mana streams for teleporting around, they were just the only way for us to manipulate and control the streams. There was a whole network throughout the planet, usually traveling through big caves. I’m sure someone else might have been able to control them as well, given how vast the network is.

On my map, I saw a crystal icon with six lines coming off of it. The icon was over a cave. I had an idea that it had something to do with our teleporting.

That cave was just a few hundred meters behind us. I ran over to it, thinking it may have been our fated mana stream.

The cave was glowing with blue light. On the walls there was a crystal formation all over. The calming aura of life radiated outward from these crystals, giving both of us a sense of bliss in this chaotic moment.

"Eureka," I said. "This is a mana vein."

"What is this place?"

I explained that mana veins were responsible for sending mana from Elysium up to the surface world. From there it would put mana into the air and soil so things other than humans could draw from it.

Only humans could create mana in their spirits. Everything else needed to get it from eating something else.

"Oh, I get it." She nodded. "So, is Elysium the Heart of the World?"

Actually, that was correct. Elysium was the core, or heart of the planet. Think of our world like a rubber ball, and there's a livable surface on the inside and outside. "Yeah, that's right." I nodded.

Elysium has two parts. The outer core, and the moon.

The outer core was almost identical to the surface world, but it's an inverted world, meaning the outer core wrapped around the inside of the planet. Imagine a rubber ball having an outside surface and an inside surface, like I mentioned before.

The moon in the center of Elysium, or at the very core of the planet, was the thing that produced all the mana, even acting like a sun for the inverted world.

Remember when I said The Hive was under a sky dome? That dome was on that moon. So I've lived on it my whole life.

Indena seemed taken aback as she leaned on a chunk of mana crystal. Her head nodded along and she smirked.

"I have a friend who's obsessed with trying to find that place. She says it's supposed to be paradise."

It really wasn't much different from the surface world, I think. There just weren't any people in Elysium, not humans, anyways. Depending on how you look at it, that might have been paradise.

"It's not really that amazing."

"To someone who lives there, maybe. A place that literally makes spirit energy? I honestly didn't even think it existed, but here you are, telling me it does." She snickered. "Ahg...why did we come here again?"

After a brief explanation on how the mana veins and teleporting worked, she realized the problem.

"Can't we go back through the stream?" She asked.

"We could if there was a Nalnara gate, but since one isn't hooked up…" I pointed to the Manona crest, "it looks like something went wrong with the crest instead."

Wrong wasn't the right word, since it seemed like something did this on purpose. But I was still confused how we were able to travel here with the Manona crest alone.

I wondered if there was a return to home feature. Some of my games had a fast travel method that allowed you to either return to your home base instantly, or head to a previously visited spot.

Ooh! There was one! But there were two issues…

The first problem was that we needed a Nalnara gate for this to work at all.

And the second problem was that the portal networks had been shut down. Meaning even if we did have a Nalnara gate, it wouldn’t work. That was likely a failsafe to prevent any further allegedly random teleporting.

I let Indena know about the development, she seemed frustrated, but spuriously curious…

Oh shoot, I mean superficially curious. Oh wait, Spuriously kinda works here too...basically, she faked being interested.

Anyways, this cave wasn't a great shelter since we could hear noises deeper in. It sounded like screeches and struggles between creatures. If there's monsters deeper in, it would be best to avoid them for now.

Indena had some instructions. “We’ll need to find shelter for now. I was told if anything went wrong, we’d have to wait for someone to find us.”

“Okay.” I nodded. That someone was probably going to be Uncle.

"If we run into any monsters, let me handle them," Indena said. "You stay behind me. This valley's probably not the safest place."

Sounded good to me. She seemed to know what she was doing when it came to battle.

I opened up the map again to see if maybe I could find better shelter, but it looks like the map had changed locations. It was showing me the inside of this cave, rather than the valley.

Deeper in the cave I saw these icons moving around that looked like uneven 8 sided stars. It looked a little like those 'pow!' things you'd see in comics. Those must have been monsters.

"Let's go." I tugged her out of the cave. Those monsters were dangerously close.

Outside things got a little rainy. Droplets of water were coming down lightly. I had a feeling it was really gonna' start pouring down soon.

There was an overhang of rock on a cliff not far from us. Indena said that wouldn't be bad shelter from the rain. It was a bit too far for my map to see, but…

Uh-oh…something just popped up on my map in front of us. It was monster icons!

They literally just appeared about ten meters away.

Soil started to rise up all around us. Things, covered in dirt and twigs, peaked their heads up. They looked at us with purple eyes that had blue rings of light in them.

"Get back!" Indena took the helm and pushed me behind her.

When the monsters were no longer in the ground, they shook off the dirt quickly and revealed what looked like rats with lizard scales, and furry manes around their heads.

-WARNING! Threat sighted! IFF tags active-

-Identifying identified-

-Lizzarat monster tagged; foe-

-Enemy count = (11)-

-Indena tagged; Friendly-

The Lizzarat received a red outline around it due to my IFF tagging. Indena got a green outline.

The Lizzarat was about the size of a basketball, but they were definitely angry at us for some reason. Maybe these guys were tracking us from inside the cave.

One screeched and bolted at Indena, baring sharp claws and fangs.

It leapt into the air, but Indena easily dodged it, keeping me close behind her.

As she maneuvered away, another one predicted where she would be and pounced her.

Another followed, then the one that missed joined in, and she quickly had three on her chest and arms.

"Get off!" Flame boomed to life around her, roasting the monsters and flinging them away!

More of them came in, this time 7 lept to action.

Indena used fireballs to keep most of them away, but a few jumped at her.

Well they were in the air, she sent out a few kicks to keep them from grabbing onto her. Those kicks were so strong, the monsters died instantly.

One had snuck around to get at me, but she pointed a finger gun at the Lizzarat and shot a bolt of fire at it.



The monster exploded into charred bits!

That seemed to be all of them. I didn't see any more on the map.

"You alright?" She asked me.

"Yeah." I nodded, a little shaken by the battle. "That was scary!"

I jumped onto her leg, clinging to it for dear life. She didn't know how to respond, so she just patted my head twice and pushed me off.

"Alright, don't touch me...let's go."

Before we started walking, a little box of info popped up in my vision.

-Lizzarat defeated. Awarding Xp-

A small sum of experience points were awarded to me for the battle. I didn't fight, but I guess the Xp system must have considered me as part of the fight. So that meant we shared Xp.

Oh, so did I mention I have a leveling system? This is probably a good time to explain it.

So, have you ever played a RPG game? You know how they have levels you get when you gain a certain amount of experience points? Well, I have something like that, but it's in real life.

I gained Xp from completing all kinds of challenges, all listed in the appropriately named CHALLENGE tab on my right side toolbar. The CHALLENGE tab was divided into several categories based on the requirements of each challenge.

I also earned Xp from defeating monsters, but that one wasn't as easy since I couldn't fight. Battle rewarded more Xp though, so that was the trade off.

As I leveled, my stats went up. These were your typical strength, dexterity, constitution, wisdom, intelligence and charisma. These stats represented my real life abilities. It may be possible to up these stats without leveling up, but I haven’t studied it enough.

I was currently level 15, so I'd grown about 8 levels since I first discovered this system existed.

You probably won't believe this, but the Challenges encouraged me to play video games, and even Uncle said it was a good idea for me to spend time theory crafting them to learn all the mechanics behind Xp. Theory crafting was basically learning all the ins and outs of a game and exploiting those things to achieve crazy difficult feats.

Video games are great, but when it's homework, you tend to lose a little of that fun aspect. Not that I'll be complaining about it.

Indena was at a loss for what to think of my leveling system when I explained it to her. She said it seemed really stupidly complicated. I'm starting to get an idea of how her mind works, she thinks a lot of things are stupid and unnecessary when they get complicated.

"As long as you keep growing, I guess you're doing your best at life." She nodded. "But a tip to the wise, don't tell people about this kinda' stuff, they'll just get confused. Like me."

That wasn't bad advice, especially since I probably needed to keep some things secret about me.

But if dad trusted Indena, I guess I had to as well.


We finally reached the cliff with the rock overhang. Unlike We'd predicted, the rain cleared up a little and it just got really overcast.

Since the haze of rain had lightened up, we got a really good look at the valley from here.

The evergreen trees were so plentiful, like in the lumberjack stories. They sat on the mountain sides, looking like grass from this distance. The nice pine smell drifted around, soothing my anxiety a little bit.

Huge glaciers were just beyond the mountains. Their icy blue look contrasted with the green and gray of the mountains. My thermometer was saying it was pretty cold out, but just above freezing by us.

This valley was really something pretty, it reminded me of a work of art a painter might make. All it was missing was a little log cabin sitting next to the river, and maybe a little sunshine on the water. Something about it felt a little prehistoric, but maybe that's because my dinosaur monster books looked a lot like this.

Oh boy, could you imagine a T-rex type monster? That thing would probably be really strong...

"So, where do you think we are?" Indena asked me.

"I don't know."

My Elysium Positioning System wasn't working here, so like I figured, this had to be the surface world.

You know, I figured whenever I got to go to the surface world, it would be exciting...but this was just anxiety inducing.

We found some black, glassy looking formations coming out of the ground. It was right next to the overhang. They were like big spikes. I scanned it and discovered it was mainly made of silicon dioxide. This was obsidian.

"Hey, check this out." Indena called me around the glassy obsidian. "Pictures."

There were archaic carvings on the obsidian. It looked simple, but not refined enough to be modern. Some of it was coloured in somehow.

One of the pictures looked like a man riding a red horse, but the red colour was fading so it looked a little more brown. I think the man had a bow and arrow, but it looked like a stick with a shovel shooting out of it. He was chasing yellow wolves with blue marks like lightning on them.

Just above him was something that looked like an angel, but its wings were black, and its eyes were white. Whatever they used for colour here was impressive to last this long.

You could barely make out one of the mountains in the background, it was the one near the glacier.

"You think these cave paintings mean anything?" Indena asked me.

"These aren't cave paintings, they're carvings."

She scoffed, leaning on the obsidian.

"Yeah, whatever...know-it-all." She tapped the carvings with her knuckles. "I think I get what's going on."

She did? It looked like the man was running from a boogeyman, well trying to hunt wolves.

"What do you think it is?"

Her explanation was that the man was being chased by his dead ex-wife. And that she'd turned into a hannya to haunt him forever.

"But you see, this all happened in the past. That's why he looks like a caveman. It's really a timeless tale of the horror of marriage."

She looked really proud of that story.

"Is that really what happened?" My eyes narrowed.

"Yep," She sighed. "Trust me, Shrimp, stay away from guys. Or else, you might turn into a hannya and haunt your husband."

Who knew marriage could be so scary?

I didn't want to be a hann...what's a hannya? I had no idea what that was, but I didn't want to be one regardless!

"Nah…" she chuckled. "I'm just playin' with ya."

Oh, that's a relief. Or was it? Exceed don't get married, so I guess I was safe either way.

"Don't lie to me like that!" I puffed up my cheeks and pouted.

"You're fault for being so gullible." She laughed. "Although…" her face turned serious, "I'm guessing this picture is probably a warning to watch the skies."

Things didn’t look too bad right now, but I had a feeling it could easily turn for the worse if we gave it time. This place had that cursed vibe.

“Do you think that’s the boogeyman?” I scrunched up in fear, keeping my hands close to my crystal heart.

“Who knows? Looks like it, based on that pic.” She shrugged. “Good news is, this is old, so it’s probably not even a thing anymore. I wouldn’t worry about it. Plus, this guy has a bow and arrow. I got fire magic. If he survived to make this, we’ll be fine.”

That was a little comforting, but I probably couldn’t completely shake the unease. For now, the coast was clear at least.

Our next goal was to set up a little bit of a base of operations and find out what we need to do next.


Indena set up a small little campfire pit in the soil, it was just outside the rock overhang so the smoke would be going up when we actually lit a fire.

I asked, “Why go through the trouble of making a fire if you have fire magic?”

“My magic keeps me warm, but this is actually for you,” she said. “Incase you need to build a fire on your own, do exactly what I’ve been doing.”

But, I didn’t need to be warmed up. My body temperature remained the same no matter what the environment was.

“So, do we need to use this fire for something? I’m not cold.”

“You’re not? Huh…” She gave me a curious look, then snapped her finger. “You’re hungry, right? We need this fire to cook food.”

That got me thinking about food. I was really hungry, and it was almost dinner time.

I could hear Indena’s stomach growling, it actually had been growling since she started setting up the campfire pit. I’m pretty sure that was what triggered her setting this up.

“Alright!” She triumphantly clapped her hands together. “Looks good. Now we just need food and firewood.”

Where were we going to get food out here? We were in the middle of a forest, and Uncle wasn’t here to synthesize food for us.

Indena had an idea. "We can go get the monster bodies, then cook them."

"Yuck." Eating monster sounded yucky. They were probably all bitter and chewy. Plus, they looked like rats.

"Listen, in the wild, you take what you can get." She started walking toward where the monsters were, gesturing for me to follow. "They're safe to eat too. So come on."

Monsters sometimes vanish into mana when they die. I guess the ones that didn't must have been edible, but I don't know how I felt about that. I guess as long as they aren't poisonous, I'll try it out.

Besides, I've had to eat a vitamin rock thing before. Anything was better than that.


We reached where the Lizzarat's were defeated. Some of them seemed to have disappeared, others were still on the ground. The weird thing was, the remaining ones were glowing with a small rising pillar of light.

"Hey, why are those glowing?"

"What's glowing?" She looked in the direction I pointed. "You see somethin'?

I tried to be more specific, but she couldn't see what I was seeing. That's odd…

I walked up to the glowing pillar above the Lizzarat and an interface popped up in my vision…

-Collect dropped items?-



Ooh! Item drops! Life really was a video game!

But, what on earth was calculating this? Did dad do something to make the monsters intractable, or was I living in some sort of actual video game universe? No, that couldn't be it...Uncle told me a while before that dad designed my body around video game logic to encourage me to get stronger. So this must have been how I was seeing it, not how reality was.

No, even that theory has holes. What physics were at play allowing me to actually live life like this? My body must have been translating something that existed in the real world into video game logic.



You know what? This was a mystery for another day. I wanted to see the items this thing would give me…

-Lizzarat meat-

-Bone material-

-Chewed up ring-

All of those items entered my virtual inventory in the INVENTORY tab on my right hand toolbar. I had a five by five grid to place items in. Anima, the renegade AI from before, was in a chibi form, sleeping in the last item box. So I really only had about 24 slots.

I wondered if I could bring these items into reality…

"What the…?" Indena picked up the Lizzarat. "Why'd it go all flat?" She waved the limp thing around like a rug.

So, I guess I was digitizing whatever was collectable in the monster, and putting it into my inventory. That explains why it looked flat now, because it was empty.

"Hold on...I got the stuff out of it."

I opened up my INVENTORY and selected the meat. It gave a little description saying it was edible, but poor quality.

Good enough for me, I guess.

I held out my hand and a thin chop of meat spawned in it, all nice and wrapped up in plastic.

Indena was flabbergasted. She jumped over to me and inspected the meat with a neanderthal-like expression. Then she looked at my hands, trying to figure out what sort of magic trick I just pulled.

"You just did that?" She pointed to the meat.

"Yeah. I nodded. "I guess your life isn't like a video game."

She slowly reeled back into an upright position, gaining some of her lost composure. Then she put a hand over her chin and lips.

"You really are something special," She said. "So, how'd you do it?"

I explained the situation of my inventory and the dropped items, and she started laughing.

"I'm not good at video games, but dang Shrimp, that must be great to live a video game."

I sure would rather be playing video games than living one. It's more fun because in most video games you can respawn. I don't think I could do that here. Not that I wanted to find out...

Anyways, the other dead monsters also had some items, nothing special though. One did have a single gold coin called a...Pier Token?

The coin had a woman's face engraved on both sides. The heads side was her facing forward, and the tails was her profile. She had a short bob cut, and easy eyes. She was pretty. Maybe this was the local currency or something.

"Hey, Indena." I showed her the coin. "What's this?"

She looked disgusted. "Oh yuck. I hate those," she barked. "Those useless coins are everywhere, and they do absolutely nothing. Get rid of it."

It was made of a gold alloy, just under 9 karats or it must have had some worth. I held onto it just in case.

A little dialogue box appeared and said I had 1 coin to my name. It didn't tell me it's worth, but it looked like this was in fact worth something. The amount of money I had was permanently fixed up in the top right of my stats screen.

Once all the bodies were empty, they vanished into a haze of mana. Even the one Indena was looking at disappeared.

Now I see! Monsters with items didn't disappear. But they would leave once the items were gone.

We ended up with about a full meal worth of meat for the both of us. On the way back to the overhang camp, we collected some wood for the fire.

The wood looked damp, but Indena said she could use her magic to dry it out. Otherwise this stuff wouldn't burn.

Back at the camp, Indena prepared the meat over a fire. She made a makeshift grill with rocks and cooked it that way.

"Where'd you learn to do all this?" I asked.

"I'm a fire mage. If there's one thing I know how to do, it's grill something."

One of the meat chunks cooked all the way. It looked like a stake, but smaller. She gave it to me on a thin rock plate.

It tasted...chewy. That was the most interesting thing about it. The grilled taste was okay, I think. I don't know if it was her grilling, or the actual meat that was off...but I gave her the benefit of the doubt.

It had a pretty good aftertaste. That nice carbon kinda aftertaste you get from eating burned food.

I don't blame her for this thing turning out so strange, I'm sure she was doing her best to grill this weird stuff. It was also poor quality too, according to my inventory, so I guess this was as good as it gets.

Well, my teeth are stronger than diamonds, so I can chew through it.

"Yuck." Indena bit into a different piece. "Oh, this is horrible. Sorry, Shrimp. I did my best, but Lizzarat's not my specialty."

"It's okay. It wasn't great quality to begin with."

I couldn't help but wonder what was next on the menu. We had to keep eating, otherwise we'd starve. Well, I'd live on, I just wouldn't grow. She would probably not make it though, since she was human.

It looked like she still had a little piece of meat left to cook. It wasn't much, it almost looked like jerky. She only cooked it a little over rare, then handed it to me.

"The snake's probably hungry too, right?"

Oh, she was worried about Samael!

He actually just had a big breakfast this morning, so I didn't think he was…

Samael raced off my head and snatched up the meat in his mouth!

Wow, he sure was hungry. I'd never seen him eat so quickly. He must really have liked rat...oh, duh! Snakes love eating rats! Lizzarat, in this case.

After he finished, he returned back to my hair for a nap.

Indena and I both noticed it was getting dark. Night was almost here.

I'd never slept outside in the dark. That sounded too spooky. Uncle and I camped out one time in the garden, but there was a lot of light around from The Hive, so it wasn't too spooky.

"I'll keep the fire up tonight. That way we'll be able to see."

"But, Burney says that's dangerous."

She gave me a funny look.

"Who the hell's Burney?"

Burney was the Forest Ferret that warned people about putting out their campfires. He stopped a lot of bad guys from destroying nature. They made a whole TV show about him.

Indena didn't know who that was, but she said her magic would keep the fire from going crazy.

She said she only needed about five hours of sleep, so she'd take the first watch and let me sleep as long as I needed.

There wasn’t a very comfortable spot to sleep, since we didn’t have a bed or sleeping bags. I just gathered up some twigs with soft leaves and used that as a pillow. Not really comfortable, but it was something for my head.

Before I fell asleep, I did my nightly prayer.

“God, I hope that we can find shelter soon. And some food. This place is really scary, so please protect us. Thank you.”

Indena curiously peeked over at me.

“Who you praying to?” She asked.

“God.” I said.

“Which one?”

Which one…? There’s only one God, and the rest were gods. That’s plurality for you.

“Just God.” I reaffirmed.

“So, you're Deula?”

I'd never heard that term before. I tried to think if I'd maybe seen it in a book somewhere, but what did it mean?

"What's a Deula?"

"It's a name for anyone who worships Deus. Well, actually God." She spun her hand up in the air toward the clouds. "Not everyone calls him Deus, but the term Deula isn't supposed to be respectful."

I thought God's name was...well, God. But Deus was a cool name too. I made a note of that.

"So, why is Deula not respectful?"

"It's basically a way for people to group up monotheists together, not really paying much attention to whatever religion they actually come from."

Monotheism was believing in only one God, and that was it. I worshiped one God, but I believed all of the other ones existed too. So I can't really say I was a monotheist. I wasn't going to confuse myself trying to label it though. If she called me a Deula, that's what I was.

"Okay, so what do you believe in?" I asked her.

"Huh…" she leaned back in the grass, looking up at the dark clouds, "what do I believe in?" She snickered. "Honestly, the gods really haven't done me any favours. So if they want me to worship them, they gotta do something for me first."

That seemed a little selfish, but maybe there were too many for her to pick from. She’d probably want to narrow down the nicest one and pick that one.

“God helped me a few times.” I said. “He’ll help you too, if you ask.”

“Heh, I’ll keep that in mind.” She had a sarcastic tone. “Go to sleep, Shrimp. I’ll wake you up in a few hours.”

I won’t call this place comfortable, but I managed to close my eyes and catch some sleep.

Mario Nakano 64
Taylor J
MyAnimeList iconMyAnimeList icon