Code Reader Kagami (LitRPG)
That night, he motionlessly sat up, tears running down his face until he finally faded from consciousness. There were many times where he tried to get his words across, but to no avail. As if his voice were blocked by a barrier, he could only let out that small croak. He eventually gave up trying to make sense of everything.
The girl that was hugging him, had fallen asleep embracing him in his sense of self-loss. It had caught him completely off-guard to see Owa- … no, this young girl was not the same. There wasn’t a hint of his daughter within her. While the appearances, voice, and smile were all the same, there was something different about her.
Her way of speaking, her calm demeanor, it was all off. Everything was off. Even if she was older now, there was no way a child should be thinking like this. The eyes that decided to observe his iris, and calmly assess everything about him. Those were eyes that should belong on an adult. Not on his daughter who he raised so innocently. Not on the eyes of a child who laughed and smiled every day he came home.
Even when she greeted him as he came from the doorway, those eyes were much different. They understood much more than a child should have. To even see those eyes on the face of his daughter was… it was too much. Someone had reached into his heart and grabbed it, quenching every bit of tears he could muster at the scene.
Kagami’s eyes shot open. He wasn’t sure when he had faded out of consciousness, but he had a blanket around his shoulders. Owa..- no, the young girl had already retreated to her room and the birds chirped loudly.
Kagami looked at his hands and wiped the tears from his face. It was strange. He would have felt completely ashamed had he broke down in front of Owa like this. But, oddly enough, he felt nothing. This world of events had thrown its hardest curve-ball. It could not possibly get any worse. “This is no longer a game… no, it’s never been one. Nor is it a dream, else I’d have awoken by now.. It feels too real… too vivid.”
Kagami, looked at himself in the mirror of the bathroom he was in. The doorway opened from the room opposite of Owa. Yet, it was not Owa. The lady that stood before them was one he had never seen.
“Ah… are you feeling well, Kagami-San?” Kagami’s eyes trailed over at her and she observed his face. Aside from the tear stains and stressed eyes, there seemed to be no injury or any remnant of how he was last night. The tired eyes looked back at her and she bowed. “I’m glad. Kagami-San.”
She spoke so formally. At first, he was under the assumption that this was his wife, but alas, this would say otherwise. “Don’t worry, I took Owa and made sure she was fast asleep after she had passed out.” Kagami’s eyes scanned the lady before him.
She was short in stature, and very petite. She seemed to be in her early 20’s. He could of course use his ability to truly scan her for accurate information, but he was drained. It felt as if all energy had been squeezed out of him and even though he slept, he had somehow lost more energy than before his slumber.
Her red hair tied back in a ponytail with two pins holding it behind her head. Her posture was very clean and held a very conscientious demeanor- one that was always aware of herself and what she was doing. Her outfit consisted of a very formal white skirt with frills around her ankles, layered over with a black apron and a white and black top. Just from first glances alone, he could tell this wasn’t anyone that was close with him on that kind of level. She was a maid. A live-in.
If that was the case, then a question began to drift in his mind. If this was not his wife, yet his daughter looked like this… there was only one thing that it could mean. His mind began to break down the process. ‘Owa… owa looks just like the Owa I know.’
His glance turned back to the mirror, and saw his familiar form staring back at him. ‘And I… I am the same.’
To his knowledge, since the kids take the same genes from the parents, his wife had to also look like his wife. ‘That’s right… if she looks like that, maybe she’s here as well.. Ayame… Ayame will have to exist in this world as well.’
“T-thank you.” He wanted to inquire further, but decided against this.
“Of course, sir.” She did yet another bow of courtesy. “By the way.. Um, your party showed up earlier. I told them that you were in bad need of sleep for at least a couple more hours.” She bowed her head. “I’m sorry.. I know I shouldn’t have acted on my own. It’s just… you really scared me last night Kagami-san.”
Kagami washed his face with a towel. “It’s quite alright.” His eyes remained peering into himself. ‘If Owa is not Owa… then Ayame… Ayame is not Ayame either. This- this is-’ before he could lose himself in the thoughts again, he dismissed his ideas. “I’d have actually preferred you did that. I needed the sleep badly. Sorry you had to see me like that.”
He thought for a second before thinking of what else to say, trying to alleviate any unusuality within his demeanor. “The last mission.... Just took a toll on me. It’s refreshing to see my daughter again. Still… your job was never to pick up after myself is it?” The only reason the old Kagami disappeared for so long during missions and rarely had enough funds to use on himself was simple.
It was because he was paying to afford for his daughter to live wasn’t it? Even without another parent, he made sure she was taken care of. Thus, her job is just to take care of Owa. There was something about this that he could find exemplary. Both to her, and the old Kagami. After-all, he had done the same in his old world. In that prospect, this young maid had reminded him of Hina.
“It’s alright, Kagami-san. I know you always try hard for her. But still sometimes, you need to look after yourself as well. Like always, you can always cry to me.” She gave a light courtesy and left to tidy up the house.
Kagami shut the door behind him. There was still a faint gripping in his heart. He could almost feel as if it was a physical touch. This type of pain had only been with him two times in his life. When he had lost both of his parents all those years ago. Though it was so long, he could still remember the feeling entirely. It was the feeling one might get when they get hit with a harsh unexpected reality. The entire village tried their best to assuage his sadness for months before he decided himself that he had to move forward.
The second time was when the love of his life unexpectedly disappeared.. Luckily by then, he had someone, a reason, to hold it back. He could never let the innocent Owa see his tears. She would feel just as terribly as he did after all.
He took off his shirt and clutched onto his chest. It was, of course, just in his head. There was no hand or any hole in which someone could get to his heart. He recalled doing this every time he felt this emotion. Always, it always felt like real hands clasping onto his chest. And Always, he would check, as if one day, he expects to think that he would find a hole torn open where it was.
As his eyes diverted back to the mirror, a look of shock could only be expressed in his face. The body he was in, looked nothing like the one her was used to. For one, his former self was much more physically fit than he was. The most glaring detail was the amount of scars he had riddled all over his body.
Stitches and tears, discoloration and blemishes. Sometimes, one couldn’t actually even tell which shadows were from muscle toning, and what was from scarring. In his old world, he might have thought this man to be the strongest person he had ever seen. But as he further thought about this, this man was truly unremarkable.
The way his body had been damaged up can only mean he had to sustain a lot of injuries. If it was only a few major ones, he could get away with seeming like a professional, but there seemed to be no end to the old scars and new scars. Kagami, instead of being a man that learned from experience, was one that just endured and endured.
Yet again, as he realized what he was glancing at, he was shocked about how such a man could last for so long.
Alas, he finally decided he couldn’t keep his unit on for too long. He threw his loose fitted tunic back over his body, donned his plate armor over his shoulders, and placed his two shoulder pads over it. The armor was strange now that he looked at it. It was a simple layer of metal plates, connected to each other by rings and held form via the string from his shoulders. It held the same symmetry behind him as well. He tied the two strings at his waist in a knot behind his back, holding everything still. The armour, while seemed simple, was clearly one that gave a lot of mobility. With each plate being linked via rings, it allowed him to even crunch his body entirely over and touch his toes without hindrance to his mobility.
Of course, the sides were completely unguarded. It must have been accustomed to his fighting style. There was no way he would take a hit from the side. Thus, his stance must be very front-facing. Kagami sighed trying to analyze as much as he could about this man. He was no fighter. He hardly knew the first things about violence.
He softly closed the door behind him as he left the bathroom. There the maid was waiting for him attentively. “Sorry, I will be heading out now. Thank you for all you’ve done.” She looked back at him with a look that could only be described as being caught off-guard. “Ah. Y-yes, as always, Kagami-San.” She curtsied. At this point it almost looked like a habit. He wanted to say something about it, but left it for another time. He promptly left the room and headed to rendez-vous with the rest of the group.
Yet again, as he walked, everyone seemed to stop their actions and greet him. The result was a cacophony of good wishes. He merely smiled and waved at many of them as he had walked. Perhaps he was doing it wrong, but he walked with a sense of pride about him. For someone that held so much praise, it was a given he should walk with more strut to his posture.
The light on the people’s faces grew ever more brighter when they saw the strong and confident Kagami prancing through the village. He thought hard about where the team would be and could only think of one place to go. Not a moment later, he found himself at the very same bar where he was before.
The two double doors opened and as Kagami walked in he was greeted by the bartender,, his old friend, wiping down a cup. “Kaga! Welcome back!”
“Oi. About time. What ya drink yaself to sleep? We can’t go around fighting a beast hungover now can we?” Flinn exclaimed, stretching his arm over his head.
‘You’re one to talk’ He thought. Regardless, he decided to walk on over. At the round table, far from the counter, sat Meil, Kobul, Rein and Flinn. In addition, there was one other figure standing besides them. He had his hands crossed in front of his chest with an impatient look on his face.
As he noticed Kagami had arrived, the looks on his face changed entirely. “Ah.. You’re here.” He shook his head free of the expression he wore. “I was just explaining to you all where I had seen the creature.”
“So I take it it isn’t hard to find, hm?”
“Precisely. I’d like to explain how I stumbled across this, but… it would be better for me to lead you all to it. This thing..- i-...-its certainly an anomaly. In all my years, I have never seen anything like it. And… well, it would be better to see than to explain.”
Realizing no one else is asking questions, Kagami decided to go ahead and nod, signifying the venture off. The man looked to be in his 40’s. He was quite a burly man, a lot of youth left in his experienced body. The muscles that protected his body still felt the need to express themselves. At a good 6’2 or ‘3 feet tall, he could only describe the man as a behemoth. In contrast, Kagami barely reached 5’10. He preferred to say he was 5’11 and when situations called for it, expressed himself as 5’12 or 6ft.
The burly, aging youth lead the way. “I’m sorry for putting in a request like this, Kagami. I know you’re already familiar with me. I was hoping you could cast a light on the seriousness of this mission to the higher ups of the adventurers guild. But…sadly, we’re just a small village. We don’t have enough to raise a mission of this level. None of the adventurers would ever take it for the pay we put forth.”
Rein nodded and assured the man that it was okay. “I know how the guild works. Low ranked missions with the highest price are the bane of the guild’s honor. Trust me, I wish I’d have found someone like Kagami in a higher position.”
A frown appeared on Kagami’s face. “Oh come now,- emh. C’mon ya can’t say I'm that bad. Haven’t I always tak’n care ‘f it all?”
Flinn butted in. “Yeah, of course, but like- can ya imagine if yer even stronger??”
Alas, Meil, the only rational one interjected. “All strong people start from something. We may just be witnessing your wishes in their origins. I for one respect Kagami’s devotion and hard work.”
Kobul nodded. “Kagami is very strong. He is always proving himself.”
Kagami smiled and stood triumphantly. “See? Exactly as they say.”
The old young man quickly interjected before they could continue speaking any further. You could tell from his demeanor that everything was getting more and more serious. He was getting closer to his destination.
“Just a month ago, I was going on my usual hunt.”
“Of course of course. So you were the first to see it.” Flinn responded. “But why was it that you described its danger at such a high level.”
Rein sighed exaggeratingly. “He already explained this. You were just too hung over.”
“Oiii. I was not that far gone ya mosquito. Always buzzing everything in my head.”
Rein’s glare sharply pierced Flinn, but he paid no mind to it. At this point he was completely impervious to such a glare. He had become far too accustomed to such a powerful technique.
The man continued with his explanation. “As you all know, I normally hunt in these forests. Yet, For the week before, I had been hindered in my hunting. No matter where I looked around the forests, the animals no longer roamed. could not even track them down. There was too much panic and escape over just one single night. So I decided to track down where everything was fleeing from.”
“Ehh? Your justification was just the animals going scarce?”
The hunter curled his lips. “I wouldn’t expect adventurers to understand. Animals have a much greater realization of danger than we do. Some less than others. But… if the entire forest flees, there’s a problem greater than predators like myself.”
He walked silently. He was the one who urged the villagers to put out the statement. Yet this was entirely off of instincts.
“So you mean to tell me, you haven’t truly determined how strong such a beast is?”
“I’ve determined it is much stronger than I am willing to describe it as... “ He answered sharply at Meil. “If I put this any lighter, adventures less capable than yourselves would take the mission. As you can see… I put the danger level at an even higher scale, and yet no one was willing to deal with this scenario. In truth...my intuition tells me it’s much higher. Yet here I am, glad that at least you guys answered the call.”
If anyone could cast doubt on his conviction, they were people that lacked insight. Just now, seeing the man who led the way, they had no need to look at his face. He kept his body facing straight ahead, yet the emotion that was prevalent in his demeanor. This was not a situation he would ever make a big scenario of.
His shoulders shook. “I’ve been a hunter my whole life…. Since 45 years ago… when I first turned 8. I had long killed my first animal in these forests. I don’t know what kind of wraith it is that inhabited this forest… but for the first time in 45 years…. I’m the one that feels hunted. Kagami… What is this thing? Why is it here? Why?”
Kagami looked shocked at the burly senior standing before him. “I tried to convince the village… we must follow the animals. I tried… I’m not enough to convince them myself. This thing…. It’s not meant to be here.”
There was a dark shift in tone set by the man. Talk was very small for the next 40 minutes as they followed trails to the forest. Every path they stepped on left remnants of footprints of creatures all having fled from the location.
The silence of the forest was apparent. There was nothing else here. As it turns out, the man Harre, was the butcher in the village. His family had always been in line with the hunting business. Kagami had spent his entire walk silently, but gathered this information from their dialogue.
As his eyes scanned the old man, he could only see the codes for fear, and tenseness. Occasionally, it fluctuated. He intermittently utilized his ability. At lower focus, he could see the emotions of a being. But as he tried to concentrate, he could see what the individual limb in the body was preparing to do.
As each foot walked, he could even see the details of that. Then if he looked even deeper, there were more numbered stats and coded descriptions about them that he could try and understand, but this took greater focus than just walking and moving at the same time could yield. It was as if he was back at work, while simultaneously playing tag with his daughter. Such a combination could not possibly work.
Finally, he saw the man stop in front of him. It was an odd clearing in the forest for one to stop, but all he could see here was peacefulness and nature. It was nothing like he would expect a monster to be. Everyone else also stopped. It was clear there was a confusion or misconception of what he was looking for. It wasn’t only until he stepped out from behind the burly old man that he truly saw what everyone was looking at.
He had assumed it was just the trees, but no. There, standing in front of them was a giant crystalline formation. It must have towered over 30ft tall, obscuring itself within the trees’ leaves. Kagami moved around the man and joined in, staring at the large structure.
“What in the world… is it?” Kobul asked. It would seem this was the first time that even Kobul was caught off guard. It was a rare instance to see the man express any emotion of surprise.
“This…. It’s a butterfly?”
Kagami finally spoke. There was no doubt that he was seeing a cocoon. Though unlike the butterflies he was familiar with, the size of this creature was multitudes larger. It was at least a thousand times larger.
“Pfft, good one, boss.” Flinn laughed. Butterflies don’t grow this large in any country I’ve been in. Yet… this is the first time I’ve seen an insect type wraith have a cocoon this large.”
Meil observed the creature and placed a hand on his chin. “That is true. However, Insect wraiths are not the strongest you can run into. That said…. I haven’t heard of any this size.”
Rien, who was studying the thing as carefully, finally exhaled. “Don’t worry. It’s a low level type of wraith. Though I can’t say I’ve ever seen this kind before, the books I’ve read about insect type moths don’t mention anything to be worried about.”
She walked to the creature and felt the skin-like membrane of the cocoon. “This would probably just be an anomaly of a dust moth. Every book I’ve read on these types of creatures state they’re not that dangerous. The size is probably all that was that scared the animals off.”
The hunter looked a little hesitant to accept that explanation. “This creature… it’s a lot sturdier than it looks. I had tried before to get rid of it… months ago, where it couldn’t have possibly gotten sturdy to this extent… nothing worked. My arrows, my axe… even fire proved ineffective.”
Kagami observed the ground in which it lay on. The grass all around it was burnt to crisps. Yet, the very bottom of the cocoon was untouched. If one had ever tried to to burn stainless steel, and witnessed the discoloration appear on it, only for it to return back to normal after wiping it off, that was the only way you could describe this creature.
Kobul, Flinn, and Rein all withdrew their weapons as they prepared an attack on the creature. There was a strange gnawing feeling biting at his core. This was an unsettling feeling he had only felt a handful of times in his life. Yet, he survived this long due to the fact that he avoided such scenarios. This was one such scenario.
He immediately hopped in front of the hunter and thus, took his position in front of his squad. With his back to them he walked forward, motioning his hand up to make sure they didn’t act before him.
As he drew nearer and nearer to this dark black apparatus, he could clearly tell the lineage it descended from. This was indeed a moth. His palm touched the defensive shell around the cocoon. Harder than he would have anticipated.
‘Alright… let’s see what we’re dealing with’ He activated his power. ‘Insight… yeah, that sounds like a good name for it.’ He looked over the cocoon. The information began to display itself to him as a wall of text and coding.
#define CREATURE_HPP “DEATH_MOTH.BLC”
#include "End Dust"
#include <Health Drain x 76%>
#include "Critical Chance; Immutable"
Level = “35”
State = “Innocuous; Metamorphosis; Advancing”
Class = “INSECT_ PRETERNATURAL; SEE _ -UNRECOGNIZED”
Level = “36 - Various” See = “Resting” See = “Adult”
Stage: “Metamorphosis”: “Current”
Stage: “DEATH MOTH” In_ Activation: “12:04:34:24”
Base Damage = “2,467.89” + [Crit] + “12%”
Complete Form = Death Moth <Level Increase + 32> ^ Time; 12:34:24”
The information he was taking in almost had him audibly react. Regardless, his visible reaction was much harder to stifle than his audible one.
“What…- what level is everyone…” His ragged breath and tensed body showed everyone else what they needed to know. There were only nervous answers given from everyone else in the group.”
He already knew all of their levels. At base stat, they could have probably taken this creature with all of them combined and high difficulty. Yet, even now, at this stage the creature is in…. Kagami drew his blade. The steel glistened under the overhanging sun. Yet, as he slashed down on the soft looking exo carapace, not a single mark had appeared on it.
As if the sword was irrelevant, not a single knick had been made on the outer shell. Everyone else around him could also see the concern he was expressing.
“What ya worried about boss, here, let me give it a shot.”
Kagami looked at him oddly. “Tch. Your level might be a little bit higher than mine, but remember, my “Fiend Soul Strike” Technique has a higher damage capacity than all your moves. Step aside.
He got into a stance, and for the first time, without any type of extra sensor, or utilizing his insight, Kagami could see a fluctuation in his energy. It was hard to explain, but one could almost feel a huge change in his character. It was a feeling one could only get if they were an introvert, walking into a room full of people that were just talking about them. A rather oddly specific, but familiar feeling that Kagami had become familiar with.
His eyes glanced over the young man, utilizing his insight to see what was going on.
<HP_Decrease = x7%^SEC _ Boundary Length “4 SEC” >
<Stat_ ATK_Increase = “4% Bonus”^ “7 SEC”?>
Surprisingly enough, Flinn was not flaunting on this one. From what he could gleam from the codes itself, Kagami could clearly tell the nature of his ability. It was one that sacrificed health per second, to increase his attack ability per second. For each time that passed by, his attack would increase as each second passes by. Yet at the same time, his health would decrease by 7 percent of his overall total. It was a technique one could only use in bursts it seems.
This was his specialty, skill exchange, a rare ability to be born with, only granted to the fool-hardy and the ones who like to gamble or stake their lives. Within an instant, he zoomed forward, with his blade guiding him. The first strike landed cleanly down on the external cover of the beast, it left no mark.
However, his attack was way too soon to be considered over. It was not a singular strike. Just like that, Flinn lifted his sword again in such a smooth way that it seemed impossible to consider him the same blunderish man as earlier. The blade swung smoothly, up and down, redrawing, changing trajectory, and redirecting all attacks that did not work.
As he attacked, he didn’t focus on just one part of the body. His offensive continued all around the shell. Whenever one striked refused to place a dent, another, harder strike would strike elsewhere. In general, he was targeting all the weaker looking spots. Yet, the precision he was doing so was impressive. One could entirely change their perception of Flinn just by watching him in combat.
Finally, after various swings, one had finally hit and seemed to pierce the carapace. He backflipped, pushing off of the giant defensive shell. “Hah. So it seems that it’s not as tough as it seems to be.”
Perhaps, he was worried about nothing. If they can deal a fatal blow to the creature long before the 12 period it had allowed, they could easily give an end to the disastrous beast before it had reached its terminal stage. “You know what… you may be right on that. The creature is nothing to scoff at though… if we can get rid of it early on, we should be able to deal with the pr-”
“Huh? You okay boss?” Flinn spoke in between breaths. “If you wanna see, that was only a tiny portion. I can easily go to numbers in the thirties. At least for a couple seconds in order to take this down. With the rest of everyone it should be a breeze.” He got ready into a stance.
Kagami quickly put his hand out in front of him. “N-no... “ The same tightness in his chest appeared instantly. This time, instead of shock, or sadness, or depression, it was fear. “NO! DON’T TOUCH IT!”
He lurched outwards and grabbed Flinn by the shoulders in his stance and threw him back as hard as he could. His eyes remained on the creature. He forced himself to breathe this time.
The numbers just now…. They just decreased… significantly decreased. While it’s heath had refused to move even a decimal. The numbers that decreased were it’s activation time. Instead of 12 days and 04 hours, they dropped tremendously. The numbers that he was observing continuously trickled down and down. The lower it got, the more his fear was being heightened.
“At this rate….- at this rate…”
There was not much anyone could do but watch these numbers. As he fell to his knees, he could only gulp and stare at the impending countdown. He knew the rules of this world just off of these numbers alone. This creature… it was not something they should mess with.
“Boss. What’s going on. If necessary I can use 50% for one second. It shouldn’t be that strong if it took damage from 7%. Kobul and Meil could easily take care of the rest. Not to mention your ability.”
Kagami could only help but look at the numbers rapidly dropping from <20days;4hrs;42mins ;24secs> now was <17days; 1hr;14mins;10secs>
The numbers weren’t stopping. Now he was observing 16 days as the seconds passed by. Then 12 days, then finally stopping at coming to a slow at 8 days. He urgently watched hoping it would stop, and the bomb that was hidden inside would not unleash itself.
Finally it had come to a full stop at <7days; 10hrs; 38mins;2secs>.
Kagami stopped and stared at the structure before him. And finally he could stop his shaking. This creature that was inside this cocoon. The day it comes to reach its birth, is the day that it finally spells death for everything within this area. He wasn’t certain how powerful adventurers were around this world, but given the praise he and his group had received for just doing trivial tasks… he could only imagine-- there wasn’t a single person within 30 miles of this baron secluded village that was strong enough to take on something like this.
He finally snapped out of it, to see the faces of his entire unit staring at him in utter disbelief. “What the hells the problem. This isn’t something beyond our control . It ain’t no Dragon, Dracomance, Vex-spawn, and certainly ain’t no high tier wraith.”
Kobul nodded at Flinn’s statement. This isn’t like you, Boss. Normally, we just take care of problems like this on the spot.
He looked back at the eyes of his teammates. “No… n-no… this isn’t like anything like the rest.”
“Tch. Ya just underestimating me boss, watch and learn. I’ve been practicing a lot higher than 50 percent secretly.” His eyes focused on the towering creature before him. “If I focus my concentration…” The same type of energy formulated before him. “I can change into 75% so long as I keep the attack at under half a second.”
His energy began to spike to a visible form. Before he could move outwards, Kagami saw the trajectory and instantly pulled him to the side. With a spin, he threw the man on the ground, stifling all of the buildup he was preparing. A thud rang across the floor and everyone around him was filled with shock.
“NOOO! THIS ISN’T LIKE THE REST. THIS ISN’T SOMETHING YOU CAN FIGHT!! ALRIGHT?! THIS IS WAY BEYOND OUR SKILLS!!”
Flinn’s surprised expression quickly caught on to Kagami. It wasn’t a surprise expression. It was one of shock, and affirmation.
Kagami quickly realized this was the same look on everyone’s face as well. As his eyes scanned the expressions of everyone save for the butcher, there was a look of affirmation, and warriness on their faces.
Flinn got up from underneath his grip, pushing his hand off of his collar and getting up off the ground. He slowly retreated with the other three and now shifted his focus from the giant cocoon, to the one who completely circumvented metamorphosis and changed over night.
“Ya know boss, something’s been itching me since yesterday. You ain’t seem to be yourself.” Flinn stretched his neck, affirming that no damage had occurred from the slam he felt just now. “I thought I was just imagining it, but c’mon… you’re really not the same.”
Flinn looked at Kobul, Meil and Rein. Their looks seemed to signify this was a conversation they had with each other beforehand. There was a deep understanding of what was being said. Beyond what those words could have purveyed just now.
“Hey… w-what are you guys doing right now? This isn’t the time for this.”
Kagami quickly noticed how all the blades were no longer focused on the creature before him, but rather focused entirely on him. “”Y’know, Boss, or whatever ye wanna be called, I have a hard time believing it’s you. You don’t cower out like this.”