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Ready to enter the dangerous world of night terrors, Victus will find more than what he was looking for.

A voice captured Victus’s attention—an amalgamation of sounds that seemed to form a word, then silence. What lay beyond? Was the sound a figment of his imagination?

Victus remained silent, peering into the darkness beyond his chamber door.

The flicker of a candle was his sole companion on this night, along with the whispering of the cold night wind. Victus’s house was warm, thanks to a crackling fireplace. Its welcoming walls provided refuge, yet Victus wasn’t expecting any visitors.

He rose slowly, seeking something to shield himself from the chilling touch of the stone floor. Victus scanned the distance, searching for evidence that the sound would return. Fear wavered within him, causing him to question whether he was going mad or facing an intruder attempting to conceal their presence.

Victus began to gauge the distance between his body and the nearest weapon. That seemed to be the only recourse. Swiftly, he grasped the candle from the nightstand and embarked on a quest for answers.

“What do you think you’re doing in my house?” a voice called from afar.

A shiver coursed through Victus’s body. Without hesitation, he gathered his mountain survival essentials—a backpack and his clothing. Within moments, he was poised to escape through the window. The problem seemed more significant than he had imagined.

As he opened the window, the cold night breeze enveloped him. Victus accepted the caress of the wind and departed. Alone once more with his beloved. The mountain air yearned to embrace Victus, though his mind was consumed by anticipation.

Moving around the exterior of the house, Victus kept low. The family who inhabited the house he had used in recent days had returned. Night travel was a luxury only the wealthiest could afford. Victus was in a bind. Attempting to flee would be futile. The homeowner likely had hired arms at their disposal.

Victus had to hide. Running would draw too much attention. So, he remained concealed behind the bushes. Silent. Hidden. Waiting for them to make the first move.

“He’s just a man,” Argo said. “Let him go.”

“I doubt the boss shares your enthusiasm,” Valus remarked.

Sinvy ignored them, striding away from the carriage. Always finding an excuse to avoid work, she thought, continuing her stroll around the house.

Sinvy moved with confidence. Too confident for a woman who knew the terrors that lurked in the wild. They were too far from a village to survive an attack. Yet she moved with ease.

“Don’t make this any harder,” Sinvy said, turning toward the rear of the house. “We’ll charge you for your insolence, and you’ll be on your way.”

Sinvy raised her hand, and a flash of blue light illuminated the night’s darkness. A shard of ice materialized beside Sinvy’s face, immediately struck by a dagger.

“So, you want to play rough?” she said, her eyes beginning to glow with a light blue that illuminated the darkness. Then her skin followed suit. Sinvy’s radiance illuminated the darkness.

Damn it, Victus thought, observing the sorceress. She was no ordinary woman, evident in the way her dress danced as if a gentle breeze kept it afloat. The woman’s dark hair swayed to the same melody. What am I to do now?

Sinvy scrutinized the man in leather armor carefully. It was obvious the intruder’s attire was not that of a peasant. Perhaps an assassin. This was not a fight Sinvy could take lightly.

Victus felt the chill emanating from the sorceress and knew he could wait no longer. He leaped back before two crystal blades emerged from the ground, narrowly missing him.

Sinvy smiled. “So, you’re going to stay out of my aura.” She used her hands to concentrate the cold between them. Let’s see if you can dodge this.

Victus saw the ice ball and threw a smoke bomb to the ground.

“No, you won’t,” Sinvy said, charging toward the intruder. Once she felt she was in the right location, she let the cold escape her body. The pain forced her to cry out, and everything around her froze. The plants, the ground, the windows of the house—all covered in a layer of ice.

She approached the smoke cloud. It was impossible for the intruder to have evaded the attack. So, Sinvy ventured into the darkness of the smoke. Her body’s light obstructed.

Victus rose from the ground and saw that the ice had only covered one of his boots. Damn it, he thought, I could have been dead. I must be more careful. He noticed the sorceress’s light had disappeared. Did she enter the smoke cloud, he pondered, cursing inwardly? He had to be cautious.

Sinvy expected to find the intruder on the ground but instead saw a flicker of light to the side. Then she felt the cold touch of metal against her skin. “No,” she exclaimed before the intruder held her from behind, pressing a knife against her throat.

“The cut on your leg caused a poison to spread through your body,” Victus said, taking a step back.

The smoke dispersed, and Sinvy could see the intruder clearly. He covered his face with a mask. It was evident he was an assassin.

“I have the antidote in this vial,” Victus added before tucking the vial into his pack. “You can keep trying to catch me with your tricks and die, or let me go in exchange for the antidote.”

“Do you really think…” Sinvy began before feeling a pain in her chest.

“That must be the poison,” Victus said. “You don’t have much time.”

“Help…” Sinvy tried to speak, but her voice barely reached.

“What are you saying?” Victus asked, pulling out the antidote.

“It’s okay,” Sinvy said weakly. “You can go.”

Victus tossed the antidote and began to run.

Sinvy gulp down the antidote and immediately felt the symptoms fade.

Argo and Valus were surprised to see Sinvy’s light and began to run around the house.

“I’ll handle him,” Argo said, starting to run.

“Stop,” Sinvy demanded. “Let him go. Let’s see if Fonco is ready for our return.”

Victus ran along a seldom-used path, things not going as planned. He knew that in five minutes he would reach a cave with everything he needed to start a fire. The sudden arrival of the homeowners left him exposed.

His only alternative was that cave. But tonight, Victus wasn’t the only hunter prowling the area.

A creature resembling a fusion of a feline with the face of a snake, agile and lightweight, wielding the venom of a viper in its arsenal. Escaping from it would prove difficult in a world governed by the laws we know. In Victus’s world, everything was a little more dangerous.

These creatures ruled the areas not fortified behind a wall. Country houses were often attacked in the middle of the night. Hunger wasn’t the only motivator for these creatures to hunt humans. They were vengeful and couldn’t forget encounters in which they came out harmed.

That’s when Victus heard the snap of a branch. He stopped. There had to be an explanation. An old branch falling. A small animal capable of breaking…

Victus saw the creature lunging at him just in time to evade the attack. The snake’s head shot out from the branches at lightning speed. A person not attuned to their instincts at the level of a master would now be dead.

Victus hurried away, hoping to avoid the worst possible situation when he saw the green body of the Purrsnake emerge from the bushes. Its sharp claws ready to strike like daggers when needed. The creature resembled a green-furred puma—its tail ending in a rattlesnake’s rattle, and its neck much longer than a normal feline’s.

The creature’s head was the most striking feature. A cobra poised to strike.

Seeing the Purrsnake, Victus knew he was in trouble. Escaping a creature on the prowl was nearly impossible. None of the venoms Victus possessed would affect such creatures. Worse still, this monster had one of the most coveted poisons on the market.

Victus had to escape the encounter as soon as possible.

The Purrsnake moved its tail, making its rattle the only sound in the surroundings. Over and over. The sound repeated, overshadowing everything within reach. Forcing everyone with heightened senses to look.

Victus tried to focus on the cobra’s head moving from side to side. Ready to strike. Without losing sight of the powerful legs of a big cat ready to pounce. But the rattle made it nearly impossible.

Evading the head that seemed to belong to an anaconda wouldn’t be easy this time. The Purrsnake was prepared to predict its prey’s movements.

Like watching a rodent try to escape a snake’s attack, one of the gods fixed their gaze. This action from the gods was unusual. They preferred to spend their time overseeing all the planes. They were responsible for planning everything that has, is, and can happen. Their celestial work was crucial for synchronizing all the necessary factors for something to occur at the exact moment. They were the ones who made beings on that plane believe that nothing was coincidental.

Atonon observed Victus with curiosity. He was just one of the creatures in creation. A being of no importance in the book of destiny. Although Atonon knew there was something about Victus that made him different from others. A strength that made him fight day after day against the limits imposed by destiny. Victus was becoming a problem. A problem that Atonon had to solve.

The deities Pacha and Krosus watched over the well-being of the forest where Victus was. They were surprised by the celestial orders—all they could do was obey. Violating divine law came with a very high price.

Of course, Victus was unaware of the existence of celestial beings or the earth deities. He was confined to the earthly world, trying to prove that destiny could be fulfilled. So everything that was happening was an insignificant coincidence, and he had to find a way to survive.

Pacha and Krosus feared for Victus’s well-being. They had known him for a long time. He had chosen to move away from the safety offered by the walls around the villages. Victus had learned to live amidst the aggressive balance of nature. He knew the dangers that lurked and how to stay away from them. But destiny had prepared a trap for him from which few could escape.

The Purrsnake remained in wait. Its face the perfect blend of a snake and a feline, with its black whiskers and eyes that seemed to see a plane beyond Victus’s reach.

Victus prepared to react and try to find a way out. The odds were against him. Without his poisons, Victus was unarmed. His daggers would only serve to harm the creature. A Purrsnake’s skin was almost impenetrable.

Krosus knew his orders were clear. He was surprised to see Pacha floating behind Victus. The two followed orders that led to the confrontation they were witnessing. Krosus looked up to see Pacha. They had both known Victus since he was a child. They had been responsible for years for taking care of him so he could survive in the dangerous mountain hills. They couldn’t understand why a celestial order would seek to end the life of one of the beings in their garden.

Pacha looked sad. Its faint, blue light creating a melancholic feeling in the surrounding area. Krosus began to glow—its light shining to illuminate everything within its reach.

Victus stepped back as the Purrsnake approached slowly. The creature knew the fragile human wasn’t a worthy opponent—Victus was an easy prey.

Krosus couldn’t accept what was happening. Pacha tried to stop him—it was too late. Krosus manifested in the earthly world. A flash of light welcomed him. Its earthly form was that of a gnome—creatures of folklore. The existence of these beings had not been proven. Yet there it was.

The Purrsnake saw the small being materialize a few steps away and remained still. All creatures knew the rumors of the nature caretakers. The Purrsnake couldn’t interfere with one of those beings. Showing respect, the Purrsnake relaxed its neck and lowered its head. It was like a puppy approaching its master for a pat.

The gnome placed a hand on the Purrsnake’s head and then let it know it was time to leave.

Victus couldn’t believe what was happening. His fears transformed. What could have such control over wild beasts? “Who are you?” Victus asked, kneeling.

“We’re in trouble,” said Krosus. “Real trouble.”

“What do you mean?” asked Victus.

“The gods have ordered your life to end,” said Krosus. “I shouldn’t have interfered between you and the Purrsnake. But I couldn’t accept this path. How does your death benefit the gods?”

Victus was speechless.

“They won’t accept this mistake,” Krosus added. “I know you, Victus. I’ve accompanied you on this journey. I know you’ve fought against all odds to reach this moment. Every time you visit my forest, I take care of you. It’s unacceptable for me to take your life.”

Victus saw the little gnome wipe a tear away.

“Now we’re both fugitives from celestial order,” said Krosus. “They will come for us; there’s no time to waste. We must be ready for their arrival.”

Victus couldn’t believe any of what was happening. He raised his hands, a venom-coated dagger in each of them. He relied on tricks to survive. Always staying in the shadows. Hiding to avoid direct confrontations. Victus couldn’t imagine the force the fury of the gods would unleash.

“Come closer,” said Krosus. “Take this.”

Victus accepted the small crystal sphere.

“Put it in your mouth,” said Krosus.

Victus obeyed and placed the crystal sphere in his mouth. Immediately, the world seemed to fade away. It was as if the trees around him were made of energy. The deity disappeared, replaced by a being formed by lines of energy. Victus could see the connections that made everything part of the same thing. A spark of energy that made everything connected. Even him. Victus looked down and noticed that his feet were connected to this stream of light that ran through all things.

“You’ll be safe here for a while,” said Krosus, and his energy vanished.

Victus noticed that Krosus could move through the stream that connected everything. Victus saw Krosus move away, stop, and return. He simply seemed to disappear in one place and reappear in another. The idea was mind-boggling. Victus decided to step aside. His eyes lost the ability to see, and in an instant, Victus’s body shifted to the side.

As he stopped, he noticed that nothing around him was as he remembered. Victus also noticed that the cold of the night had turned into a warm embrace.

What is this place? he wondered, and then he took the crystal sphere out of his mouth. Victus found himself in a different part of the forest than he remembered. How is this possible?

Victus placed the sphere back in his mouth. At that instant, Krosus appeared in front of him.

“Take this,” said Krosus.

In the energy plane, it was almost impossible to decipher what Krosus was holding in his hands. Victus wasn’t sure what he was about to receive. He felt that receiving it would be beneficial. So he approached and received the gift. To Victus’s surprise, when he placed his hand on what Krosus presented as a gift, the energy accumulation on his hands transferred into Victus.

“The gods have ways to find those of my kind,” said the wind deity. “I am Krosus, remember my name.”

Atonon couldn’t believe what had just happened. In an eternity in the service of the gods, Krosus had never seemed capable of going against divine law. Immediately, deities serving as part of the divine army paid a visit to Krosus. They took him, and without the possibility of objection, they brought him to the celestial plane.

Victus took the sphere out of his mouth and returned to the forest. The cold of the night. Unable to imagine what the wrath of the gods would be capable of doing to him.

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