“Where the hell is she?” Nick muttered aloud as he checked his text messages on his phone one more time to make sure she was on her way. He had to admit, as weird as it was to go back in time, it was even weirder to be in a club when the lights were still on and the music off. It felt wrong. Whatever allure and magic the scene usually had over him, without the thump of the bass, the place seemed almost eerily silent.
Just as he was about to text her again, he spotted Topaz’s familiar twin pigtails haircut as she walked in and sat down at the bar. She pulled a phone out of her overly large and extremely conspicuous trench coat.
“I’m here,” she texted, only to spot him before he could even reply. She gave him a nod to let him know she saw him.
Nick had never met her during the daylight hours before, and it was strange to see her in this new setting. Without her usual bright-red lipstick and heavily contoured makeup, she seemed softer somehow.
He sat down on the stool next to her, signaling for the bartender to bring him some water.
“You need something?” she asked, her voice cracking awkwardly as she scooted her stool closer to his.
“Yeah, I need a box lunch at the Y and some fresh fish tacos . . . and some RXMelange,” Nick answered.
She raised an eyebrow and cringed so hard she looked like she was going to throw up a little in her hand. “You know that was supposed to be a one-off joke, not a catchphrase you use every freaking time, right?”
“Yeah, even after all these years, who could forget such a dumb line?” Nick mused nostalgically. “Shame you couldn’t have thought of something better.”
Topaz furrowed her brow. “Years? You were here just last night for pain meds.”
“That’s not important right now. What is important is that I’ve got a problem only you can solve,” Nick deflected.
“No matter how many cheesy lines you use, I’m still not going to go home with you,” she grumbled. “Or make you little blue pills. So why don’t we just cut to the chase? How many doses of soma do you need for your condition?”
“It’s not a condition; it’s poison. That’s why I need you,” he stated. “To be specific, it’s Mephisto’s Choking Clutch.”
“It’s what?! Do you know how rare and expensive that poison is?!” Topaz nearly spat out the water she was sipping. “Who the hell did you piss off for them to give you that?”
“My fiancée,” Nick quipped wryly as he laughed. “Now, can you make me the cure or not?”
“Your fiancée?” Topaz’s face went sour. “You know, for your condition to reach the point you’ve described, for the pain to start acting up, she had to have been giving you that three times a day for like . . . a year, right? What the heck did you try to do to her? Did you try to . . . Did you try to force yourself on her?”
“No, I haven’t even tried to kiss her, so get those thoughts out of your head and focus!. Can you create an antidote for the poison or not?” Nick pressed.
“Well . . . I can, but it’s not that simple. It’s not going to be cured with a single antidote, and it’s going to require ingredients that I can’t just buy at the local herb garden,” she explained. “I mean, I can make you a temporary fix that might help you a bit right now, but if you want me to really cure your condition, then you’re going to have to get some pretty hard-to-find ingredients for me to work with.”
“Like what?” Nick asked, thinking that it couldn’t be that difficult for him to obtain any ingredient, given his grandfather’s wealth and status.
“Like starfruit nectar, dragon’s blood, devil’s claw extract, and ashleaf root.” She listed off the ingredients one at a time in the most calm and casual manner, but each new ingredient she listed felt like a death sentence to Nick. Forget his grandfather coming by the ingredients, if he weren’t lucky, then no amount of money in the world would be able to buy any of them. After all, they were the type of ingredients that had to be found in dungeons and harvested next to massive monsters, and the dungeon divers that did so would be far more interested in using them themselves than selling them.
“Fie . . .” Nick slumped in his chair, feeling like a complete moron for getting his hopes up. He thought that since he actually knew the cause of his problem so early on, he might actually be able to cure it this time around.
“Hey . . . relax there, boss,” Topaz said, reaching out and putting a hand on his arm. “You might not be the best of the best anymore, but from what I understand, that poison is a physical one, not a magic one. It only limits strength, agility, and constitution. You can still switch to a class that uses magic and be just fine.”
“Yeah, it guts those stats,” Nick acknowledged. “Not the magic stats though, but you’re forgetting the worst effect: it stops me from gaining EXP entirely. Even if I switched classes and became a mage, I’ll still never see the light of level 2, so what’s the point?”
“Well, hold on. Didn’t I say that I could help you some right now? That part I can fix. It won’t alleviate your pain, and it won’t fix any of your stats, but this little baby,” she reached into her pocket and pulled out a capsule. “This little baby can definitely fix your EXP issue.”
“What is it?”
“It’s called ‘Clockwork Green’,” she said. “A real ‘stay awake all day and never get tired’ funtime pill.”
“That’s . . . That’s a serious speed,” Nick said warily. He wasn’t even comfortable around alcohol most of the time, much less such a powerful stimulant.
“Since when were you worried about something like that? Look. You want it or not? With your poison, you’ll be lucky if this works any better than a shot of espresso, but at least it’ll hard-counter the Mephisto’s Choking Clutch Poison inside your system, assuming you’re not dumb enough to take another dose,” she replied, offering him the pill.
“Is it going to hurt?” he asked as he held the medicine in his hand.
“Worse than a thousand goats ramming you in the balls,” she admitted with a wicked laugh, “which is why I want to watch you take it.”
“Since when did you become a sadist?” Nick asked before he plopped the pill in his mouth. He knew that if it meant making sure Maria and Allen didn’t die this time around, there wasn’t any amount of pain he wouldn’t be willing to suffer.
“Did you just— I told you that was going to hurt!” Topaz looked panicked. “You should have bought some painkillers and alcohol to go with it first!”
“No need. I need my mind to stay sharp,” he said, opening his status window and bracing himself as he prepared for the nightmare that was to come.
Name: Nick Class: Noble Knight
Level: 28 EXP: 18 [Locked]
Strength: 25 (50-25) Aura: 38
Agility: 23 (45-22) Magic: 10
Constitution: 21 (42-21) Charisma: 10
Shield of Atonement
Health of the Righteous
As he was looking over the stat screen, he could feel the pill hit his stomach like a bomb. He gasped as he felt the drug instantly and painfully spread throughout his body. His skin felt like it was being set on fire, and his muscles seemed to simultaneously seize up and quiver with pain, alternating between states of being too stiff to move and shaking uncontrollably. After a moment, he felt himself becoming increasingly lightheaded, but he bit down on his arm to stop himself from biting his tongue off as the agony continued to get worse.
There seemed to be no end to the suffering that the pill brought him, and Nick found himself wishing for death more than once as he rode out the waves of intense pain. He clung desperately to consciousness, knowing that every second he stayed awake meant one step closer towards saving Maria, Allen, his family, and the world.
By some miracle, when the pain had finally subsided enough for him to form coherent thoughts again, Nick looked up at Topaz, who was watching him closely with an unreadable expression on her face. “Well?” she asked calmly as if she hadn’t just watched him take a pill that almost knocked him out more than once.
“Well . . .” He brought up the status sheet once more. There, in front of him, was a sight so beautiful it almost made him want to cry. Nothing had changed except one tiny detail: the word “locked” had disappeared from his EXP section. “It . . . It worked!”
Topaz sighed in relief. “Oh, thank God. For a minute there, I wasn’t sure if it would kill you or . . .” Her voice trailing off as she realized what she’d just admitted. “Hey! I didn’t tell you to take it!”
“You didn’t even know if it would work?” Nick blinked in shock. “You . . . You gave me medicine when you thought there was a good chance it might kill me?!”
“I . . . Look. Before you get mad, hear me out. It’s not like I could have known! Your conditions, those cures—they’re only speculated about in textbooks and research notes. Of course I couldn’t know! If it wasn’t for the fact that the Bratva keeps such detailed notes on every antidote—”
“So you knowingly acted in a way that might have killed the heir of the Gallows clan?” Nick, who had nearly been killed by her “chance,” couldn’t help but feel angry. If he had died there, then that would have been the end of everything. Not only would Allen and Maria have been guaranteed to die in this timeline just as they had in the last, but he wouldn’t have been there to help Allen with his machine, and they might not have even had another restart.
“Look . . . you don’t need to say it like that. It did work, and you’re still alive, so where is my thank-you? And where is the 200 bucks you owe me for that pill?”
“A container of those pills would only cost me $100,” Nick griped. He had heard his so-called friends talk about the stuff in the past, and he knew better.
“But you’re not just paying for the pill. You’re paying for the knowledge that came with it.”
“Half-baked ‘knowledge’ that almost killed me,” Nick shot back even as he opened up his wallet and began to count out five hundred-dollar bills. “Look, I’ll pay four times your price—and I may even forget what you did, almost murdering the heir of the Gallows—if you can do one more favor for me.”
“Fine, what is it? Painkillers again? You want your own poison? Something to get back at that fiancée? You want a health potion or something? You want more speed? You know I don’t do hallucinogens or standard drugs, right?”
“Yeah, I know,” Nick said. “But what I need from you now isn’t a drug. I need some way to skip highschool whenever I want. I can’t be wasting all my time there. Can you get me some doctor’s notes without the dates filled in?”
“You want me to forge a doctor’s signature?” She looked taken aback. “Can’t you just get a friend to do that or something?
“Are you saying you can’t? I just need you to forge it and pretend to be a doctor if my school calls for confirmation. You can do that much, right?” Nick pressed, adding another condition.
“Fine,” she said, pulling out her pad. “How many notes do you need?”
“That whole pad’s worth.”
“That’ll cost you an extra hundred,” she insisted, extending one hand for money as her other hand reached into her jacket and pulled out a pen.
“I knew you’d understand,” he replied with a grin, pulling out his wallet again and handing her the cash.
That’s two problems solved already, he thought as he exited the club, his shoes somehow sticky despite the fact he couldn’t remember ever stepping in anything the entire time he was there. I can now gain levels, which means, like she suggested, I can now become a caster or at least something useful. I might end up a weak and pathetic one, but at least I’ll be able to be something . . . and I’ve solved the issue with having to spend too much of my time in classes. Now I just need to actually switch my class, make that suffering worth it, and then go find Allen and Maria.