Luke jolted awake.
He gasped for air, but soon realized what this familiar feeling was.
Luke’s throat was cut.
There was no one aside from him on the roof as he slowly bled out.
‘I feel so cold…’
The light from Luke’s eyes swiftly faded away, his mouth still agape as if trying to breathe in just once more.
Bright blue light shined out from underneath his shirt, and the silver hourglass repeated its vicious cycle once again.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Luke opened his eyes and jumped out of the bed he was sleeping in.
He was in a familiar room.
Luke coughed heavily and started to rapidly breathe in.
‘I died again… This is the first time that someone or something had killed me while I was asleep. Well, I did wake up, but it was only after the fact…’
He sat back down on the bed.
‘Since I died while I was on a pretty tall building and whoever did it wasn’t even there when I woke up, whoever killed me must be pretty skilled. My gut is telling me that the person who followed me and the person who killed me must be at least connected, or may even possibly be the same person.’
Luke in the present was still sleepy and tired, as he was suddenly awakened.
‘I’ll sleep it off and think more about it tomorrow…’
And so, the night slowly drifted by.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Luke woke up after a good night’s sleep.
He repeated his usual routine; he took the token from Boldee, went to Millef, heard the whisper from the guard, tricked the merchant, and then, he finally made his way back to the Bounty Hunter’s Association building.
‘I wonder if anything will change if I show the token I got from Boldee to Joseph?’
This was a pretty simple idea, and Luke felt a bit dumb for not using the token in any of the previous loops.
He entered the building and was greeted by the familiar atmosphere.
Making his was to the receptionist’s desk, Luke took the token out of his pocket.
He laid the token down on Joseph’s desk.
Joseph stopped writing and glanced at the small, round token on his desk.
He then looked at Luke, narrowing his eyes.
“Who are you?”
Joseph’s tone of voice was full of doubt.
Luke caught onto that slight hint of doubt in Joseph’s voice, and used it as leverage.
“Wouldn’t you want to know?”
“Had I not been acquainted with the original holder of that token, I would’ve already zapped you for having such a big mouth.”
“As I expected, you do know what this token is and who it belonged to.”
Joseph rested his chin on one of his hands and sighed.
“Who would ever forget that mountain of a man…”
Luke vividly imagined a huge, bald man with a French moustache loudly laughing.
“Can’t argue with that… He told me that you’d be able to help me if I show this to you.”
‘As much as I don’t want to be anywhere near this piece of shit, I need to take advantage of any benefits I can use.’
“As annoying as you are, that man wouldn’t have given this to you for no reason… Fine. I shall grant one of your requests, as long as it’s within my capabilities.”
‘Time to exploit this rotten person.’
“Teach me how to read.”
A vein on Joseph’s forehead popped, his lips quivering.
“Are you ridiculing me?”
Luke’s eyes turned into a crescent shape as he kept smiling.
“Not at all. I’m illiterate, you see.”
Joseph was left speechless. He soon shook his head and heaved a sigh.
“Fine, I’ll assign someone to teach you how to read. Come back later in the evening.”
Luke nodded, took an Earthworm poster off the wall, and left the building.
He waited in front of the building for a certain someone.
‘Why would I give up on a unique resource?’
After waiting for a bit, Luke’s eyes met a pair of jade green eyes.
He approached her nonchalantly and asked her with a straight face.
“Excuse me miss, do you know where I could find Earthworms?”
Lucia made eye contact with Luke, the latter being unfazed.
“I’m sorry, but I really don’t know. Maybe try asking someone else?”
Saying that, she turned around and left.
Luke was confused to say the least.
‘Something doesn’t add up here… First of all, her charm ability doesn’t seem to affect me at all anymore, and secondly she could’ve lured me into the marsh even without the charm ability, so why didn’t she? I said exactly what I had said to her when I first met her in my previous life. Did something change compared to the previous loop?’
Luke started thinking.
‘Maybe my facial expression wasn’t the same?’
He shook his head.
‘No, that’s too shallow of a reason. The only difference in this loop is that I’ve-… Wait a second.’
Luke closed his eyes, completely immersing himself in processing all of the information he had at this moment. Although he was pretty average at everything, Luke prided himself for his intelligence.
‘The token that Boldee gave me must have changed something. Last time, I killed Lucia, and then someone followed me for quite a while. That person had stopped following me when we were near Millef, but I was killed later in the night by someone else, or possibly even by that very same person. Maybe someone was keeping an eye on me the entire time, even in the marsh, but it’s just that I couldn’t notice it back then.’
‘Lucia seemed to have very unique abilities, including, but not limited to, the fire elemental and the charm ability… If someone indeed observed me killing her and then reported it, it could be that I unintentionally angered someone that shouldn’t be messed with, possibly Lucia’s superior, resulting in me being assassinated a few hours later. This is pretty far-fetched but I can’t come up with anything better with the information I currently have.’
Luke opened his eyes, heaving a sigh.
‘I don’t have much to do right now, so I’ll follow her around for a bit, and see where that leads me.’
He followed Lucia around for quite some time.
‘Huh, I’m actually pretty good at this?’
Lucia soon turned to the right and entered an alleyway.
Luke followed quickly after, only to be met with a surprise.
Lucia was facing towards him with her arms crossed.
“Why are you following me around?”
‘Huh, so I’m actually pretty bad at this?’
“It’s just a misunderstanding Miss.”
“Oh, it is? Prove it.”
Luke was caught off guard.
‘How the hell am I supposed to prove it?!’
Luke smiled and scratched the back of his head.
“It’s obviously a coincidence, we just happened to be going the same way.”
“I took a very random path through the town, and you just happened to be taking the exact same path the entire time?”
‘Yeah, I wouldn’t believe myself in this situation either if I was in her shoes.’
“Fine, you caught me. I was trying to figure out if you were working for someone.”
Lucia raised her eyebrows while looking at Luke.
Her lips then twitched, and she started laughing.
This was the first time Luke witnessed Lucia genuinely laughing, catching him a bit off-guard.
“Hahahahaha… Are you serious right now? You don’t even have the most basic of information and you’re following me? The answer was in front of your nose too!”
Luke furrowed his brows.
“The answer was in front of my nose? What do you mean?”
“Ahh, it’s my fault for overestimating you and bothering to lead you into an alleyway. Well, I can’t leave any loose ends untied either way.”
Lucia started growing out horns from the sides of her forehead, and she also summoned a pair of flame claws, extending from the top of her fingernails.
She grinned widely and pounced at Luke.
“Don’t blame me for this!”
He formed a wind wall in front of Lucia.
Lucia crashed right into it and the wall broke apart easily.
She stopped attacking, just to taunt Luke.
“You think such a thin wall of wind will stop me?”
“It wasn’t supposed to stop you per say.”
Luka was still controlling the wind with one of his hands. It was now surrounding Lucia completely.
She noticed that it was getting harder and harder to breathe. Something was weird.
Luke launched a fireball at Lucia, and it landed on one of her legs, catching her off-guard.
Her whole body started burning.
Lucia started panicking, but Luke was perfectly calm.
She was currently trapped in an “air chamber”.
Luke coined this term when coming up with ideas for the usage of the fire elemental.
The idea was that the target would be trapped in an air-tight space, so that once he launches an attack with his fire elemental, it would eat up the little oxygen left inside of that space, and burn the target alive.
Lucia attempted using her own fire elemental to battle Luke’s flames, but it only made her situation even worse.
She dropped to the ground and started rolling around, but the wind surrounding her kept the flame inside of the closed-off space from being disturbed at all.
Manipulating wind to this level was hard for Luke, but if he was completely focusing on it and the target wasn’t moving too fast, he could pull it off.
Lucia was slowing down bit by bit, until she completely stopped moving.
She died in less than a minute, without being able to do a thing about it.
“I’m glad I took physics as well in college.”
The reason her claws that were made out of fire didn’t cause a fire to break out was because they were just floating above her hand, and not actually touching her.
Luke released the air chamber, and an unrecognizable corpse could barely be seen through the thick smoke.
He used his wind elemental to clear out the smoke.
A red ball of light was floating out of Lucia’s chest, and Luke quietly absorbed it.
Luke started going through grueling pain, as well as sweating out of every pore on his body, even though this wasn’t the first time that he was absorbing the fire elemental.
‘This pain! It’s exactly like in the last loop!’
Once the pain has subsidized, Luke unbuttoned his shirt and checked his chest.
The sleeping baby phoenix was still there, unchanged.
Luke narrowed his eyes and for the first time, looked at the rest of his body.
‘Something is strange… I wasn’t paying attention last time, so it seems like I haven’t noticed it, but… since when did I have a six-pack?’
Luke touched his abs and wondered.
‘Does absorbing this fire elemental strengthens one’s body as well? I will need to look into this as well…’
Luke decided that this was neither the time nor place to check himself out, so he buttoned his shirt back up, and made his way out of the alleyway before anyone discovered the corpse.
He was sure that no one had witnessed the fight between him and Lucia.
Luke blended into the crowd on the busy street, and wandered through the town of Millef, quietly planning his next moves.