The Broken Blade

Chapter 2

Tiny thorns of ice snapped under the pressure of my gloved hand, sending fragments of glasslike crystals bouncing off the hardened snow. I winced, certain the attempt had resulted in failure.

There was no prompt, and I was too afraid to look.

My experience in the game so far had shown me that hope, like these brittle flowers of ice and thorns, was such a fragile thing.
I was still agonizing over the outcome when, for the very first time, I felt the weight of the thistle settle into the open palm of my left hand.

Congratulations! You have slightly increased your herbalism skill. You can now harvest Snowthistle a little more effectively.

You receive a Snowthistle.
You receive 500 EXP.
Note: Experience gains will decrease as you become more familiar with harvesting this herb.

A wide grin spread across my cold lips, and I carefully stowed the spiky flower into my inventory. The Snowthistle wasn’t pristine, but the experience points and the increase to my herbalism skill were both a welcome sight.

If nothing else, it was the start of what was beginning to look like a very long journey, but a journey I now felt like I might be able to complete.

In the distance, another glint of light caught my eye.

Another Snowthistle.

And this one so close to the last.

I changed course once again. Each step felt a little easier, less labored. I could see light at the end of the tunnel, and I felt more determined than I had in the last several fruitless hours.

As I neared the frozen herb, I noticed something I hadn’t seen for some time. Another set of tracks.

This wasn’t a small game trail like I’d encountered much further down the mountain. These prints belonged to a solitary creature, and not just some lone mountain goat or any other highland animal I was familiar with.

There was something different about these tracks. They certainly weren’t human. Whatever this creature was, it had to be huge. The prints sunk several inches into the icy crust that had formed on the top layer of snow.

I knelt down and examined the tracks more closely. Whatever it was, the beast walked upright and appeared to be covering ground at a quick pace. By the looks of it, the creature’s two-legged stride was almost humanoid, except for its feet. The prints had long claws attached to the end of each toe that dug into and tore at the icy crust.

You have learned TRACKING: RANK 1.
You have made an astute observation of a creature’s tracks. You may occasionally uncover additional details of your prey’s movements.

My prey?

I positioned my boot next to one of the large tracks and shook my head.

Yeah, that wasn’t happening.

While I was always happy to learn a new skill, I was in no condition to go looking for trouble. Instead, I could only wonder at the creature’s destination. I didn’t want to think of what it might be after.

Scavenged food, perhaps? Victims weakened by the relentless cold? Or maybe shelter from an oncoming storm I wasn’t aware of?

All of those seemed like valid possibilities, but what about the creature itself? Could this be one of the cave trolls Pops had told me about?

Cave trolls were foul monsters, by all accounts.

I glanced upward at the veil of clouds descending from the mountaintops. If a storm was coming, I suspected it would be upon me before I knew any better. I would have to get moving and keep my wits about me if I hoped to make it to the inn before nightfall.

I scanned the area once more, looking for any sign of a cave or crevice.

There would be no shelter here if a storm took me by surprise. With that in mind, I resolved to hasten my journey. My knees cracked and popped as I shifted, preparing to harvest the herb next to the tracks at my feet.

Gripping the icy stem with my right hand, I held out the open palm of my left.

Warning! You lack the appropriate level of herbalism skill to guarantee success with this action.

If you proceed, your harvest might be destroyed. If successful, you could gain valuable experience.

Would you like to continue?
Yes | No

Once again, I nodded and answered the prompt, this time speaking aloud.


The stem snapped, and the thistle fell. When it settled into my palm, it shattered into countless tiny fragments. Tiny fragments that scattered in a sudden, bitter gust of wind.

Gathering attempt failed.
The Snowthistle has been destroyed.

A sinking feeling gripped my heart.

It was a loss but there was something more than that. More than disappointment. Something too familiar in the way the bits of ice had rushed across the landscape before fading into the rest of the terrain.

I couldn’t help but think of Ayva. Reliving the moment when I watched her crumble to dust: a result of her final sacrifice during my momentary return to my tutorial.

The soulbound phylactery was still safe within my inventory, but hers was a sacrifice I still didn’t understand.

I didn’t understand, but I did remember my promise. I would tell no one, not even Raven, of what Ayva had done. I would keep her phylactery safe and secret until the time was right.

The problem was, I still didn’t know what she had meant, or how I would know when that time came. Or even what I was supposed to do with the phylactery when the moment was right. All I had was the echo of a memory.

I mentally pictured the items in my inventory and stopped when I came across the rough iron prison that held the remnants of Guilly’s soul. A soul that had been stolen at the hands of the Necromancer in Duskmorrow Swamp.

It was hard to accept now. I didn’t want to believe such a thing could be true. Guilly’s fate could have very easily been my own.

I stared at the image of the roughshod phylactery. It contained a similar, swirling cloud of gray. This object wasn’t soulbound like Ayva’s was, but I had no idea what I was supposed to do with such a thing. Presumably, I could trade it, but everything about that notion that felt wrong.

Imagining the conversation I might have with a merchant, I couldn’t help but frown. I didn’t even want to think about how I might explain what the item was, or how it came to be in my possession.

I closed my inventory and looked back at the tracks.

Throwing caution to the wind, I decided to follow the creature’s path for now. The thing was already headed in the direction I intended to travel, and there was no way I could match the creature’s stride. Sneaking up on something large and powerful that was moving with such obvious intent didn’t seem likely.

Besides, what were the chances that a creature moving this quickly would double back the way it had come? If there was a storm brewing, then I too wanted to be free of its path. Come what may, I’d just have to deal with whatever danger this course of action might bring.

Following the trail was an obvious risk, but with the sudden reminders of Ayva’s and Guilly’s fates, I felt a morbid darkness grip my heart. An unexplained anger washed over me, and I struggled to calm my raging thoughts. Without thinking, my hand reached toward my chest, and I brushed my fingers over the unhealed wound from the Necromancer’s blade.

Something told me I was only just beginning to understand the damage that had been done in Duskmorrow Swamp that night.
Margaret had warned that it would take me much longer to recover from a death in my current state, and I hadn’t yet tested that warning. A part of me was curious, but I wasn’t in a hurry to find out what she had meant firsthand. I would have to stay alert.
Death was painful. I knew that all too well.

Just then, another glint in the snow caught my eye. It was further along the ridge line, just a few minutes hike from where I now stood.

Step by step, with two of my strides to match one of the unknown creature’s, I followed the tracks northward toward the Snowthistle. Toward the next attempt. Ever closer toward the inn where I would meet up with my friends.

It didn’t take long before my lungs burned from the cold and the increased exertion as I quickened my pace. Doubts crept into my mind, but I pressed onward still, letting the maligned thoughts die with the wailing of the wind.

One more prompt. One more attempt.

Congratulations! You have slightly increased your herbalism skill. You can now harvest Snowthistle a little more effectively.

You receive a Snowthistle.
You receive 500 EXP.

Progress. Without encountering level-appropriate mobs to engage on my journey, the gain in experience points was a welcome bonus. Again, it wasn’t a pristine sample, but it was a win. A minor win in a sea of failures, yes, but a win none-the-less.

With no other prospects nearby, I continued along the makeshift path. The wind was at my back now. Pushing me forward. Urging me to pick up my careful pace.

I crested the next ridge and stared down into the depths of what appeared to be an unexpected, shallow saddle between two of the lower peaks. From my position, the slope appeared gradual; it was a natural crossing point the creature I was tailing must have been familiar with.

I was no expert, but it seemed only logical that if I continued my current course, I would be at a significant disadvantage.
There was another problem.

Thin, leafless trees congregated in close formation. The wind whipped between the trunks and boughs, swirling and sweeping away the heavy tracks. Countless branches reached toward the sky, all fighting for a ray of light, unfiltered by the wispy clouds; for the impossible taste of the sun’s warm touch.

The trees, naked as they were, provided the perfect cover, shielding any possible signs of life from my current vantage point.
I stood for a moment and braced myself as I listened to the howling of the wind, slowly scanning the area for movement. It was no use. There was no way to know if the creature had hunkered down or decided to look for prey.

The lack of tracks between the trees, the sudden change in terrain, and the utter lack of visibility left me feeling unnerved. Then my eyes grew wide as the realization struck me. I had been far more careless than I had realized. This was the perfect place for an ambush. With the wind at my back, my scent very well could have alerted the fiend to my presence.

Memories of Ayva or not. It had been foolish to be so reckless. My unexplained anger and preoccupation with the wound in my chest had clouded my mind to the reality of the situation.

I paused and took a deep breath. There was no point in panicking now. I had to think things through.

Scanning everything within my field of vision, it was easy to see that all paths would have eventually led to this same depressed saddle. Since that was the case, I wasn’t sure what I could have done differently. Perhaps I was being too hard on myself.

It didn’t seem to matter if I had followed the creature or not. At least now I knew exactly where its prints had led before the trail went cold. Any other route would have left me woefully unaware of the danger I might face in the terrain ahead.

I unsheathed my weapon and prepared to descend.

The shortened sword felt different in battle. It had the same hilt as Truthseeker, and the same blade. Or at least what remained of it. But, despite engaging a few low level mobs before reaching the snowy slopes, the shattered remnants of my old weapon still felt strange within my grip.

I gave it a test swing.

The weight was different. Unfamiliar. It would take time to adjust, but it was better than nothing.

Then I slowly lowered myself down into the canyon, picking each step and taking great care not to lose my footing. The going was treacherous at first, but the slope eventually leveled.

I soon found myself under the cover of the naked boughs. The wind had lessened during my descent, and a thick mist clung to the snow. It wrapped itself around the trunks, swallowing the forest whole after only a few yards.

Of the skeletal trees I could make out in the descending fog, most reached their contorted limbs toward the sky. Some were more severely bent and twisted, a testament to the harsh conditions the trees had endured. Long, thin icicles hung like daggers, and I found myself wondering whether the otherwise naked branches had ever known the comfort of leaves.

Was it always winter in the Frostwind Mountains?

A flurry of movement and a strange thumping sound startled me, bringing me back to the moment in a flash. My grip on the hilt of my sword tightened, and my heart thudded like thunder through my padded leather armor.

My mind filled in the blanks.

No matter where I looked, I could only see the shifting images of monsters in the mist.

Then I heard the sound once more. Closer this time. A loud, sharp thumping on the snowpack.

I swallowed my fear and looked down at my feet. I could see the creature plainly enough, but it took my mind a moment to register what I was looking at.

Every natural instinct told me this beast was prey, and yet firsthand experience had taught me differently.

You Inspect the Mountain Hare.
Level 9. Hit Points: 465.
The Mountain Hare is affected by Nature’s Haste.
Attack speed is increased.

Pops’ warning rang in my mind, and I could almost hear his voice repeating the words of wisdom he’d left me with after my first death in EndWorld Everlasting.

No matter where you go or how strong you get, there’s always a rabbit somewhere that’d be more than happy to tuck you in for a nice little dirt nap.

The Mountain Hare watched me with its beady black eyes. Its nose twitched, and then it casually scratched behind its neck with one of its long, powerful hind legs.

“Oh, no,” I said, lifting my hands and doing my best to shoo the ferocious beast away without drawing its ire. “I’ve got no quarrel with you.”

Never had truer words been spoken.

Ever since my first death in this world, I’d discovered a newfound respect for the furry, rabbit-like denizens of EndWorld Everlasting. Despite their small size, I knew my chances of survival might be better if I faced off against a cave troll instead.

The silence that followed felt like an eternity as the hare watched me with an intensity I couldn’t quite fathom.

When it glanced toward Seeker, I slid the blade of my shortened sword back into its sheath and moved a tentative foot to the left. Then another. Each step took me a little further away and one step closer to safety.

The tiny, unassuming beast watched my every movement, following me with its small, dark eyes until it lost interest. Finally, after what felt like an eternity of eternities, it hopped off in the opposite direction.

I let out a held breath and once again retrieved my sword.

That had been a close one.


With the threat of battling the Mountain Hare now behind me, I trudged further into the snow. At first I was oblivious to the way the fog had changed, but after several minutes I noticed a strange phenomenon. Glinting bits of light caught my attention before vanishing in the wall of gray mist that swept down from the mountain peaks.

Minuscule flecks of ice floated amidst the fog, twinkling like tiny stars in the thick layers of lesser clouds.

If ice was forming in the air, it could only mean the temperature was dropping. Fast. If it got any colder, I had no doubt I’d find myself in a tough spot.

I had already experienced death twice in EndWorld, and I had no desire to succumb to hypothermia on the slopes of these frozen mountains.

My pace quickened as I traversed across the rock-like snow. That was one positive thing about the cold. At least there wasn’t waist-high powder or wet, icy slush to slog through. As long as the top layer of ice and snow was strong enough, I could continue to make good time walking atop the hardened crust that covered several feet of snow on the shallow canyon floor.
The temperature continued to fall. Every effort I exerted was aligned with one simple purpose: navigating through the trees and making my way out of this inhospitable, forsaken depression.

With my mind so focused on moving and staying warm, it didn’t take long to forget about the tracks I’d encountered and the infinite possibilities of unknown creatures that might have made them.

The crunch of ice beneath my boots created a soft rhythm that propelled me onward. The sound was hypnotic. I was so entranced by the cadence that I almost missed another Snowthistle, but there it was. Nestled next to a mound of crusty snow at the foot of a nearby tree, the glimmer was unmistakable.

The prismatic colors projected on the ice were softer in the fog, and I stopped to marvel once more at how beautiful it was while I considered my options.

So great was my desire to be on my way that I nearly kept walking. Yet something held me back. Some incredible force I could neither see nor comprehend.

I had never felt a compulsion as strongly as I did in that moment. I didn’t just want to pluck the frozen flower. I needed to.
I took off my gloves and blew some warmth into my fingers before trudging toward the tree. Once there, I donned the gloves once more and bent down to inspect the thistle.

It looked just like all the others.

With each passing second, the urge to remove it from its stem only strengthened. Why I felt this way, I didn’t know.
Again, the system message flashed into my vision and I quickly acknowledged the prompt. I set my sword on the hard snow and took the icy stem in my right hand. Then, just as I had before, I prepared to catch the body of the frozen thistle in my left palm.

Congratulations! You have slightly increased your herbalism skill. You can now harvest Snowthistle a little more effectively.

You receive a Pristine Snowthistle.
You receive 1,000 EXP.

I was still staring at the words in disbelief when a strange, hollow rattling sound pulled my attention from my status log. The noise was coming from behind me, and it was very close. If I could just—

Critical Strike! The Lost Prospector hits you for 30 HP.