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Jered had given up on a hefty chunk of his beauty sleep to finish ‘A Pharaoh’s Biography’, and get some magical workout in. But the outcome was less than satisfying. Frankly, he didn’t even know why he was pushing himself so hard—but something inside him tickled with the yenning of climbing that metaphorical pyramid of power. Each time he leafed through a page. Each time he wrung mana out of his aching vein. Each time a system’s notification scrolled down before his eyes, Jered felt himself grow. It was a gradual development, and the more he developed, the more he realized something…
…he needed more.
The tome disintegrated into specks of lights and rushed towards him.[You have absorbed the tome ‘Ramsen’s A Pharaoh’s Biography.’][Your magical abilities have been enhanced by 20%][Due to your high comprehension of ‘A Pharaoh’s Biography’, you have learned the Royal-Tier spell ‘Pharaoh’s Flame’, Lv1.][The spell ‘Pharaoh’s Flame’ is too high for your current rank. A forced usage can cause lethal internal injuries.] [The spell ‘Pharaoh’s Flame’ resonates with the sub-soell’Lighter’.][The sub-spell ‘Lighter’ has evolved into the Adept-Tier spell ‘Vizier’s Light’, Lv.1][The spell ‘Vizier’s Light’ is higher than your current rank. Prolonged usage can cause internal injuries.]
The notifications popped up with nigh a few seconds from one after another. Knowledge of the skills burned into his mind. Literally. Jered held his breath for a while, veins bulging out on his temples. He doubted that was a skill Rainey foresaw him acquiring. It smelled of dangerous stuff—and he goddamn loved it. Once the sizzling pain abated into a dull throbbing, Jered washed up, got dressed, summoned his school bag, and scuttled downstairs for a quick breakfast.
“You’re not going to skip today too, are you?” Jasmine threw that question as if she were throwing down a gauntlet, full of a challenging flavor.
He sat down next to her, “You jealous?”
A smirk peered over the toast halfway in her mouth, “As if!” she scoffed, “My attendance is perfect, unlike a certain brother of mine.”
Jered fixed himself a bowl of cereals, “My grades are perfect, unlike a certain sister of mine.”
“Because you cheat!”
“I don’t cheat, I simply seek the answers elsewhere.”
He drank the leftover milk in one gulp, “It’s not cheating if they don’t catch you.”
“Flawless logic.” Jasmine rolled her eyes, “Whatever, just go away.”
Jered stood up, advancing towards her side of the table. She smothered him with a withering look as she cupped her ears in protection. How naive of her. He was not aiming for an ear flick, instead, he deftly snatched the muffin she was saving for last. Jasmine gaped, her eyes splayed wide open at the unexpected betrayal. It was her fault. The muffin was there, in plain sight. “Nooo…” she clawed at him, “Jered, come back here!”
“Nuh-huh.” he was so smug with his victory that hopped back out of her grasp, twirled around, and swayed his hips in a funky dance as he walked up to the door. “You see sis…” he opened it, his other hand proudly showcasing the result of his theft, “You snooze, you lose.” he slowly chomped down on the sweet treat, cracking an eye open to gauge her reaction.
And he was not disappointed.
“JEEREEEEED! Come back he—”
He slammed the door shut.
“What’s up f*****?”
Kenny’s head didn’t make a pleasant sound when it kissed the wall. Then again, no pleasant sound could ever come out of his head when face-to-face with 40lbs of pure muscle. A smattering of derogatory chuckles danced around him, from one ear to the other. Kenny picked himself up—or at least he tried to. The collar of his immaculate shirt was wrinkled in a fist, his body hoisted up from the ground effortlessly. “I said, what’s up f*****.” it was Carter, quarterback, stereotype bully, and his worst high school nightmare. Of course, behind Carter were his grinning henchmen, Lloyd and Victor, their hands tucked in the pockets of their letterman jackets.
The pride of the school. Hah, what a massive load of b*******. A slew of trophies lined up the principal’s shelves, and that was the out-turn that made those shitheads get away with only a slap on their wrists for their behavior. In their eyes, his daily suffering was a worthy price to pay to keep those jocks anchored to the school’s sports team.
“C-Carter… please, j-just let me go.” it was useless, and he knew it. He had been there before, and there was no magical word to make them go away.
“Oh did you hear him?” Carter cackled as he turned around, his tone a gloating indifference that disgusted him. He bumped fists with his buddies, “What a loser,” and what followed up next was a punch straight to his guts. Kenny doubled over, his mouth tearing wide open to eject a lungful of air. He dropped to the floor, clutching his midsection. His heart hammered in his chest, his blood heating up in that helpless acrimony that always left him more angry at himself than at his bullies. The licks of pain were nothing compared to his self-hate.
People walked by, some ignored his plight without sparing a glance, some others thought it funny to take their phones out and immortalize his humiliation.
Kenny knew the video would soon spread through the entire school.
Lloyd raised an eyebrow, “Oh look at him… he’s laughing. He’s enjoying it.” he shook his head, “Hey Cart, don’t go too hard on the poor fella or he might start liking it.”
“Daaamn, he’s a maso f**!” Victor added enthusiastically, his knuckles pressing against his mouth to squelch back a guffaw. “Yo bro… take his phone! Doesn’t he like to cosplay?”
“Oh right, bet we could find some weird s*** in there! Hahaha!”
Kenny scurried back, his face a veil of terror. “No!” Lloyd and Victor moved in tandem, each of them holding an arm. He struggled and kicked, but he was a twig compared to them. “No! Please, Carter!” if they got ahold of some of the selfies he had secretly taken—God, he couldn’t even imagine how awful the aftermath would be. His thrashing became so frantic that a few onlookers frowned. It was obvious they were taking it too far. Some of them voiced out their worries, though they were a clear minority.
“What the hell…”
“Yo dude, stop. That’s enough,”
“Yeah, just leave him alone now…”
The comments floating around didn’t deter Carter. No, he felt his authority being questioned. He cracked his neck in a very movie-esque way, and ignoring Kenny’s cries, he rummaged around his pockets. He was quick to dig out Kenny’s smartphone. He even put up on a mocking show by waving it around his face. There was no need to unlock it, with the help of his stooges he browbeat Kenny into fingerprinting it. “Now now… let’s see what you’re trying to hide from us—”
“Carter,” a voice spoke out from the crowd, and its owner sauntered into sight shortly after. A very attractive teen with piercing green eyes stared him down with a cheerful smile. “How have you been?” he sidled up to Carter, his hand giving his shoulder a friendly squeeze.
“Jered…” Carter was caught off-guard. He knew of him; very few people wouldn’t. He didn’t hate him, but he didn’t like him either—and there was a reason for that. They’ve never been on friendly terms, which was why he was nonplussed at his impromptu greeting. Reputation was how students kept score in school. And under the unadulterated eyes of many, Carter didn’t want to make an enemy out of Jered. “Oh hey man, I’ve been doing great! How about you?”
“Ahh, you know. I’m always peachy.”
“Haha, great to hear,”
Jered nodded with a fading smile, “Anyway, the coach heard about the commotion going on here and…” his tone lowered down by an octave, and only Carter was its recipient. “…I daresay that you have a bit less than a minute before s*** hits the fan.”
He amused the quarterback with one last pat before he retrieved Kenny’s smartphone. Lloyd and Victor were not so amused, however. They stepped forth, hands balling into fists as they walled Kenny behind them in a flourish of intimidation. Unfortunately, it didn’t work on Jered. He smiled, stimulating his mana. It was only supposed to be a curious, spontaneous experiment—a slight flare of his mana, but…
“Lloyd, Victor… stop playing around and let’s go,”
Carter was not pleased with the situation; nonetheless, he forced the bitter pill down his throat. His stooges were puzzled if the dumb look on their faces was anything to go by, still, their leader’s words were absolute. They scrabbled behind Carter, the latter of whom ventured a mild glare at Jered. “See you around,” he said with a nod, strutting away. It was only after they turned a few more corners and entered a less populated hallway that Lloyd felt pressed to ask.
“Ehm… buddy, why did we leave again? We both know that the coach doesn’t care about what we do with that loser anyway…”
“Jered…” Carter spat out, “… that guy, for some reason he gives me the creeps. If I were you, I’d stay away from him…”
Lloyd and Victor looked at each other, trading dubious frowns.
The students filed away once the show was over.
“That Carter… gotta give it to him, he’s unexpectedly intuitive,” Jered observed with an appreciative nod. As obnoxious as he was, the quarterback made the right call—or better, his gut feeling did. Instead of kickstarting a diatribe with Jered, he accepted the path of retreat he opened for him, and left without much of a fuss. He switched his attention upon his friend. “You alright Ken?”
Kenny’s long, black hair was tousled, and his highly androgynous face was crumpled up in a sheet of sadness. He slowly clambered back to his feet. “I’m… well, I could be better.” his tone was derisive, adorned with cracks. It was not his first time getting battered like that. He attracted that sort of crowd like blood would to a shiver of sharks. “I’m sorry…” he drooped his head, not daring to meet his friend’s gaze, not when he was cutting such a sorry figure.
Jered didn’t know what mask to wear, “For what?”
“I mean… come on, look at me.” Kenny chuckled, his hands trembling as he gesticulated at himself. His smile faltered, “Just look at me… I’m gross, weird, and… and pathetic! I bet you’re putting up with me out of pity… I… I… you know what, nevermind. I won’t bother you anymore…” he made to run away from his shame, but a hand clamped on his wrist. There was no way he could resist—he probably didn’t want to either.
“I’m looking at you,” Jered prodded his wrist, and eventually Kenny turned around, hiding his eyes behind the safety of his long fringe. “And what am I supposed to look for? Because I don’t see anything gross, weird, or pathetic. You’re being unnecessarily harsh on yourself. Why? You don’t have to prove anything to anyone.”
“But… but… they always pick on me! And my father… oh God, I know he doesn’t approve of my choices…”
“I can’t… I’m just so tired… so, so f****** tired… of everything, everyone…” Kenny slumped back against the wall, barely finding the strength to hold himself. “I’m such a mess… full of problems… hah, I’m surprised you’re still here. Thank you.”
A short bout of silence ensued before the bell rang out. Jered nudged his shoulder. “Psst,” he whispered, whipping his head left and right to make sure no one was within earshot. “Do you want me to take revenge on those dimwits?”
“You heard me,” Jered chuckled, one hand tucked inside his pocket. “I can hurt them a bit. No one will know,”
Kenny’s eyes almost popped out, “No! Jered, no… you don’t have to…”
“Why not? You think I’m going to kill them or something?” his chuckle bloomed into a full-blown laugh, “I’m just going to pull some pranks on them.”
“This is my problem, you don—”
Jered inched closer to Kenny’s ear, “Then let’s make this my problem. I know your family is filthy rich, sooo… this is what we’re going to do. You pay me, and I’ll make sure they won’t hurt you anymore.” he shrugged animatedly, “You have my guarantee, and if you’re not satisfied, you’ll be reimbursed.”
“What… you… you want me to pay you to hurt them?”
“Why aren’t you listening? I’m just going to pull some pranks and give them a friendly warning. You’re not paying me to hurt them, you’re paying me to ensure they won’t hurt you.”
Kenny raked a hand through his hair, his voice thick with flustering indecision. “Isn’t this a bit too much? Also… h-how are you going to do it? They’re three… and… and they’re bigger than you.”
Jered waved his concerns off, “You don’t have to worry about that.” he heaved a deep sigh, “Look, Ken, no one is going to make this offer to you. No one. Why? Because no one is invested in your worries as much as I am. I’m your friend, buddy, just trust me… everything’s gonna be alright. All you have to do is to give me a month’s worth of your allowance, and for the next few years, your life will be free of them. No more bullying. No more b*******. Huh? What do you think?”
With grim determination burning in his eyes, Kenny clenched his jaw, and nodded, “I accept…”
Synopsis: The online game <