When I enter the training room, I find not just Nik in there, but Jesse, Kayla, Theodore, and Nathan as well. All of them are geared up for battle, but with wooden training weapons rather than their usual. Except for Nathan, since he's apparently here as a Priest and has his usual staff. Nik has two swords, and tosses one of them to me.
"Um… what?" I ask as they all hold up their weapons.
"Don't use either of your forms," Nik tells me. "And no Auras or Shroud. Otherwise, it's fair game."
"Wait," I say. "We're going to fight? The five of us?"
"Yes," he answers as their Healths and Manas start to rise. Nathan just gave them all the Blessing of the Crystal, didn't he? "You see, Zack, while you might be powerful, there are some of us who can truly push you, even before we're given Blessings."
"And if you push me as hard as my team was just pushed," I say. "It'll force me to push the limits of my stats."
"Correct," he takes a ready stance, and the others do as well. "And we'll push you until you can't go anymore, Zack."
"Isn't five-on-one a bit excessive?" I ask, taking a nervous step back. "Just one of you could probably do that."
"This will be most effective," Nik says. "Strike of Darkness."
I block his attack as I attempt to dodge Jesse's knives to my side. They connect rather hard, and I send my tunic into my Inventory because it will get destroyed during this fight. I use Deflect on a strike from Kayla, then Counterstrike Nik's second Strike of Darkness. Nathan attacks from afar, using spells that slam into me because I'm not able to defend against or evade all of them. A sword strikes me from the side, and I grunt from the impact and pain.
The five of them continue their attack with me barely able to defend against more than one attack out of every nine, even with a Blessing of Speed cast upon myself. I pull at every Skill I can from my arsenal that does a lot of damage. I try to use Absorb and Drain Life to draw from him, I use Heal when necessary, though Nathan also uses Heal as well, restoring a fair bit more than I can even with a Blessing of Intellect.
They're definitely holding back, but they're still beating the crap out of me, and I have to use potions to restore my Mana a lot. No matter how fast or hard I strike, they're faster and stronger. This really is overkill! Only one of you is needed for this! And you guys already have Stats beyond mine, too!
Even my strongest, Rage-fueled attack isn't enough to take one of them out, so I don't get why they thought five was necessary.
I'm not certain for how long it is they beat me, just that by the time this 'training' session is over, I'm sore, I'm exhausted, and I'm definitely going to be feeling it for a few days, even if my Health will be restored in under sixteen minutes. They gave me enough room to be able to fight and defend, and that definitely was the most I've actually struggled in… probably forever. Literally.
Their training exhausted me to the point all I can do is just collapse onto the ground, breathing hard and soaked in sweat. Nik walks over to me and takes the training sword, putting it away as Nathan pokes me in the side. I'm too exhausted to swat his hand away, but I'll take revenge on him later. I know his ticklish spots, since I'm sure they're the same as Luca's. I know where he sleeps, too.
Nik wraps me in a cloak, then lifts me up and holds me against him, my head hanging over his left shoulder. I'm too exhausted and sore to even wrap my arms around him, though someone helpfully moves my right arm over his left shoulder.
He carries me out of the training room, then out of the Dark Temple, Theodore and Kayla remaining behind. Jesse parts ways with us as Nik takes me home, Nathan walking with us. The sun's already rising. Did we really go for seven hours?
Jeez, that was intense. And probably overkill.
When we get to my home, the team is already awake and going about their morning routine, though looking both lethargic and somewhat uneasy. According to Nik, the rapid Stat changes makes everyone feel sick and uncomfortable in their own body while also lethargic, though it can cause unconsciousness.
"Boss okay?" Max asks Nik as everyone follows the Dark Knight and me upstairs.
"He's fine," Nik tells Max. "He just spent seven or so hours training at the Dark Temple. Like the four of you, he's going to enter Stat Stasis."
"How is that possible, though?" Gavin asks. "Just training can't do that, and Zack's already powerful."
"He spent seven hours sparring with five people stronger than him," Nik tells Gavin. "Even one of us would be akin to how it was for the four of you to face the Candy Beast. The five of us pushed him as hard as we could to ensure he would enter Stat Stasis."
"Why?" Gavin asks as Nik sets me on my bed, then adjusts the cloak around me a bit.
I don't blame him, these are sheets and a blanket from the Dark Temple, and I'm covered in blood from their attacks. I could do with another bath, except that I'm far too exhausted and sore to do that. That training definitely counts as intense.
That said, they showed me a few neat Skills I plan on learning. Especially the Shadow Whip Jesse used a few times. Hopefully, it's not locked to one of his Classes.
"Sorry," Gavin apologizes as Nik looks at him. "It's just that Zack's already so powerful, so him needing to be forced into Stat Stasis doesn't… it doesn't really make that much sense to me."
"Zack," Nik says. "Falls into the same issue the four of you do. Because he Levels rapidly – even more so than the four of you – he suffers from not having spent all the normal time necessary training. That means his Stats haven't boosted much from training. Most Adventurers at Level 200 or higher have at least one Stat that's higher than Zack's, when excluding Vitality and Mana, which many at Level 200 or higher will have higher than Zack."
"Oh," Gavin says. "This doesn't feel good at all."
"That's why it's best to just sleep if you can," Nik tells him. "Stat Stasis means your Stats will be twenty percent higher than they were when you finish it from when you entered it. It may not seem like much at lower amounts, but it's still significant in the long run. It also becomes more difficult to enter Stat Stasis the higher your Stats are. The five of us spent seven hours on this for Zack because it was the only way to be sure."
Nah. I'm pretty sure just one of you for a few hours would have been enough. The five of you just wanted to give me a beating because I'm an annoying shit.
As they talk, I find myself fading into the world of my visions.
Nik stands at the front of the army of Adventurers, sword in hand. The army is dwarfed by the size of the charging horde, which passes between the trees, some of the Goblin Giants simply running through the branches, snapping them off without notice.
Monsters spill out of the forest, and Nik raises his sword into the sky.
"FOR THE BOUNDARY!" He roars, and the Adventurers present echo his stupid, cheesy, cliche-ass call.
The view shifts, and there are three massive monsters present. A wolf with fur as black as night, its eyes golden. The beast stands as tall as the tallest Goblin Giants present. A goblin which stands at over fifty feet in height. A slime as tall as the wolf, crimson in color, with hundreds of cores around a large, central one.
Instead of two King Monsters, there are three. A shadow wolf, a goblin, and a flame slime. They stand far back from the crowd, and Nik as his team, which had only fought when necessary, advance on them. Nik's body shifts as they advance.
A pair of black horns grow out of his head as his skin turns crimson. A crimson, spade-tipped tail grows out just above his ass, a pair of wings stretching out of his back from the gaps in his armor, designed to allow his wings to grow free. They marble from the red of his skin to pure black.
The scene shifts again, and I'm back to that place outside of existence. I can sense those two beings there.
"I sense it again," the male voice speaks as I do my best to subtly draw near the crystal that is Existence. "It has returned."
"Where is it?" The female asks. "I want to devour it and obtain-"
"Shut the fuck up, Dad," a voice calls out in annoyance as a third presence forms, this one startling close to me.
I turn and face it, finding a boy who appears around my age standing there. He has the same brown hair as me, the same ocean-blue eyes as me. He's not identical to me, though. But I can see a familial resemblance between us, the sort I noticed too late with Bryce. He's dressed in a dark green tunic and black pants, black boots on his feet.
"Two of them!" The male exclaims. "We won't have to share their power."
"No!" The female comments. "We can-"
"Dad," the newcomer and possible-brother rolls his eyes. "Shut the fuck up. And what the fuck is this place, anyway? Why do you have the universe represented by the-Dad! Stop fucking with your kids!"
"What?" That slips out before I can stop it.
"Dad is fucking with you," he says. "I just recently sensed this… whatever the fuck this is. That's him talking. I suppose it's to be expected he'd do that. Dad! The hell is this place?"
"The vastness outside of the universe," Big FD appears in the form around my age. "You're no fun, Enmosolovokol-"
"That's not even close to my name," my brother gives him an unamused look.
"Fine," Big FD rolls his eyes. "Enmar. There. Happy? Enmar?"
"That's better," my brother rolls his eyes, then looks around. "Why is the universe contained in this space right now?"
"So that I can fuck with Zack whenever he's in Power Jump," Big FD gives me a strange looks. "Or Stat Stasis. Damn, those guys are good, being able to force you into it. That's rather impressive, you know."
"Wait," I say. "We're still in existence?"
"If it exists, we're within it," Big FD says. "Including outside of the universe. The Boundary is outside the universe, after all. Here, let me show you."
The nothingness around us warps, and the two presences from before disappear as another crystal forms, this one giving off a vibe of the Boundary. It's pearled pinks and oranges and reds, much like the borders of the Boundary. There's some sort of 'connection' between the two, but it's not one I can see so much as sense. That must be the Crystals and their paths between the two, which allow them to do the Ascension Trial and to bring people into the Boundary when they die.
There's also a third crystal, this one golden and white.
"That's heaven," Big FD indicates the third crystal. "You already know the universe," he indicates the normal crystal. "And that's the Boundary," he indicates the crystal I already assumed was the Boundary's. "And that is my realm."
He points behind me, and I find a mountainous region there when I look. It's both there and not there. I turn back and look at my brother.
"Enmar?" I ask.
"It's Evan," he says. "I'm from Earth, too, though from before the split. Well, it's actually 'Evarn', but I don't go by that anymore. I mostly hang out in Dad's realm, but there's one for us – his children – around here somewhere. There are actually a few more of these crystals, which you can find if you wander enough."
"Wait," I realize. "When did I regain my form?"
"When Dad canceled his trick," Evan answers as Big FD chuckles. "Anyway, back to looking for that crystal again."
He wanders off, just walks away on nothingness as if it's a floor. I can do the same thing, I discover.
"…why are you dancing?" Big FD asks.
"Why not?" I stop and grin at him. "So that whole thing was just to mess with me?"
"What?" He asks. "You thought you got your pranks from your mom? Hah!"
"I knew I got them from you," I say. "I just didn't realize that was a prank! Jeez! You had me so fucking scared, Big FD!"
"That was the point," he grins. "I realized the first time that your powers of sight were going to cause you to exit the universe, and thought I'd have some fun. Anyway, want to play cards until this Stat Stasis is over? I've also got a hot springs that might relax you a bit, though that won't carry over into the Boundary, because why the fuck should I do that when you won't take care of yourself there?"