Daz was by himself now. He had told Rose, Madison and Vanessa that he planned to find the winning slot machines in the ruler and champion equivalents of this casino before checking a few other ones.
The three of them were fine with that. Madison wanted to come with him, but she wasn't a champion nor was she a ruler. Daz agreed to put the effort in and actually check his auction phone so they could keep talking via text.
Now walking down the ruler amusement centre and gambling ring's hallway, Daz was looking at his phone. "So I just click here? This is kinda similar to my old flip-phone... kinda..."
A few rings later, a voice came through the device. "That's a surprise. I thought you didn't like tech much. 'Sup, Uriel?"
"It's not that I don't like it," Daz said as he held the phone up to his ear, "It's that I just don't understand it much. I'm working to change that."
"Cool. So, whatcha need? Did ya just wanna chat with little old me, or what?" Crusher asked casually as she hummed to herself. There was music in the background, so Daz assumed that she was in a club or dance room of some sort. Her male voice was a bit off-putting, but apart from that, he could understand her clearly enough.
"I want you to go to a casino. Rose and Maddy are there with a new Fort Skip recruit. I want you to act as a stopgap for flies," Daz stated.
"Oh! Sounds fun, sure thing, hahaha! Text me the room's name. I'll forget it if you just tell me. I'll bring Dorian too. He's sick of dancing anyway," Crusher laughed.
Daz smiled - something that he'd been doing a lot as of late. "Thanks, Crusher. I owe you one."
"Nah. You don't owe me shit. Have fun with whatever you're doin', Uriel." With that said, Crusher hung up.
Daz tapped the auction phone against his chin a few times thoughtfully. "What an interesting person. Really, it's so hard to understand what she's thinking... She might be the most adapted survivor so far. I'll have to pay for her potential test after the auction's over. Even if she says that, I should still repay her at least somewhat."
Daz was disappointed with the lord amusement centre and gambling ring's slot machines. He only went to the three largest casinos, but still, even with his over one-thousand-and-three-hundred points of luck, he only gained six-million total merit points from all three casinos combined. Hardly any of the machines gave him a positive reaction when he focused his instinct on them.
As he was walking back to the waiting room to head to the champion's amusement centre and gambling ring, he stopped at the strength challenge door. He took out his phone, replied to Madison's emoji-filled text, and then looked at the time. "Hmm... There's still forty-five minutes before the ruler auction... Crusher couldn't access this challenge since she isn't a ruler... Maybe I should check it out?"
The tiny demon princess who had been silent for a while now, Reika, stretched her little astral body before lazing on Daz's halo again. 'Why not? We see no harm. Perhaps you can defeat her best record?'
Daz chuckled. "I doubt it. With that feather attachment of hers, once she put it on her gloves and redid the general version of this challenge, she got a score of six-hundred-and-twenty tonnes. You think I can even come close to that?"
'You will not know until you try. It would be wise regardless to know where you stand in comparison to her in raw strength should she ever become an enemy. She is nice, but she is unpredictable,' Reika pointed out.
Daz frowned. "I hate myself for this, but I have to agree with you a bit. I can probably beat her in a serious one-on-one, but yeah, sure. It'll only cost me time." After saying that, Daz pushed open the door and walked in.
The room was the exact same as the one he remembered seeing in Crusher's recordings. It was simply nothing more than a large football-field-sized auditorium with a machine in its centre.
Unsurprisingly, since the population of rulers was far fewer than the population of general survivors, the hall was almost empty. Almost.
A short girl wearing a pair of golden metal gauntlets was sitting cross-legged in front of the machine and she was holding her chin very thoughtfully as she stared at the display screen that showed the current record and the prize money.
Daz followed her gaze and read the information.
'Current record: 262-tonnes of force.
Current prize pool: 4,546,000 merit points.'
"That's a lot of points considering the number of rulers out there. I highly doubt there are over four-thousand rulers willing to try this test, right?" Daz rhetorically asked himself as he walked forwards. "Either it's been challenged by the same people a lot, or its prize constantly goes up by itself. I never checked if the general or champion ones do that..."
The young girl turned her head to the side to look at him, revealing a cute face filled with baby fat. She seemed to be of Asian heritage. Daz had no idea what part of Asian that heritage was, to be exact. Maybe Taiwanese, Mongolian or Chinese? It was hard to tell for the young man.
Oddly enough, her hair was fiery-red and she had two glowing horns protruding out of her forehead. The edges of her face also seemed cracked. Within these cracks, it looked like lava was flowing between them.
"Wow. You're cool. What even are you? That's a hell of an evolution," Daz commented as he stood next to the seated girl.
Of course, it was wholly possible for her appearance to just be a disguise, but Daz's instincts told him that this was the girl's true form.
"Why should I answer you?" she snapped back.
Daz laughed softly. "Because I asked?"
"Hmm... That's fair. I'm a Lava Demoness," she responded with surprisingly little resistance.
'Heh... That was stupidly easy. Is she gullible, very trusting, or just testing me? I can't exactly look down on her for being a kid when she's a ruler. There's also the fact that Rose is still a kid despite all that she's capable of,' Daz thought. "Would you mind telling me how you got that evolution? I'm very curious."
"Why should I?" the girl asked once again.
"Hmm. Because I asked?" Daz tried his luck.
She shook her head. "You already used that reason. Think of another."
'Interesting...' Daz held his chin and tapped his cheek a few times. "Because I'll tell you how I became an Archreaper."
"That's fair. First, I killed my parents, so I got the option to become a demoness. After that, I stopped a volcano from erupting and used it as my base, so I got the option to become a Lava Demoness. Your turn," she answered.
Daz was certainly very interested in such an interesting set of statements, but he upheld his side of the deal. "I pulled a soul out of a zombie's body, allowing me to become a reaper. After that, the system recognised me as being fair when judging a criminal, so I became a Justice Reaper. Finally, I was awarded a free chance to evolve and thus become an Archreaper: the peak of the reaper species."
"Three evolutions? How did you get a free chance? I'll trade my name for that information," the girl offered in earnest.
'Does this girl like trades, or just fairness? She's a bit strange, but I can't say I hate it. She hasn't lied thus far, which is good,' he concluded. "Sure. I ranked third overall on the potential ranking, so that was my reward."
She scrunched up her eyebrows. "Never heard of that ranking list. Oh well, fair's fair. My name is Hsiao-Han. I abandoned my family name, so just Hsiao-Han is fine. Even Han will do if you struggle to pronounce Hsiao."
'System, what language is that name from, and does it have a special meaning?' Daz asked.
Bronze-level system access is required for that knowledge. Confirmed access level of the host to be ruby-level.
Hsiao-Han is a Taiwanese name and holds the meaning of ‘dwarf bamboo'. In Taiwanese culture, girls with this name are believed to be down to earth, very beautiful, and short.
'Well, she seems to fit all three boxes so far. Interesting,' Daz thought. "Han then. Nice to formally meet you. I'm Daz."
"I know." Han got up and stretched her back like a cat. "I'm ready to test myself again. You might want to get back a little bit."
"Sure," he replied casually. Daz was more than willing to let a potential ally go first instead of demanding that he was given the chance just because he had walked into the room and wanted the prize money.
Once he was about fifty meters away, Han nodded and began mentally chanting her skills. 'Dragon's Rage. Demonification. Flow of The Earth. Strength Boost. Gauntlet Enhancer.'
A powerful raging aura of red energy surrounded her body and made her hair float. Her entire body became cracked with lava and her horns grew to be twice their size. Blue veins appeared on the floor and channelled some sort of ethereal energy into her tiny frame. Finally, her golden gauntlets were covered in a layer of silver light.
Daz opened his eyes wide. "Wow. She looks pretty strong. Maybe slightly below Crusher's level?" he pondered aloud.
Han took no notice and wound up her first before she punched the target as hard as she could. "Ha!"
The number on the display ticked up until stopping at a solid '254'. An incredibly respectable amount of force.
Han's red aura disappeared, the silver glow around her gauntlets vanished, her shoulder-length hair returned to a state which followed the laws of gravity. Oddly enough, her skin stayed cracked and her horns didn't shrink.
"Why is your body still like that?" Daz asked. "Is it not a skill you can cancel? Ah, in exchange, I'll tell you exactly how one of my more useful skills works."
"Okay. Yes, I can't turn Demonification off. It has a fifteen-minute run-time and then a thirty minute-cooldown. I can ignore the cooldown in the auction, thankfully." She sat down again and resumed her staring at the display screen from earlier.
"I see. One of my best skills is called Justice Chains. It will shackle my target and attack their soul. It's very hard to resist. To summarise it, it forces you to experience the pain you have caused with your past crimes. It also lasts longer the more crimes you've committed up to a max duration of thirty-minutes. It has no cooldown. It just costs me death energy to use it," Daz explained.
"Powerful." Han nodded. "Feel free to challenge the room. I won't mind if you win. I'm not after the merit points. That was a freebie since you told me a lot more about your skill than I did about mine."
'She's really mature for a kid, huh?' Daz thought. "Thanks."
He walked up to the target and asked aloud, "System, can I use anything within my capabilities to hit this thing with? I don't need to use my fist, do I?"
|Denied. The host must use their body to strike the target. This is a test of strength, not of overall combat potential.|
Han shook her head silently. 'If we were allowed to use all of our weapons and skills, I wouldn't just be using my gauntlets.'
Daz stood still as he pondered over ways to get around this limitation. "Hmm... So skills that directly affect my body or enhance my physical power are fine, right, system?"
|Confirmed. That is correct.|
"Final question." He smirked. "Do my clones count as a part of me?"
|Confirmed. That is correct.|
"I knew it. There are always ways around this kind of stuff. The system isn't stupidly rigid," Daz muttered. He then summoned both of his clones before grumbling, "It's a real shame I've never focused on strength. Still, the base stat is pretty damned high, so hopefully, it's enough."
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