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A note from Amsdoff

Alright. New year, new chapter.

I wanted to do a longer chapter, but it turns out 4 hours of sleep doesn't make writing easier. However, I'm pretty sure this is coherent enough, and it was fun to write. We're getting into the last major arc of book 1. Maybe last two, depending. God knows how many words will actually make that up, but hey: it's up to the mid 120 thousands in words. If you told me I'd write something this long a year ago, I'd have laughed.

I hope all of you had a good time celebrating (or sleeping) last night. 

Enjoy!

Also… Kaythe has a status screen now that I can access:

[Name: Kaythe

Level: 2

Health: 15/23

H Recovery: 3.25 / hour

Stamina: 5/21

S Recovery: 5.5 / minute

Dexterity 21
Strength 6 +4 (10)
Endurance 6 +5 (11)

Toughness 10 +3 (13)
Intelligence 9 +4 (13)
Perception 45]

Well, none of that comes as much of a surprise. I mean, I didn’t know his Perception was that high, but considering how much he gives me via our bond, it’s not outrageous.

Kaythe starts wiggling excitedly again. “Predator! I have grown stronger!”

“Yeah, congrats Kaythe. Any idea how you levelled instead of getting skills?”

“No!” Yeah, ok it was worth a shot… I guess. I shrug, mostly to myself, and quickly heal Kaythe up to full. My bag is full of monster corpses, so there isn’t much point, but it’s good practice.

[Skill levels gained! Transfuse Energy +1 (2)]

Honestly, I’m getting pretty good at healing, I don’t think there’s much I can’t deal with anym-

You couldn’t save Rav. The thought hits me like a punch to the gut. You were too slow, too weak, too untalented. A dark reminder that sits in my head, keeping me from being happy… and now it has more ammunition to use against me. I shake my head, but it doesn’t remove the feeling. Kaythe seems to sense my feelings, and crawls onto my shoulders, wrapping me in a vague approximation of a hug. The idea that a Cathid is trying to make me feel better is actually more effective at cheering me up than the actual actions, but I pet Kaythe reassuringly anyway. Life is suffering, and punishing yourself for mistakes. I guess… the best you can hope for is to be better next time. Make the mistakes less bad.

“Anthony! You ready?” Lynn calls out as she heads over. “Oh, I see you already found Lauren.” Wha-? I start to look around, trying to see what she means, and Lauren fucking appears next to me like a wraith, cocksure grin already plastered across her face. The grin grows wider when I jump slight away in reaction, and yell something manly, like: “OHFUCKWHAT”.

“Oh hey there Amadeus, didn’t see you there. Something scare you?”

“You are the worst. The absolute worst.”

“Wait, why did you call him Amadeus? I thought your name was Anthony?”

Fuck me sideways.

---

A solemn, but determined atmosphere hangs over The Barrows when we return. Marie accepts the load of Treant corpses with a tight smile and a nod, but puts them aside for later. She’s busy standing watch with Amy and Samuel, and they all seem to be taking it seriously. Good. We’re on the razor’s edge here, and we might just survive the coming onslaught if we get enough time in first. Amy immediately grabs a few larger pieces of the Treants and gets to work carving arrow shafts out of them. She works faster than should be reasonable, or even possible. Clearly she has some assistance from the system, but it’s still mesmerizing to watch her hands move impossibly quickly and precisely. I would never have guessed there was so much finesse required in just crafting arrows…

Lauren smacks my arm lightly. “Quit staring, let’s leave them to it. It looks like the other team is sleeping right now, so we should probably train instead.”

“Ugh, going from training right to defending for the night? That’s the worst idea ever.”

“Either we deal with that shitty draw or they do. Which do you think is better, glorious leader?” She says the last part with no small amount of sarcasm, but she’s right. Who’s going to respect somebody that always chooses the easy way? Though, to be fair, I’d thought I’d set the right precedent already by taking watch for the nights…

Some people just can’t be satisfied. Like Zathis, when he’s training us. Another brutal round of pain filled fun awaits us in the veritable arena that his room has become. This time, the training is so intense that I don’t have the focus to observe what hell the others are put through. That, and Zathis really wants to hammer home the usefulness of my new greatsword skill. Over the hours we spend training, he continuously pushes me to, and then over, the edge of what my body can handle. If the system wasn’t accelerating our natural healing, and if my own ability with healing was less, I’d be worried about brain damage just from the number of times I pass out and hit my head. That’s not even counting the damage from all the projectiles, stone swords, and crowds of statues that I fail to navigate. Not by much, honestly, but a sword that ‘just barely’ hits you still hurts a lot more than one that misses completely, or so Zathis boomed jovially when I complained. The other thing I quickly notice is that I don’t have the problem of my muscles getting too tired and needing rest. I get exhausted, and I have to spend a while recovering my Stamina, but when it’s back, I can go on until it’s gone again (and a little past, at the cost of burning health instead). Broken muscle fibres, most commonly associated with exercise and muscle growth, count as damage to me, as far as Energy is concerned. I just need to spend a few moments binding everything back together, and bam, back to full. I think… the only issue with doing this is that I don’t feel much stronger every time. I probably only manage to heal back to the way I was, so I can’t maximize muscle growth by abusing my healing abilities.

Which sucks.

But, that doesn’t count for my Endurance. The system seems to recognize ‘draining Stamina’ as the required factor for raising it. Strength, I guess you have to train the old fashioned way. Likewise, Toughness requires being damaged and healing naturally through it, which I really hate. I’m momentarily envious of Kaythe and his ability to just get Primary Skills by levelling. The jerk.

Speaking of Kaythe, Zathis makes an effort to train him as well, and judging by the amount of distress and pain being conveyed over our mental link, it’s going well. Given his lack of experience even using his new body, I’m just glad Zathis hasn’t accidentally killed him yet.

I flow out of the way of an incoming projectile (aimed squarely at my head), and only notice while I’m spinning to deflect a follow-up attack exactly how close it came to smashing my skull. I should care a lot, but I don’t. I’m so deep into the battle trance that I doubt I’d even notice if I was dead until a few minutes later. Where my internal focus is almost zero, my knowledge of my surroundings reaches ridiculous levels. The slight sound of rock on rock alerts me to a possible attack, but the whistling of wind confirms it’s a projectile. I’m already moving to avoid the next two projectiles by the time that shot is even a threat.

Sometimes I can’t dodge. I know ahead of time that my body won’t be quick enough, nor my weight distributed correctly even if it was, so I have to sense the attack of least lethality and take it to a place that doesn’t matter. Much easier said than done, but when I manage to pull it off, I barely feel the pain. The resulting stagger leads into the next movement, and a subsequent dodge. Even my mistakes are worked into the dance, as long as I perceive them first.

Drenched in sweat, I collapse a final time, feeling borderline euphoria as I finally let my body relax.

“F- uck.” I huff out, with barely the spare air for even that much.

“The man just keeps going. Hey, if you can’t move tonight, and you get fucked up by some Shades, don’t expect me to save you. I’ll just think back to you showing off like this during practice, and think: he’s got it all under control.”

“Fuck. You. Lauren.” A breath per word, without nearly as much bite as I had wanted.

“Mmm, I don’t think you’d be able to manage it right now, tough guy.” She laughs even harder when she sees my facial expression, and I’m just glad my recent exercise is (hopefully) hiding my blushing. The same can not be said for Lynn, who has been sitting idle for a bit too long for her cheeks to still be that red. She makes an attempt to hide her laughter, but it really only serves to highlight it instead.

“You guys- really- don’t show your leader- enough respect.”

Lynn responds this time. “Oh? You’re our leader? Maybe overall, but on this team, I believe you said: ‘nominate your own’, correct?”

I manage a growl as I slowly push myself to my feet, which only elicits another bout of laughter.

“Fine, fine. I’ll pretend you two didn’t hang around just to get off watching me sweat.” Both women have a moment of stunned silence, before Lynn turns away, beet red, and Lauren grins like a feral cat. “-But, if you’re not willing to just let me be the group leader, I’ve got a proposition.”

Lynn manages to compose herself enough to face me again, tears of laughter still evident in her eyes. “And what, exactly, would that be?”

“We’ll all duel. Best combatant leads the group.”

“Oh fuck yes.” Lauren looks way too giddy. “Now you’re speaking my language!”

“I agree as well.” Lynn nods along.

“Fine! Tomorrow, after we rest.”

“Just so long as you don’t die first. Your legs look more wobbly than a tower of jello.”

I smirk in reply. These two are just the fucking best (worst).

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Amsdoff

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