Jason and Mobley passed each other as Jason walked in the direction of the rune tortoise.
“Sorry mate,” Jason commiserated. The burned and blackened would-be adventurer just shot him a contemptuous look and kept walking. Jason wasn’t sure if it was the immediate circumstances that drew the man’s ire, or just general dislike. Jason had become an outsider to the group, for a couple of reasons.
The first was Jason’s unusual mannerisms and general disregard for status and etiquette. The same traits that helped him get along with the people in every town and village they passed through didn’t endear him to wealthy scions that made up his fellow candidates. For them, status was everything, and only someone like Humphrey, born at the very top of the pile, could disregard it.
The other reason they disliked him was his friendship with Humphrey. The Geller family stood at the peak of Greenstone society, and their local power was just a fragment of their world-spanning influence. On top of that, Danielle Geller was the strongest adventurer to come out of Greenstone in generations. Building a friendship with her son was a ticket to the top not just for an adventurer, but their entire family.
For some of the candidates, making a connection with Humphrey was more important than passing the field assessment. Having their chances monopolised by Jason left them increasingly rankled. Jason didn’t much like those who shunned him for this reason, finding moments to tell him that he should know his place. He much preferred someone like Liana Stelline, who disliked him for himself rather than having an agenda.
Jason moved forward until he was just outside what he estimated to be the maximum range for the rune tortoise’s powers, based on its battle with Mobley. He had a new wristband, which had a small razor that could be easily pushed in and out of a sheath. The tiny blade was in no way an effective weapon, but the sharp edge was perfect for quickly and easily drawing a shallow line of blood on the back of his hand.
Holding the cut away from him, leeches started spraying out of the wound like he’d knocked the side off a fire hydrant.
“Now I know what an emptying balloon feels like,” he muttered. “Alright, Colin; fetch.”
What came next was a slow-motion pursuit as Jason’s sedately ambulating pile of leeches undulated in the direction the tortoise’s soporific escape.
“I know there isn’t a strict time constraint,” Vincent called out, “but we do have other monsters to get to.”
“Don’t worry,” Jason called back. “Colin is just my stalking horse.”
The rest of the group looked on with varying reactions.
“Are those leeches?”
“Did he say Colin?”
“What’s a horse?”
Jason trailed well behind his familiar. His concern was that the tortoise had failed to notice it, so he pulled out a throwing knife. The skill book had given him proficiency with an array of weaponry, but Rufus had concentrated training on only a few. As Jason’s primary weapon was his poison dagger, Rufus had focused on various knife techniques, even throwing.
“They won’t deal any real damage,” Rufus had explained as he introduced Jason to throwing knives, “but they can offer some utility, or distract an enemy in a critical moment. Putting some poison on them wouldn’t be a terrible idea, either.”
Jason tossed the knife, but it was a long throw as Jason maintained distance, landing an embarrassing few metres to the left of the tortoise. He turned around to face the group.
“New knives,” he yelled at them. “I’m still getting used to them.”
As second attempt also missed, but the third bounced off the tortoise’s shell with a barely audible thud, rather than the satisfying clank Jason had been expecting.
“I think movie sound effects have given me unrealistic expectations for how cool the world sounds.”
There was a sharp crack as an arc of electricity erupted out of the shell in reaction. It didn’t reach Jason, instead blasting into his familiar, sending scorched leeches scattering about. On the tortoise’s shell, one of the runes dimmed away.
“Actually, that sounded amazing,” Jason said, looking at the burned and blackened remains of leeches. The pile was about a third smaller.
“You alright, buddy?” Jason called out. “Wobble to the left if you’re alright.”
The pile moved slightly left as it continued the pursuit. The tortoise slowly turned to face its new opponents. Jason observed there were only three runes still glowing on the tortoise, after which it would be no more powerful than an ordinary tortoise of its size.
Another rune faded as a huge globule of water shot into the air, then burst into mist. From the mist, bullets of water started shooting down into the leech pile, but the water didn’t seem to have a huge effect of the leeches.
In the wake of the water bullets’ failure, the penultimate rune faded and the humid, delta air was suddenly stirred into motion. Directly over the pile of leeches, a small, but powerful dust devil formed, sucking up the leeches and scattering them to the wind. One even slapped into Jason’s face, which he peeled off with a frown. As the wind faded, Jason looked around at the leeches cast as far as dozens of metres away.
“You did good, little guy,” Jason said, moving the leech to the back of his hand where it disappeared into the cut. “You just gather yourself back together while I deal with the mean tortoise.”
Jason looked over at the tortoise, which only had one remaining rune lit up. Confident he could handle one ability, he started closing in on the sluggish monster. The tortoise, for its part, made a very optimistic dash for freedom as Jason strolled in its direction. When Jason reached it, it ducked its head and limbs into its shell. The last rune dimmed as the tortoise’s body took on a metallic sheen.
Jason crouched down to peer into the openings where the tortoise had disappeared into its shell. Some kind of plate had moved into place at each of them.
“I’ve seen this ability,” Vincent said, startling Jason. He was sure he’d seen Vincent back with the others just moments earlier, and hadn’t felt the approach of his aura.
“This is probably the strongest ability a rune tortoise has,” Vincent said.
“How so?” Jason asked.
“It massively increases its defence,” Vincent said. “It’ll take a bronze-rank attack to break in, and a strong one at that. Even worse for you, it makes it immune to afflictions.”
“How long can it keep it up?” Jason asked.
“Not sure,” Vincent said. “Certainly long enough for its powers to come back. “I’ll deal with it now.”
“Hold on,” Jason said. “You’re the one who asked for a volunteer, so let me sort it out.”
“You think you can get around this ability?” Vincent asked.
“Easily,” Jason said. “There’s a bunch of ways. It still needs to breathe, right? I don’t know if it’s aquatic, or burrowing, but we could bury it, or drown it. We could throw it off a great big cliff; I bet that’d crack it.”
“I don’t think there’s a lot of cliffs in the delta,” Vincent said.
“I’m just saying there’s options,” Jason said. “The one I’m going to go for is testing out a gift a friend gave me.”
Jason drew a sword from his inventory. It was simple but elegant in design, not overly long, with a straight, double-edged blade. The hilt was red gold, the grip a dark, soft fabric. A short, simple tassel, of the same black fabric, dangled from the red gold pommel.
Other than knives, straight swords were the weapons Rufus had drilled Jason on the most, knowing Gary was already working on such a weapon for Jason. Taking it out, Jason smiled as he thought of the day Gary had presented it.
“We all wanted to give you something,” Gary had told him when handing over the sword. “Farrah gave you that awakening stone, and Rufus the skill book. I made you this and it turned out pretty well, I thought. It’s not a big deal, or anything.”
Despite Gary’s words, Jason could feel the care and effort that had gone into it. Magic items had auras of their own, and the aura of the sword was stronger than any other iron-rank items Jason had encountered.
Item: [Dread Salvation] (iron rank [growth], legendary)
A sword crafted with gratitude, in hope it would be of the greatest use in the moment of greatest need. It was forged with passion and expertise to be a reliable companion, bestowing upon it an incredible potential (weapon, sword).
- Effect: If a special attack that applies an affliction is made with this sword, but the subject of the attack has a physical immunity to it, an instance of [Stone Cutter] is applied to the blade.
- Effect: If a special attack that applies an affliction is made with this sword, but the subject of the attack has a magical immunity to it, an instance of [Spell Breaker] is applied to the blade.
- [Stone Cutter] (magic, stacking): All attacks deal additional resonating-force damage; highly effective against physical defences. Additional instances have a cumulative effect.
- [Spell Breaker] (magic, stacking): All attacks deal additional disruptive-force damage; highly effective against magical defences and incorporeal entities. Additional instances have a cumulative effect.
Growth Conditions (bronze):
- 1 kilogram of blood gold
- 4 kilograms of low grade (bronze rank) star-fall silver
- 100 bronze-rank iron quintessence gems.
- 100 bronze-rank magic quintessence gems.
- 1000 bronze rank spirit coins.
- Ritual of bronze ascension.
Jason didn’t read past the description before grasping Gary’s huge, hairy body in a hug.
“I’m not really a hugger,” Gary had said as he awkwardly returned the embrace.
“Well you should be,” Jason told him. “You’re really good at it.”
Jason looked down at the bunkered tortoise, then back at his sword. He turned it over in his hand, watching the sun strike the clean edge.
“He’s been secretly working on it for weeks,” Rufus had told Jason later. “We don’t really talk about it, but none of us thought we were getting out of that sacrifice chamber alive. We owe you a favour we can’t ever repay.”
Jason slapped him on the arm.
“Friends don’t count favours, Rufus. They just show up when they’re needed.”
Jason looked down at the tortoise, hunkered in its shell.
“Is something wrong, Mr. Asano?” Vincent asked.
“Not at all.”
Rather than bring the sword down on the shell, he casually stabbed the monster’s side.
- Special attack [Punish] has inflicted [Sin] on [Rune Tortoise].
- [Rune Tortoise] is immune to afflictions.
- [Sin] does not take effect.
- Affliction immunity has triggered an effect on weapon [Dread Salvation].
- Weapon [Dread Salvation] has gained an instance of [Stone Cutter].
“You may need a little more gusto to penetrate the protection,” Vincent said.
“Actually,” Jason said, “the key is persistence.”
Jason stabbed out again and again. With each strike the sword became more powerful, until the first gouge appeared in monster’s side. A section of flesh chipped off like stone under the monster’s protection ability.
“I’m an affliction specialist,” Jason told Vincent as he continued to chip away. “We don’t do speed. We do inevitability.”