The lone female vampire was seemingly the one most feared by the other vampires. After she agreed to join Jason in his conquest of the transformation zone, the four males looked at her and went off by themselves to discuss. From their expressions, the discussion was forceful and unfriendly. In the end, two chose to throw in with Jason while the last two refused. One of the refusers was Wassily.
“What is it you think you can accomplish?” Jason asked them. “You have no power, here. You’re at the mercy of forces larger than yourself.”
“You think that you’re a power greater than me?” Wassily asked.
“No,” Jason said. “But I’ve taken control of some of the power here. Enough that the ground you’re standing on belongs to me.”
“Then come over here and show me your power, little boy. Or are you afraid to step into the dark?”
Jason shook his head.
“I’ve risked too much over pride too many times,” he said sadly. “It always ends up being others who pay the price. I’m done risking the fate of the world for my own short-sighted goals. So, if I have to work with the man who killed my brother I’ll do it. If the price of saving everyone is letting you people walk away, I’ll do that too. I came here to shut down your operation and that's done. I can live with waiting to kill you down the line.”
“This is not the place to make a stand, Wassily,” Elizabeth said. “There is too much going on here that we don’t understand. We’ve waited centuries to rule this world. You can wait a few days until this boy is no longer protected by the power he wields here.”
“Do you truly believe the world is in danger? The entire world. That’s as nonsensical as it being a sphere.”
“Wait,” Jason said. “You’re a flat-Earther? Oh, crap; you’re all super-old.”
“What do you mean, the world is a sphere?” the other refuser asked.
“Of course it’s not a sphere,” Wassily said. “If it was a sphere, people would fall off the bottom. That anyone believes that nonsense is a reflection of what happens when peasants run around without a firm hand at the tiller.”
“As much as I want to dive into this,” Jason said, “and I really, really do, there are more important things at hand. Shade, if you would?”
Darkness streamed from Jason’s shadow, moved across the border into the night zone and transformed into three carriages, each tethered to black horses with glowing white manes and hooves.
“Those will protect you from the sun as we return to the heart of my domain,” Jason said. “Anyone who remains behind will most likely die, and die soon.”
The three vampires who chose to join were Elizabeth, Klaus and Georges. Jason had provided a carriage for each, both to avoid further conflict and to isolate them within the group. The carriages and the mystical horse-forms that drew them were shadow-stuff, made from Shade’s bodies. They moved across the ground at blistering speed, largely ignoring the terrain. They were blacked out entirely to shield their occupants from the sun and Jason had timed their approach so that they returned to his core domain early in the night.
The celestines once again emerged at Jason’s arrival but Jason had Shade usher them back inside before letting any of his new allies out. The necromancer looked up at the eye floating over the pagoda.
“You know that looks just like–”
“I know what it looks like,” Jason said.
Jason left his guests in the mezzanine lounge and ascended to the top floor. He took his usual place on the balcony and triggered the transfiguration of his new territories: the messenger territory and those surrendered by the necromancer.
- You have claimed sufficient territory to stabilise the transformation zone and separate it from the convergent astral space.
- Separating the space with the current territory will have a disruptive effect on the dimensional membrane of the surrounding reality. Claim additional territory to reduce the severity of this effect. Current severity reduction: 88.9%
- Would you like to stabilise the transformation zone Y/N?
It had to be a hundred percent. It was the only reason he would tolerate the people downstairs when he wanted nothing more than to kill them all.
“Mr Asano,” Shade said. “Mr North has requested to come up and speak to you.”
Jason could sense everything inside his spirit domain, including Mr North standing on the elevating platform, which he mentally ordered to ascend. While he waited, he closed his eyes. His vision extended out and he surveyed one of his new territories, which was a land under a perpetual eclipse.
The macabre ziggurats and gothic towers of the necromancer’s former territory were now alien and crystalline, glowing with eerie internal light. The dead earth was now covered in low plants that glowed with luminescent foliage. It was strange but beautiful.
Jason had chosen to look at that spot because he could sense the two vampires that had refused to join. He had been wrong in thinking the vampires would die, but could tell from their auras that they were changed. Like the gold-ranker, Tran, the vampires had been claimed by unstable energy and transformed into anomalies. One was a hulking grotesque of unliving flesh, twice the size of a man and grossly misshapen. This was Wassily, although none of his former personality was evident on his new face.
Wassily’s face made plain the nature that the beauty of a vampire hid: power and hunger; the need to devour. The other vampire was similarly reflective of this, but in a very different way. The other vampire had turned into a cluster of blood ticks, each the size of a dining table. Only from their shared aura could Jason tell that they were a unified creature and the new form of the vampire.
The auras of the former vampires were altered but recognisable. To Jason’s senses, their auras were more vampiric than vampires. These were vampires with their veneers removed; their humanity stripped away to leave only the monstrous aspect.
Jason was not taken aback by the distillation of their vampiric thirst. For all its clarity, it paled in comparison to the familiar living inside Jason. Compared to the apocalyptic hunger of a sanguine horror, even the most clarified vampiric thirst was laughable.
Sensing the approach of Shade and Mr North, Jason opened his eyes, his perception returning to the pagoda. He turned from the balustrade to face the approaching pair and Mr North stopped, giving Jason an assessing look.
“You know that I was already gold rank when I came to this world, Mr Asano. I’ve seen great adventurers in the other world.”
“So?” Jason asked.
“The essence users of this world are garbage, as you know. The Americans and the Chinese are adequate, but under the guidance of Dawn and Miss Hurin, you've surpassed them in your time here. Once you return to my homeworld, you’ll be able to go around without embarrassing yourself, but don’t expect the kind of advantages you have here. Try taking on someone above your rank and you’ll meet the Reaper without knowing what happened.”
“I know,” Jason said. “I thought it would be amazing to be a famous hero, but I was naïve. Again. It’s not clean. The situations are ugly and so are the solutions. People see things how they want to, even when the truth is both completely different and blindingly obvious.”
Mr North smiled.
"Yes, they do."
“I’m looking forward to being just some guy again,” Jason said.
“I think, perhaps, you’re still a little naïve, Mr Asano. I don’t think you’re as past playing hero as you like to tell yourself, even if you should be.”
“What did you come here for, Mr North?”
“I just told you that you shouldn’t expect to be exceptional, but there is one area in which you are.”
“Aura strength, I know.”
“No. Well, yes, but that’s not the point I’m making. The strength speaks to what you’ve endured, but not your capability. I’m talking about the remarkable deftness with which you use such a powerful weapon.”
“Yes. Who taught you?”
“Farrah. I picked up some more from others along the way. Dawn, my friend Craig.”
“Very smart. Not many in the other world get a chance to learn from them as vampires aren’t exactly tolerated. And a diamond ranker, and not just any. Your aura manipulation is truly something to be proud of, Mr Asano. Gold-rank vampires are nothing to sneeze at. Their instinctive knack for certain aspects of aura use has confounded many an essence user. Lying to their faces, at a rank below them, no less? The picture you painted them with your aura was true artistry.”
“Is that why you came up here? To compliment me for being a good liar?”
“I’m advising you to lean into that strength, in the other world. Your peers will be highly capable, and you’re a decent all-rounder, but every all-rounder needs something to set them apart. If you want to be truly great, leverage that advantage. Bring it into everything you do.”
“Auras have their uses, but they aren’t applicable in every situation.”
“Not with that attitude. As it stands, you’re wasting that strength.”
“So, you didn’t come here to compliment me. You came to tell me I suck.”
“I came to remind you to be vigilant. Don’t let the vampires know your true intentions.”
Jason took a step forward.
“What do you know of my true intentions?” he asked, his voice turning icy.
“Mr Asano, I knew how this was going to end from the moment I was trapped in this place.”
“Do I have to kill you, Mr North?”
“No, Mr Asano. You just want to.”
They looked at each other in silence for a long time.
“Shade, take Mr North back downstairs.”
Shade led North away again and Jason turned back to the railing, closing his eyes. Once again, his vision moved to the dark realm under the eclipse and the two former vampires. They were no moving together and seemed to be roaming the empty territory, looking for a means to assuage their hunger. They were moving roughly in the direction of the heart of his domain, although they would take a vast amount of time to reach it at their current pace.
“What do you think, Shade?” Jason asked.
“I cannot see what you see, Mr Asano, but I assume you are checking on the vampires who neglected to join us.”
“They aren’t vampires anymore.”
“I recall you saying something about taking risks over pride.”
“This isn’t the same fight,” Jason said. “I don’t think they have any intelligence left. Even if I can’t win, I’m confident I can escape.”
“Can you win?” Shade asked.
“I think so.”
“Then we should go.”
“Yeah? Not the answer I was expecting.”
“Caution is not about avoiding battles, Mr Asano. It’s about choosing them.”
“Alright, then. Let’s go kill a Polish ex-vampire.”
Jason opened a portal arch and stepped through.
There were eight of the giant blood ticks and they moved quickly. Their flesh was soft but they had praying mantis-like arm blades of incredibly hard chitin. If not for the swarm of Shade bodies that spread out, their numbers and skittering speed would have overwhelmed Jason in short order. One of Shade’s bodies was set off towards the other former vampire, racing along the ground in the form of a horse at speeds that would shame a motorcycle.
Jason kept his other familiars unmanifested for the moment as he shadow-jumped to reposition, dodge and strike. He had two of Gordon’s orbs around him to turn into shields and intercept attacks. They were hammered by arm blades and were not enough to intercept every attack but they shielded Jason from the worst hits.
Jason’s life drain and health regeneration abilities were in full swing as he made attacks and cast spells to lay his afflictions on everything. The gold-rank ticks were weaker individually than a gold-rank monster but as a cluster, they posed a significant threat to Jason. This was demonstrated when a blade arm shattered one of his orb shields and an immediate follow-up severed his arm, just below the shoulder.
Straps of bloody leather shot out from Jason’s robe, grabbed the loose arm and pulled it back into place.
- Familiar [Sanguine Horror] has consumed significant biomass to reattach your arm.
- Familiar can reconstitute biomass over time when subsumed into the summoner or by making life drain attacks.
The early parts of the fight were even hairier than Jason had anticipated, but the ticks grew weaker with every passing moment. His rigor mortis affliction slowed down both the physical and the healing speed of the monsters, even as their bodies were increasingly ravaged. Their gold rank bodies seemed almost impervious to Jason’s afflictions in the beginning, but their exponential growth was inexorable.
Meanwhile, Jason was trying something new. In addition to his usual evasion tactics, he was more actively trying to use his aura to feint. It was something new and inexpertly applied, but several times it helped him dodge an attack that otherwise would have hit, or land an attack that would have missed.
The first tick finally fell, then a second and a third. The transcendent light of his execute spell savaged them but didn’t eradicate the corpses entirely, the way it did with most enemies. Even though transcendent damage ignored rank and defences, Jason’s silver-rank power could only fuel it so much. Once more, he was astounded at what felt like the indestructibility of even weak gold-rank enemies. It was only when the final tick fell that the former vampire truly died. Like the spider anomaly boss Jason had fought, only by killing all of it was it truly dead.
- You have defeated [Reality-Dysphoric Anomaly].
Jason didn’t waste time, immediately using blood harvest to drain the remnant life force from the dead ticks, ramping up his speed and recovery power. He then shadow-jumped to the Shade he sent after the other vampiric anomaly, kilometres away.
The ogrish monster proved the easier fight because it was alone and not fast for a gold-rank, while Jason was now boosted to near gold-rank levels of speed. His blood powers were effective against it and Jason pulled out his other familiars, giving him the edge in numbers.
Even so, there was no such thing as an easy fight against a gold-rank anything. Jason took a couple of square hits that send him flying like a cricket ball, his muscle mashed and his bones broken. He had to recall Colin to consume more of his biomass before the hulking former vampire capitalised and devoured Jason altogether. When the brute was finally on the verge of death, Jason called Colin back out to replenish itself by gorging on the vampire.
- You have defeated [Reality-Dysphoric Anomaly].