Despite his mana-efficient abilities, Jason’s reserves depleted as the fight dragged on. He and Colin had tainted dozens upon dozens of the monsters carpeting the bottom of the gorge, pushing Jason’s mana towards empty.
Jason was uncertain of how many monsters were swarming around like ants. Well over a hundred, maybe twice that. The earliest afflicted were ready to drop. He hadn’t loaded them up heavily and they boasted silver-rank endurance but without cleansing, Jason’s afflictions made their deaths an inevitability. He vanished into the shadows again, this time not draining life force but the afflictions from one of the monsters closest to succumbing.
“Feed me your sins.”
He only drained the afflictions of a single monster to replenish his mana and give his regeneration a boost by converting the afflictions into self-healing boons. This was useful as he continued to be hammered by attacks. While the monsters he already attacked were slowed down by his rigor mortis affliction, Jason was always going for the untainted ones, who were happy to pound away at speed.
“How is he still going?” Luis asked. “How long has it been, now?”
“You should never underestimate adventurers,” Kerr said. “Any fool can take in some essences. Using them properly takes training and experience.”
“This guy must be the best adventurer ever.”
“Nope,” Kerr said. “Never seen guild adventurers in action, have you? This feller’s good, sure enough, but that’s how the good ones are. That aura’s a bit much, I’ll grant you, but it takes more than that to get the job done.”
“You’re saying that any guild adventurer could kill all these monsters?”
“Of course not. You have to match the powers to the monsters but this guy wouldn’t have saddled up if it wasn’t the right fight. These affliction types may not kill fast, but they’ll keep killing all day if you feed them enough monsters to be getting on with. I’ll admit that they normally do it from behind a wall of other fellers, but it takes all sorts.”
Jason was monitoring the monsters with his aura. Every single monster had finally been tainted and one in every seven or eight had died already, with more dropping fast. He could have vanished and left the rest to die but there were two problems with that. One was that he didn’t want the monsters resuming their attack on the fort. The other was that it was a long, slow grind to gold-rank and Jason had powers to level. This wasn’t like Earth with its monster waves and proto-spaces. He needed to make the most of the monster surge.
Jason vanished into a shadow and reappeared from another, halfway up the side of the gorge. He kicked off the rocky wall and moved through the air, his cloak unfurling into starlight wings to keep him aloft. Gordon emerged beneath him, all six orbs turning into shields as bone projectiles were flung at them.
With so many monsters, the shields would only hold for a few moments but Jason didn’t need long as he cast his spell. This time, it was the wide-area version.
From their bird’s eye viewpoint, the militia officers watched as Jason took position high in the air. With the bizarre quiet of the battlefield, he was close enough to the sensor that they could hear him chant his spell.
“Feed me your sins.”
Red life force emerged from the monsters like a sea of blood, the dark magic of Jason’s afflictions swirling within it. The black and purple taint erupted from the red sea like a giant monster, an outpouring of sinister power so thick as to obscure the monsters entirely. All that dark energy stormed up to Jason, driving into his body as he drank it all in.
“Sir, are you really sure he isn’t–”
“Don’t say it, Luis. Just don’t.”
The first thing the Feast of Absolution power did was to swap out every poison, disease and unholy affliction plaguing the monsters for the burning light of transcendent damage. As the holy afflictions annihilated the monsters from the inside out, all the original afflictions flowed into Jason and were converted into boons. One was the resistance effect that didn’t help Jason in his current fight. The other very much did.
- [Integrity] (heal-over-time, mana-over-time, stamina-over-time, holy, stacking): Periodically recover a small amount of health, stamina and mana. Additional instances have a cumulative effect.
Despite the all-devouring light inside of them, the monsters didn’t let up their attacks. Gordon’s barriers shattered under a barrage of spears, arrows, needles and darts and Jason called him back. This left Jason suffering the attacks himself, although his cloak was an admirable shield. The weaker attacks were stopped dead, even in massive numbers as clusters of bone needles were flung his way. Spears punched through his cloak, although many missed as it bent space to deflect them. The remaining attacks landed on Jason’s body, but he could take the hits.
Jason already had a huge store of life force and the weapons left him unharmed. His interface ability measured his wellbeing with a small humanoid figure at the periphery of his vision that marked damage to his body with colour-coding. He rarely paid it attention, since he generally didn’t need help to know he’d been stabbed. The excess life force, beyond his normal maximum, was now indicated by a red line over the little figure’s head, like a hit point bar.
The attacks on Jason left him unharmed, his hit point bar diminishing rapidly as the attacks landed. It didn’t even hurt, a spear ramming into his torso bouncing off with no more sensation than a finger poke. The health bar climbed back even faster, though, with the absurd regeneration from more than a thousand instances of the self-healing integrity boon.
Integrity was a short-duration boon but it dropped off one instance at a time. With so many instances, it would take a long while to get through them all. His conjured robes were not as resilient and he replenished them as he dropped towards the ground.
As for the monsters, they were lighting up from the inside, burning with transcendent light. Those who had been afflicted the longest started dying even faster, their dead growing to a fifth of their original number before Jason had even descended to the ground. He dropped quickly, superhero landing amongst the largest field of dead, close to where he had first started fighting the monsters. The earliest afflicted, many had not survived to receive the holy afflictions. As the monsters surged his way, he cast a spell, still on one knee.
“As your lives were mine to reap, so your deaths are mine to harvest.”
The dead monsters were withered with rot, the freshest kills missing chunks dissolved into rainbow smoke as transcendent damage finished them off. Whatever remnant life that remained rose from the corpses and was stolen away by Jason's spell.
Ability: [Blood Harvest] (Blood)
- Spell (drain, boon).
- Base cost: Low mana.
- Cooldown: None.
- Current rank: Silver 4 (04%).
- Effect (iron): Drain the remnant life force of a recently deceased body, replenishing health, stamina and mana. Only affects targets with blood.
- Effect (bronze): Affects any number of bodies in a wide area.
- Effect (silver): Gain an instance of [Blood Frenzy] for each corpse drained, up to a threshold determined by current rank. After reaching the threshold, gain instances of [Blood of the Immortal] instead.
- [Blood Frenzy] (boon, unholy, stacking): Bonus to [Speed] and [Recovery]. Additional instances have a cumulative effect, up to a maximum threshold.
- [Blood of the Immortal] (boon, healing, unholy, stacking): On suffering damage, an instance is consumed to grant a powerful but short-lived heal-over-time effect. Additional instances can be accumulated but do not have a cumulative effect.
Jason's life force was reaching a point where any more was overkill, but it was not the life force that he wanted from the Blood Harvest spell.
- You have gained multiple instances of [Blood Frenzy].
- [Blood Frenzy] has increased your [Speed] and [Recovery] attributes.
- Your [Speed] and [Recovery] attributes have reached the maximum threshold for your current limitations. Additional instances will be converted to [Blood of the Immortal].
- You have gained multiple instances of [Blood of the Immortal].
Jason stood up, the monsters almost upon him. Instead of rushing out of the way, he held out the hand still holding his sinister black and red dagger. What looked like a sacrificial knife morphed into a holy sword of gleaming silver, blue glowing runes engraved down the length of the blade. The runes were the same symbolic language that the brand Jason’s mark of sin burned into his enemies. In this case, they depicted the name of the blade.
Item: [Penitent, The Blade of Sacrifice] (silver rank, conjured)
Conjured holy sword for those willing to pay the price for victory in battles to the death (weapon, sword).
- Effect: Attacks refresh any wounding afflictions on the target. Those wounding effects require additional healing to remove.
- Effect: Attacks inflict an instance of [Price in Blood]. This affliction is applied equally to the person it is inflicted upon and the person who inflicts it. This affliction cannot be cleansed while a person who shares it is alive and is immediately negated if the person who shares it dies. Dismissing [Penitent, the Blade of Sacrifice] does not remove this affliction.
- [Price in Blood] (affliction, holy, blood, stacking): Damage between people who share the affliction is increased, including damage sources in place prior to this affliction taking effect. Damage from holy sources is further increased by an additional amount. Additional instances have a cumulative effect.
It was a sword that escalated a fight with every strike by increasing the damage inflicted by both the recipient and the wielder. This meant that the monsters burning with holy afflictions would die all the faster, but every hit on Jason would be all the worse. With so many monsters bearing down on him, even his absurdly bolstered life force might not be enough if he kept taking hits the way he had been up to that point.
There was only a brief moment between Jason casting the Blood Harvest spell and the monsters converging on him. With his speed attribute boosted into a range rivalling the lower reaches of gold-rank, though, it felt almost luxurious.
As he moved to meet the approaching monsters, Jason was still immersed in the feeling of battle, slipping back into a combat trance state.
The speed of the bone feasters was their strongest physical attribute and they relied on quick reflexes over skill. That speed had led to Jason being wounded over and over, but now he was a ghost, passing through their midst untouched. Their movements now seemed to him as sluggish as they were inexpert.
Jason fell back into the combat trance that drew out every scrap of his potential which, with the increase in his speed, had taken a qualitative leap. Spears, swords and whips missed him by impossibly thin margins, while others seemed to land yet bizarrely slipped past as his cloak bent space around him. This was Jason in the full swell of power, immortal and untouchable.
Jason’s holy sword flashed out again and again. Each time it bit into flesh, the transcendent power burning in the monster it struck grew more violent. The most afflicted monsters were already falling dead, so Jason focused on those who were the least impacted. It was no longer a battle but an execution as Jason started using his Verdict spell to finish doomed monsters. Every time he used his execute ability, a column of transcendent light struck down like a sword from the heavens.
Pulling out a bottle of crystal wash, Jason cleaned himself off. He luxuriated in the sensation of being truly, thoroughly and easily cleansed, which he had long missed in his time on Earth. The crystal wash in his cloud house running out was not the reason events on his homeworld had turned truly grim. It had been a milestone in things going so very wrong, though, with everything from food shortages to monster waves to vampires bringing misery and death.
With crystal wash back in hand, purging the filth from his body, it felt like a chance to wash off the gloom of the past. There were more than enough troubles to be found locally, but Jason was determined not to fall into the same patterns of grim malaise. Having Farrah had held him together and now he had Rufus back as well. His team would follow and he was resolved to move forward with a renewed hopefulness, whatever he faced.
While Jason washed himself off, Shade’s bodies moved through the dead monsters. He touched each of them so that Jason could loot them all at once. Jason didn’t do so immediately because it would fill the gorge with the foul stench of rainbow smoke and he didn’t want to be standing in it at the time.
He looked up at the small magical sensor he could sense floating in the air, knowing that the inhabitants of the fort had taken a bird’s eye view of the battle. They no doubt had seen adventurers at work before but he decided that toning down the spectre of blood and death look would probably help with community relations.
Jason’s outfit-switching mist shrouded him, vanishing to reveal more casual attire. To keep things mellow he went with shorts closer to beige than tan, with a relatively subdued floral print on his shirt. Unlike earth, where he’d kept his clothes buttoned up over the scar at the base of his throat, Jason now went happily open-necked.
One of Shade’s bodies floated up the fort’s balustrade and Jason shadow jumped to it, arriving outside their force wall. He took out an argy fruit to eat, enjoying the juicy tropical treat after the exertion of battle.
A handful of defenders watched him warily from the other side of the force wall. They were clearly militia conscripts; bronze-rankers with plain uniforms and the touch of monster cores in their auras. He gave them a casual nod as he waited for a commander to arrive, which only took moments.
The man who arrived was a silver-ranker, also touched by cores but with a grizzled, middle-aged appearance. That meant he was old enough to have been around the block more than a few times and Jason wouldn’t underestimate the man’s experience.
“G’day, bloke. I’m Jason Asano, delivery boy.”