"Do you have any of those keys?” Miranda asked Jake first thing after she had also read the message. It appeared she had gotten the quest too.
“Nope, but I got two fragments, so I think I can get one more quite easily,” Jake answered. “But hey, we got the vote we wanted. Well, kind of wanted.”
“It is indeed one of the better options, though, to be fair, most would be good options,” Miranda nodded approvingly.
“Speaking of options,” Jake said as he removed the isolation around their booth to hear all the discussion going around in the hall.
“This is a blatant attempt at forced integration!” someone yelled.
“It says Unusual Unions, not Forced Integrations. A union takes at least two willing parties to function,” another guy yelled.
“Mere semantics. Unions can be forced as much as they can be voluntary, and for a union to function, the parties need some level of equality!” the first guy repeated.
“Then work on getting good enough to be recognized as at least worth looking at and stop being shit?” Carmen suddenly joined the discussion.
Jake couldn’t help but smirk at the bickering going on. People unsatisfied with the vote appeared to be aplenty, but that only made sense considering the low percentage that the winning choice had. He didn’t really bother listening in much, as he noted there was an hour till the Second World Congress would end.
Ten or so minutes more passed with senseless bickering and useless complaining until, finally, the conversation switched a bit towards the quest. It was a quest that it appeared far from everyone had gotten. In fact, it looked like the vast majority of cities had several, if not all members, not receiving the quest based on their confused responses.
As they talked, Jake and a few others made eye contact as they gathered. They had an hour, and the quest contained things that pertained to them all collectively. They decided to gather on the platform of Sanctdomo, and Jake saw that even the Fallen King decided to float down from his mighty booth and join the lower rungs of nobility.
Jake, Jacob, together with Bertram, Fallen King, Carmen, Sword Saint, Casper, and even Eron came together to discuss it. It was the group that had also faced the Monarch of Blood, plus Jacob. Eron looked a bit out of place, too, as he stood as far from the Fallen King as he possibly could, something they all noticed.
“Relax, human, I do not seek to end your life despite your past transgression of overstepping your boundaries,” the Fallen King said to Eron, the man freezing up a little. That is when Jake understood why Eron was afraid of the Fallen King. It was the same reason the man didn’t want to mess with Sultan… they countered him. The King more than anyone else.
The Fallen King could kill him. Permanently. Jake had theorized Eron more or less had an infinite health pool, but even an infinite health pool wouldn’t matter if you had your soul crushed. It was the difference between someone slowly draining the water from a jug and someone just smashing the jug altogether. The King could attack the container of health while everyone else only attacked the inside.
“I apologize for past misunderstandings,” Eron said as he bowed. “I misread the situation and allowed curiosity to get the better of me, and for that, I seek your forgiveness.”
Jake felt like the apology was a bit out of character. Like it was practiced somehow. However, it appeared the King truly didn’t care as he waved his ivory claw dismissively.
“An action done cannot be retracted, only acknowledged as misguided or wrong. I accept your apology and wish not to dwell on it further than is necessary,” the King dismissed him outright as the group could finally move on to the real topic at hand.
“So, let’s do a tally. How many keys or fragments do you all have?” Carmen asked the group. “I got two fragments.”
“One fragment,” Bertram said. “Others in Sanctdomo or the Church may have more. We will do a survey when we return.
“Zero fragments or keys,” Eron said with a tone making it clear he had never cared about collecting them.
“One key, two fragments,” the Sword Saint answered. “I know others in the clan may have a fragment or two more.”
“Two fragments,” Jake answered, feeling a bit embarrassed answering after the Sword Saint flexed on all of them.
“One key, zero fragments,” the King said, making Jake feel even worse. The damn Unique Liveform had gathered more than Jake had in a few months. Damn.
“A single fragment,” Caleb said, making him a little happy his little brother hadn’t beat him.
“In all cases, it looks like most of us, if not all, are going to attend this event,” the Sword Saint said with a smile. “Assuming a few people here can scrounge together the fragments.”
The last part was said primarily towards Jake for some reason despite others having less than him.
“I am just wondering,” Jacob said, “how many people will each key give access to? Only one seems unrealistic, and an entire city would also be too much.”
“Maybe just a party of five? Like a dungeon?” Carmen asked.
“Potentially,” Jacob nodded. “However, even that would be low unless this event is truly aimed at the elite and the elite only. Additionally, these creatures with Prima in their name are not that easy to find, but I believe it will be possible to locate quite a few.”
That is when Jake realized something. While he had confidence in killing Primas, he still needed to find them. Meanwhile, he had a living cheat in front of him when it came to finding stuff. Something he clearly knew.
“I shall focus my efforts on locating these Primas and ensure that we can get as many keys as possible in the next three months,” Jacob smiled. “For all of us. The vote was for us to become an Unusual Union, was it not?”
“And I assume you are doing this out of the kindness of your heart?” Caleb asked with a wry smile.
“Now, while there may be much kindness in my actions, using my divination abilities does not come cheap for me. I simply cannot justify sacrificing for others and burdening my faction without proper cause,” Jacob said, returning the smile in kind.
“Man, you remind me of those damn soothsayers on the streets looking for naïve tourists,” Carmen commented.
“Except my abilities are real,” Jacob answered. “We can discuss potential partnerships for any who wishes to enter one. I will be in Sanctdomo waiting.”
“Sure, that sounds like a good idea; let me just enter a city that literally burns me to be within,” Casper commented sarcastically.
That turned the mood a bit awkward as Jake learned Risen got burned by entering a holy city. It was almost like those old tropes. “Better avoid holy water,” Jake joked.
“Well, yeah, holy affinity liquid does sound an idiotic thing to touch,” Casper said with a deadpan face.
“Anyway, it’s been nice seeing you all again,” Carmen said as she turned to the Fallen King. “Besides maybe you, as I am still not sure if you are some evil entity who plans to lead the world into ruin.”
“I believe such would be meaningless, and I would face all those gathered here, something which I have no interest in doing nor believe is a wise choice. Not that more than the hunter is needed,” the King answered, not properly getting Carmen was semi-joking.
“Yeah, if he gets out of line, I got this,” Jake answered as he gave a thumbs up. “His weakness is so obvious you will all kick yourselves for not realizing it earlier.”
“Overwhelming power?” Casper asked.
“That would work,” Jake approved.
The mood after that was a bit more relaxed as Carmen left with the former King of the Forest disappearing soon after. Eron left hastily, too, as he still seemed uncomfortable after spending time around the King. Caleb and the Sword Saint also bailed as they had some stuff to attend to, leaving only Jake, Bertram, Jacob, and Casper.
That is when Jacob did something Jake had not seen coming.
“Casper, the Holy Church is going to advocate for the expulsion of the Risen from Earth and not allow them into any kind of unions. It may result in an outright attack with the goal of pushing you off the planet or annihilating you outright,” Jacob said when it was only the four of them.
“Huh?” Casper said, a bit surprised.
“The Holy Pantheon is determined. They place a lot of importance on Earth due to the presence of so many powerful factions here. The Court of Shadows, Valhal, the Chosen of the Malefic Viper, someone with a Divine Blessing given by Stormild, another by Aeon, and of course a Transcendent… now also a Unique Lifeform. To give up the planet would be moronic. The Church can accept the presence of all these, but the Risen are the mortal enemies of the Church, and co-existence is not acceptable to the leadership at all,” Jacob explained.
Jake also stood surprised as Jacob just said a lot of things he had not expected to come out of the Augur and leader of the Holy Church on Earth.
“Why are you…?” Casper asked, equally confused.
“Within a system event such as this, we are entirely cut off from the rest of the multiverse. There are no observers, and they have no control over us, so I need to say it here where we can speak truly freely. You need to be prepared, Casper. And while I am the leader of the Holy Church on Earth, I am not the leader of the faction. My protests will do nothing but make me lose influence, and it may even result in losing my position,” Jacob answered.
“Still doesn’t answer why you are telling me all this to begin with,” Casper frowned.
“Because I’m not a complete asshole, and even with my position in the Church, I don’t need to agree with everything that is happening. Publicly I will need to be against the Risen and even lead a campaign against them, but privately I honestly don’t care. In fact, if I actively helped to destroy a friend, that would go directly against my Path,” Jacob sighed. “Casper, you may now be Risen, but you are still a friend and the same lazy employee who spent more time complaining about being unable to get a good date than actually working.”
“Now that is just harsh…”
“You once told me you liked hanging out with Jake because he couldn’t get a girl either,” Jacob continued.
“Wait, what?” Jake blurted out.
“It wasn’t like that! You know I just liked hanging out with someone who didn’t always go on and on about their perfect relationships,” Casper said, a bit embarrassed.
“Anyway, Casper, I just wanted to warn you. Be ready, for something will come. The Church will likely order assassins soon to go after you and other influential people, spread more propaganda against you, and try to insert people into your cities to cause civil unrest. In fact, many are already in your cities. Once the universe opens up more and people can be brought here, forces will likely descend. Even if it isn’t possible to bring outside help, the forces of the Holy Church grow every day,” Jacob explained further.
“Will the Church really go to war?” Jake asked. “Don’t they fear the consequences?”
“There will be a justification. Perhaps claims they are killing and forcing people to become undead. That they murder the living to fuel themselves. Essentially slander to make the living side against them. At the same time, they assume you and others will stay out of it as the Malefic One never tended to get involved in other conflicts. He isn’t involved in the one that is currently going on. As for Valhal and the Court of Shadows, it is entirely possible they will be hired. For Valhal, we just need to hire individuals as mercenaries, and the upper echelon of the Church may negotiate with the Court of Shadows and force your brother to side with us.”
Casper looked grave for a moment as he sighed. “Thanks for the heads-up.”
Jacob nodded. “Just take care of yourself. Please don’t spread anything about our talk. Needless to say, this is not approved by the Church in any way and may even be considered treacherous.”
The last part was also partly directed at Jake, and he, of course, nodded. Casper also nodded as he muttered: “Well… I guess I need to speed up that project a bit.”
William sat in meditation atop the block of metal as he slowly absorbed the energy within. He was thrown out of meditation and lost his focus when the system message suddenly appeared and informed him that he had just received a quest.
“Master?” he asked as he felt the presence of Eversmile descend upon his mind. It felt like his head was on fire from the pressure, but he resisted and gritted his teeth as his Master spoke.
“Such an event is not right for you. Seeing a second potential Path will only confuse you and risk making you stray from your current one. The right one. I have said it before, but all these system events are nothing more than distractions that will ruin you down the line. Just keep walking the Path paved before you, and you will find what you seek, my dear disciple.”
William felt the presence disappear again as he breathed out in relief. He tasted a bit of blood in his mouth, and his eyes were red from the stress. Talking with his Master was no easy feat but a necessary one. His Master always gave him advice on what was best for him and had led him towards several opportunities already. Nevermore was just one of many, and when he had stood before the Judge from the Court of Shadows and been superior, it had proven his Path was the correct one.
He still didn’t know exactly what his Path was or where it would lead him. However, he had not been led astray so far, and Kimmie and little Seo had also been able to live peaceful lives in a small city he had claimed.
Not that there weren’t setbacks. Recently the of the Unique Lifeform from their Tutorial had appeared and was close to the area William usually worked in, creating some issues. The monster had dominated a huge region, far larger than he believed humanity knew, and the monsters William had gotten close to were now doubtful if they should also join this Fallen King. While this may be a wrench in the works, William also believed it an opportunity. He and this Unique Lifeform had a shared enemy, after all.
Stretching a bit, he decided to get up from the slab of metal. He needed a few more skill upgrades and to make some more preparations before he was ready to make the final push to C-grade. He had already made so many preparations, and he would have nothing get in his way. Because while William knew little of what Master wanted, he did know that he and Master had one shared goal:
To overcome the karmic curse laid upon William by the one who had slain him.