151. The Next Step
When I woke up, I was lying in a puddle of black liquid, a thin white molt of my skin shed on the ground beneath me. I blinked as I took in the stars above, twinkling in place, hanging from the sable sky like a mural painted on the ceiling of a domed roof. It was pretty.
I wondered what those stars were supposed to be.
Daniel said they were massive balls of hot gas located very, very, very far away. But they couldn’t be. Maybe that was what stars were in his world. However, that couldn’t possibly be the case in the Nexeus.
I got to my feet as I wiped myself down. I paused, staring at my arms. There was something different about me. Of course there was. I just evolved. My body changed every single time. And I didn’t keep the same base Subspecies. The last time I evolved from two nearly-unrelated Subspecies, I experienced rather drastic changes.
But unlike my most recent evolution, I didn’t get a pair of extra arms. Instead, I lost two of my arms!
I patted myself down, reaching for my back, making sure that they weren’t hiding from me. Nope. They weren’t under my shoulders, nor were they at my waist. I even checked my legs, but nothing!
“Aw, I can’t believe it!”
Throwing both my hands in the air, I found the feeling of disappointment was only exacerbated because I now could clearly see what was missing. It didn’t feel that weird. It probably wouldn’t impede me in fights by that much. Just a few hours ago, I was pretending to be a Kobold, fighting against a fake-Dragon with only a single set of clawed hands.
However, I couldn’t deny that it was still upsetting.
“And my arms are shorter too…”
In fact, my whole body was smaller. I wasn’t an [Imp], running around two heads shorter than Daniel. Neither was I a lanky creature with a hunched back and hands that reached my knees without bending, looming over most Humans I met like I was some kind of Cyclops.
I was… more level, now. I stood as tall as Edithe, only slightly shorter than Daniel. I didn’t feel like I needed to stretch my back to stand up straight, and my shoulders weren’t nearly as broad as they were before. I still had my horns. They protruded from the sides of my head, angling more forward than up. My claws were as sharp as ever— and my silver-white skin unchanging in its color.
I narrowed my eyes, raising a hand to touch my cheeks. Rough, I thought. But not hard, like when I was a [Changeling]. I brought my fingers back slightly towards the side of my head, feeling my ears. And pointed.
It seemed like I was back to being an [Imp], now. Or no— I was more akin to a typical [Fiend]. I remembered what Haec looked like. The way I was built was more similar to him… apart from the size and color, of course.
“How is this the next step in a [Changeling]’s evolution?”
I wondered as I bent over, picking up my blue jacket and ragged cloak. I was naked, but I didn’t have any of the body parts Humans had. Or Kobolds. Or Cyclopes. Just a few silver-gray marks and lines that ran over my body.
I wore my clothes so Daniel wouldn’t be embarrassed, although I was pretty sure he didn’t care as much when I was not pretending to be a Human. Even as an [Imp], he had no issues with me walking around without clothes. He also didn’t care for Ignavare or Lucerna’s naked bodies, so I didn’t even know why I was even doing this.
Bad Mortal habits!
Shaking my head, I got dressed as I took in my new Status.
Salvos (Death of the Destroyer)
Species: [Archdemon of Pride]
Subspecies: [Daeva Cambion] - Lvl. 100
[Advanced Mana Manipulation] - Lvl. 7
[Identification] - Lvl. 5
[Racial Skill: Universal Language Comprehension] - Lvl. 1
[Racial Skill: Demonic Essence] - Lvl. 1
[Racial Skill: Partial Mortality] - Lvl. 1
[Rest] - Lvl. 4
[Lesser Enhanced Wisdom] - Lvl. 2
[Title Skill: Zealous Call] - Lvl. 3
[Available Stat Points: 30]
[Vitality]: 115 (+5)
[Strength]: 95 (+5)
[Endurance]: 105 (+5)
[Wisdom]: 170 (+5) (+6)
[Agility]: 221 (+5)
[Available Skill Points: 14]
[Barrage of Cinders] - Lvl. 20 (Maxed)
[Haste] - Lvl. 1
[Intimidation] - Lvl. 10 (Maxed)
[Radiant Slash] - Lvl. 15 (Maxed)
[The Primordial Spark] - Lvl. 1
[Passive - A Hunter’s Sense] - Lvl. 10 (Maxed)
[Passive - Blue Flames] - Lvl. 20 (Maxed)
[Passive - Weapon Mastery] - Lvl. 20 (Maxed)
[Unused Skill Slot] x6
Right now, the two things that stood out to me were [Racial Skill: Demonic Essence] and [Racial Skill: Partial Mortality]. The latter drew more of my attention to it. It was curious. It was a change to my original [Racial Skill: Mortal Form]. Its wording… made me nervous.
Why did it change from ‘Mortal Form’ to ‘Partial Mortality’. Did that mean I was part Mortal now? Surely not, right? The description of [Daeva Cambion] emphasized that I was a Demon through and through.
I wanted to investigate what it was. But it scared me a little bit. So, I decided to take a look at the former Racial Skill first.
“[Racial Skill: Demonic Essence]!”
I raised my clawed hand up in the air as I spoke. Then I waited with bated breath. I expected a black aura to be exuded from around me— a darkness to envelop my being, filling me with power.
I waited for it. I waited for anything to happen. But I just stood there, looking like an idiot until a voice drew my attention from the side.
I turned around, blinking. Edithe stood next to a tree, a hand pushing aside its leaves to the side.
“Is that you?”
I beamed, pointing a thumb at myself.
“You look… different. Is this your new evolution? You’re an Archdemon now, I see.”
“Yep! I’m still not sure what I think of this. But I’m still Salvos no matter what!”
I crossed my arms defiantly, and Edithe rolled her eyes.
“I never would’ve thought otherwise. Just didn’t expect your evolution to be finished so quickly.”
“Well, I was just basing it on my own experiences. I’m usually knocked out for the whole night whenever I advance my Class.”
I tilted my head back.
“How long was I out?”
“About an hour— Daniel went to sleep a little bit after your skin started shedding. He was too disgusted by it. I stayed up to keep watch.”
I smiled at the Human woman as she approached me. She inspected me, walking in a circle around me as I twirled around, showing my new body off.
“What do you think? I’m a [Daeva Cambion] now!”
“I think you look much less terrifying than before.”
My shoulders sagged. Edithe smiled, patting my back comfortingly.
“If it’s any consolation, you do look scarier than as an [Imp].”
I murmured, still pouting. She let out a soft chuckle.
“So, what were you doing? I heard you shouting the name of a Racial Skill and making a weird pose.”
“I was trying to figure out how one of my new Skills works. But it’s not doing anything.”
Edithe came to a stop right in front of me.
“It’s a General Skill, right? Racial Skills are usually General Skills, from what I’ve heard.”
“It’s called [Racial Skill: Demonic Essence]. It’s a new General Skill I got from evolving.”
She placed a hand on her chin, in thought.
“That’s a bit tricky. General Skills are a lot less instinctual than Skills you gain from Classes— or in your case, Subspecies— so you can’t really intuit what it does. You’ll usually have to infer from its name. In this case, maybe try to channel something… I don’t know, something demonic from within you? It’s a better shot than just calling out the Skill’s name.”
“Are you sure?”
I cocked my head, a little dubious. Edithe shrugged.
“You may as well try.”
“If you say so…”
I closed my eyes, focusing on anything I could discern as demonic. At first, I tried thinking of claws and horns, but that clearly didn’t do anything. It wasn’t like claws and horns were exclusive to Demons. When that produced no results, I concentrated harder on my most primal thoughts.
The desire to level up. The wild nature to kill everything in sight. Just for my own gain. Just so I could become something more. There was a tingling sensation within me. Something that tried to break free from my body. But that wasn’t right. Not yet.
I was getting close. I tried to grasp for what was there— delve deeper into my wildest desires. However, there was nothing else there for me. I may have had some instinctual need to evolve, but it wasn’t overwhelming. It never was. That was what made me distinct from the wild Demons.
Instead, my mind was transfixed on the images of the wild Demons. I couldn’t help but think of the Hellhounds and the Hellbeasts; the Fiends and the Djinns; the Legions and the Gadarenes. They were all so different. They came in all shapes and sizes. They were never the same, neither in their thoughts nor in their words, not in what they want or in what they try to do.
I was Salvos. I didn’t want to be like them. But I could take things from them. I could learn from them. I could use it all to become better. To survive.
And it was in thinking of these Demons, the feeling broke free. My body morphed. My arms shifted. I was not unfamiliar with transforming. And yet, this felt odd. This felt different.
I grew taller, just like when I changed back from my Mortal Form. But I didn’t stop growing, even as I reached my previous height. I stood a head above what I did before, my mouth protruding like the skull of a dead animal. My teeth numbered in the dozens, sharp and thin, more than able to rip a Human’s head off in a single bite. And my horns were longer than ever.
My transformation didn’t stop there. Blood poured out from my sides as something tore free from within me. More arms— not just an extra pair, but four individual arms grew out of me. I had six arms, just as I wanted. In fact, this was everything I had wanted and more from my evolution.
I was bigger. My body was more lean, shoulders not as widely spread apart as before, but I had extra arms and a longer set of legs to run faster. My claws were like short daggers, and I could touch the ground by simply bending my back slightly forward.
However, the part which made me smile the most was my Status.
[Available Stat Points: 30]
[Vitality]: 115 (+5) (+5%)
[Strength]: 95 (+5) (+5%)
[Endurance]: 105 (+5) (+5%)
[Wisdom]: 170 (+5) (+6) (+5%)
[Agility]: 221 (+5) (+5%)
My voice came out like a croak. A soft whisper, gravelly, the kind I expected that would leave a Ghoul’s mouth.
I threw all six of my arms up in the air as Edithe stared at me.
“Look at me, Edithe! Are you scared of me?”
“A little bit. If I didn’t know you, I’d probably run away, screaming for my life.”
Grinning, I waved a hand off playfully.
“Oh, stop it, you…”
“That wasn’t a compliment.”
Edithe retorted with a judging stare. I couldn’t help but excitedly jump up and down as I took in this transformation. Sure, I would have preferred it if this was my standard form. But I took a chance, and it still gave me what I wanted.
I paused as something caught my eye. It was a sleeping figure. It lay in a bedroll, just behind some trees ahead of me. A playful smirk spread across my face as I looked over at Edithe.
She begged, and I didn’t listen
Daniel went to sleep feeling terrible about himself. Not only was he berated by Salvos for the entire trip out of Unarith, he knew she was right and couldn’t help but agree with her. Everything was going smoothly until he screwed up.
Salvos won the duel despite Zix’s cheating. Xidra was going to placate the crowd and destroy the Totem of Incense without any more trouble. Then Daniel just had to let an angry Kobold steal his Necklace of Greater Obfuscation from right under him. Nevermind the fact that Daniel was about 70 levels above the damned thief, the thief was a [Gardener] too!
He messed up. Just as he always did. But Edithe comforted him. She told him to go to sleep— that a good night’s rest would make him feel better when he woke up.
He believed her. He truly did. And that was where he messed up a second time. Because he woke up, screaming and scrambling for his sword.
Daniel drew his long sword, pointing it at the terrible monster that loomed over him. Then he paused as he heard a garbled sound coming from its mouth. He narrowed his eyes, identifying it, and smacked his forehead.
[Cambion - Lvl. 100]
The Demon girl fell to the ground, overcome with laughter. She clutched at her stomach with four arms as she wheezed, using the last two to wipe at her forehead and point at him respectively.
“Look at your face! You really thought I was some kind of monster! You’re such a coward, Daniel!”
The young man stared at the laughing Demon. He looked up and saw Edithe standing helplessly at the back. Sighing, he walked up to Salvos who still lay there, defenseless.
And he kicked her in the stomach.
“Ouch— yep, I deserved that. But it was still funny.”
“So, that’s a new Skill of yours, huh?”
“Yep. [Racial Skill: Demonic Essence]. It also gives me a big boon to all my Stats! A five percent increase!”
Daniel stroked his chin and looked over at Edithe. The red-haired woman seemed to have the same idea as him as she nodded.
“It’s probably a timed Skill, like Daniel’s [The Will of the Hero], Salvos.”
Edithe explained, gesturing at the Human man.
“You should probably transform back. Do some experiments— see how much time is needed before you can use the Skill again. In the meantime, why don’t you try out that other Skill of yours?”
I blinked. Edithe fixed me with a look, and I scowled.
I disappeared behind some trees, dragging my clothes with me. My body morphed once as I returned to my regular self, still a Demon, but not as fear-inducing as moments before. Then I focused on my other Skill, [Partial Mortality].
It was a lot easier to learn than [Demonic Essence]. Because it worked just like [Mortal Form]. There was only one slight difference, and it was how my white skin almost seemed to peel back from my fingertips to my chest as the change occurred. Previously, it was more of a gradual shift in all my joints. Like my body was being crumpled in, before expanding out. Also, the transformation took much quicker than it normally did.
When it was finished, I looked no different as a Human than I did from back when I was a [Changeling].
I stepped out to meet my companions, fully clothed, lazily raising my hands to my sides.
“Happy? I’m a Human, yay.”
“You don’t feel anything different?”
Daniel raised a brow, arms folded across his chest. I walked towards my companions and shook my head.
I stopped. My eyes grew wide.
[Available Stat Points: 30]
[Vitality]: 115 (+5)
[Strength]: 95 (+5)
[Endurance]: 105 (+5)
[Wisdom]: 170 (+5) (+6)
[Agility]: 221 (+5)
“My Status didn’t change. I don’t have any debuffs to my Stats!”
I leapt into the air, pumping a fist.
“I can actually fight at full strength while pretending to be a Human!”
My companions exchanged a glance.
“That’s… very good, Salvos.”
Daniel yawned in agreement behind Edithe.
“However, it’s late, and I want to go back to sleep. I’ll celebrate with you in the morning.”
I glared his way as he turned around, stumbling back to his bed roll.
“To be fair, Salvos, you were the one who scared him awake just a few minutes ago. I can understand his attitude. Didn’t you say you were going to be more mature a few weeks ago?”
“I did! But he deserved that, Edithe! Also— can’t I have some fun from time to time?”
“You can. Just like he can be ‘mean’ from time to time too. Fair’s fair.”
I frowned and spun around, looking away from the red-haired woman for not siding with me.
“Fine. It’s not like I needed him, anyway. I have other things to worry about.”
Other things like...
First my Class. Then my Title.
I paused as the world began to spin around me. My knees grew weak and my body wobbled. I blinked as Edithe peered at me.
“What’s wrong, Salvos?”
I tried to wave a hand off, but couldn’t suppress an odd sound from leaving my mouth.
“I just… feel very… tired—”
I couldn’t finish what I was trying to say. My legs buckled and I collapsed to the ground, snoring, fast asleep.