253. Height of Hubris
“You actually did it…”
Mountaintooth stared at me with wide eyes. Around me, the other Beastmen of the Furious Whispers Tribe gathered. Their gaze was fixed on the stone I was holding.
It was like any other pebble. A regular uneven piece of rock that wrinkled the earth. However, there was one thing that distinguished it— one thing that made it different. And that was the streak of blue splashed across its surface.
[Corrupted Skystone - -̶̧̛̻͕̹̩̖͕̑̈́̂͗̾͊̓͌̀͗́͝ͅ-̵̖͎͖̤̌̇̿̓̿̌́̆͛͆͘͝-̵̧̣̩͚̗͕̤͙͉̱͕͎͔̟͐̑͊͌ͅ-̶̻͕̲͓͈̼̥̰̘͔͛̍̊̒̉̈́̐̂̋̕͝ ]
“Is that really a piece of the sky on it?”
Amberarm placed a paw on her mouth as she backed up behind the others.
“I think so.”
I shrugged. I had picked it up after my battle with the ‘Cursed Boulder’ once the Devil had left me. It was proof that I did my part and got revenge for Mountaintooth and the Swift Hill Warriors. The boy bowed deeply, prostrating on the ground before me.
“Thank you so much.”
He didn’t meet my gaze as he spoke. Beside him, Tuktox smiled.
“You have done us a great honor, Salvos. We thank you on behalf of all the tribes. This act of yours will never be forgotten.”
“Never be forgotten?”
I blinked. The eldest ushered me out of the tent. I followed him to a small clearing in between the mass of tents. There, I paused as I saw a totem being built. One of a [Lion Beastman] with silver fur. And beneath it, a name was inscribed.
Salvos, Avenger of the Swift Hill Warriors.
“This is but proof of our gratitude.”
Tuktox spoke slowly. I could see the slightest hint of regret on his face, mixed in with the smile he ostensibly wore.
“We wish we’d been there to help you. However, our levels are incomparable to your own. And unlike the Swift Hill Warriors, our tribe does not compose of fighters. If we had joined you, we’d have been nothing more than burdens.”
I was glad they didn’t follow. If they did, I’d have to share my experience with them. And I probably would’ve had to protect them. However—
I glanced over at the totem. My lips pressed together, forming a thin line.
“It is the least we can do, after what you have done for us.”
Tuktox patted me on the shoulder. I glanced over at the Beastmen working on the totem. Then at the passersby. A [Bear Beastman] paused as her cubs pointed at the totem, whispering to their mother. One of the [Ape Beastmen] hammering away waved at them and gestured at the sign. The [Bear Beastmen] read it and gasped.
I sighed, turning to Tuktox.
“I mean, you don’t have to do all this.”
“Oo, nonsense. Such is the least we can do for you. Especially after what you’ve done for us— believe me when I say this: it is a boon to all our tribes. ”
“Of course! I am pretty amazing, yep!”
I nodded eagerly. But I couldn’t help but feel my shoulders sag as a thought crossed my mind. In a sense, I was lying to the Beastmen, wasn’t I? I told them I defeated the Cursed Boulder— and I did, but I also didn’t. Taking credit for something I didn’t do just felt…
“Now, come, rest. You must be tired. And you should prepare yourself for the feast tonight.”
It felt wrong.
Tuktox showed me to a ceremonial tent and provided me with a set of robes to wear for tonight’s feast. I thanked him, and he left. However, before taking his leave, he gave me a look over.
“Oo, of course, when you attend the feast, we hope that you will show up as a [Lion Beastman]. I’m not sure how you performed that trick, and you don’t have to force yourself to do it if you do not wish to. We simply feel that it’d be more appropriate.”
“Sure! And there’ll be bugs at the feast, right?”
I smiled and thanked Tuktox. Then he was gone, and I was all by myself in the dimly lit tent. I sat down, crossed my legs, and stared at the dress. It was a beige dress that would go down to my knees. It had beads and other trinkets sewn onto the thread, with splashes of color added into the mix around the neck.
I didn’t wear it. Not just yet. Instead, I simply sat there. Silent. Quiet. Not making a sound—
I groaned and collapsed to the ground. My back pressed against the straw floor as I sighed.
“Look, it’s not lying. I did destroy the Cursed Boulder! I even brought back proof!”
I held up the Corrupted Skystone against a lamp.
“It’s not my fault that it multiplies whenever it breaks.”
My eyes flickered towards the tent flaps. I saw Beastmen busying about outside, walking as they talked to each other. Whispering. Their mouths moved, and I heard a name.
They were praising me. They conversed about this great act I’d carried out for their tribe. And for the Swift Hill Warriors. But somewhere out there, the remnants of the Cursed Boulder wandered about. Mere pebbles in comparison to the original, but with the potential to grow equally as big and powerful.
My shoulders slumped.
“Ok, maybe it’s a bit of a lie. But it’s not a big lie, right? It’s kind of the truth.”
I didn’t really know who I was talking to. Maybe I was talking to myself. Or maybe I was talking to the words that oft appeared in my head. The ones that defined me.
At any moment, I expected it to resound as it usually did. To hear it echo. But it did not. I closed my eyes and hugged my legs.
“It’s the truth, so why am I not getting that Title?”
Avenger of the Swift Hill Warriors.
That was what they were all saying. That was what Tuktox called me. I should’ve been granted a Title for my feat— for defeating the Cursed Boulder and getting revenge on Mountaintooth’s behalf. That was how it normally worked, right?
Yet, I didn’t get anything despite that. No Title was bestowed upon me. And the fact dawned soon enough.
I lied to the Furious Whispers Tribe. They all believe I was something I was not. My reputation amongst them was entirely fabricated. It frustrated me. I was being praised— something that I normally liked— but for all the wrong reasons.
I didn’t destroy the Cursed Boulder. I didn’t get revenge for the Swift Hill Warriors. Instead, I let the remnants run free to destroy more tribes. What would happen if they found out about this? My reputation here would be in shambles. The lie that predicated what the Beastmen thought of me already annoyed me, and if they found out the truth, it would only exacerbate my annoyance.
Also, Saffron told me about that, didn’t she? Something about upholding my reputation. I didn’t want to be misrepresented. Especially not negatively, but I also found the idea of being misrepresented positively annoying.
When it was based on facts, I reveled in praise: the fact that I was amazing; the fact that I was Salvos; the fact that I was a Demon; the fact that I was powerful; and the fact that I was a genius.
But this? I hated it.
This sinking feeling continued to bubble up inside of me, even as I got dressed for the feast. I walked around a large bonfire and munched on an eclectic array of bugs, scowling the entire time. Night fell, and I was still upset. It continued to simmer as I tried to avoid chatting with all the Beastmen that thanked me for my help.
I stayed away from the crowd, eating by myself and gouging on food to make myself feel better. And as I stood up to grab another plate, I saw a small figure waiting for me.
Mountaintooth shifted slightly as I approached him.
I greeted him, not as cheerily as I normally would. The cub lowered his head.
“Is there something you need? If it’s my bugs, I’m just about to grab some from Tuktox.”
“O-oh, no I was just—”
He averted his gaze, and I blinked. Did he know the truth? Was he here to confront me about it? But no. Mountaintooth spoke softly.
“I was wondering if you could teach me to be as strong as you.”
I cocked my head.
“You saved my life. You defeated the Cursed Boulder. You did all of that in a day. You’re amazing, elder— hrr, I mean, Salvos.”
He shook his head and took a step forward.
“That’s so amazing. I was the son of the eldest in my tribe, but I am nothing. My name was given to me in hopes that I’d be a strong [Warriors]. An elite fighter of the tribe. That I’d grow up to and earn myself a Subspecies, just like my father.”
I watched as he helplessly gesticulated to himself. Then his expression soured. The cub glanced over at his companions who were off to the side, hiding from the celebration. Even though the atmosphere amongst the Furious Whispers Tribe was jovial, it seemed that the mood didn’t spread to the remaining cubs of the Swift Hill Warriors.
Mountaintooth closed his eyes.
“I wish to be strong. So that next time this happens, I’ll be able to protect my friends.”
I paused. I thought for a moment about my companions— how often I’d throw myself into danger for them. Then I thought about what would happen if Mountaintooth found out the truth. That I lied.
And I made up my mind.
I walked up to the [Lion Beastman] cub, bending over to meet his gaze. He tried to back up, but I placed both my hands on his shoulder.
“You can’t be as amazing as me, silly.”
Mountaintooth’s eyes grew wide. He hesitated.
“But you can still be amazing.”
I continued, and he blinked.
“What do you mean?”
“I’m saying you can be amazing. Just not like me.”
I straightened, letting go of him.
“And I can’t be amazing like you, either. It makes sense, right? I am Salvos, and you are Mountaintooth. We’re not the same person. We’re not… rocks. You’re not a pebble on the ground, just like all the others.”
He continued to stare at me as I looked down at the tiny gray stones carpeting the earth.
“And neither are you a pebble to trample over.”
I whispered to myself. Mountaintooth’s ears quirked.
“Did you say something else?”
I beamed and started past him.
“Anyway, there’s no reason for you to strive to be amazing like me. You can’t. But you can strive to be amazing. You can become amazing. I’m sure of it.”
Mountaintooth looked down at himself— at his paws— in wonder. Then he spun around as I continued on.
“Wait, where are you going?”
“I’m Salvos, Avenger of the Swift Hill Warriors, aren’t I?”
I glanced back at him, grinning.
“I’m off to be amazing!”
And I teleported out of the tribe. I sped away from the cluster of tents, waving at Mountaintooth as I went. I ran through the plains— up the valleys and mounds, and sprinting over the occasional flatlands.
I arrived back where I fought the Cursed Boulder, or whatever it was called. There, I activated [Planar Navigation] to track the remnants down.
They didn’t go far. They spent too much time in each area, consuming the earth, the air, the water, and the sky. The two remnants stayed close together, and they were slightly bigger than before. But not massively larger in size.
I crossed my arms, greeting them with bare teeth.
“Hello! Sorry, I know you’re eating, but—”
They turned towards me, unleashing their distorted vortex my way. I leapt over the attack and flipped over the air. I spread my arms, attempting to crush them with [Mystical Projection]. However, they receded back, covering themselves once again. Like turtles, hiding in their shells.
I narrowed my eyes. I couldn’t harm them like this. Not unless I charged straight into their distortion. However, that would hurt me. If I didn’t have the Breastplate of Alexander, it would inflict serious injuries to me.
I tried to pry open the multi-colored storm with my invisible limbs, but each time I tugged it slightly, it returned to shelling over the corrupted stones. However, I realized one thing when trying to rip its defenses apart. I could physically grab it.
After all, the storm might’ve been a deformed mess of everything it absorbed, but it was still made up of actual materials. I could grab onto it. I could move it. And that gave me an idea.
I dashed forward, heading straight for the first remnant. It didn’t budge. It refused to fight me. But I was indignant. I pointed at it— aiming for the distorted vortex.
And a bit of the colors covering it vanished. The streaks of blurred objects appeared a dozen feet to the side, wanting to fly back to the remnant. However, I was faster. I leapt in through that hole, slashing out with my claws.
All it took next was a few strikes, and the first remnant fell apart. It was only slightly larger than my head. It didn’t put up much of a fight.
The second remnant somehow registered what happened. It realized I could penetrate its defenses. So, it lashed out at me in a panic. I simply snapped my fingers, redirecting its attacks with [Scatter Shift]. Then I used [Mystical Projection] to grab the corrupted stone at the center and pulled it towards me.
I cleaved it in twain, killing both remnants with ease. I waited for a moment— carefully watching the fallen debris of the remnants. They didn’t budge. It was dead.
Defeated [-̶̧̛̻͕̹̩̖͕̑̈́̂͗̾͊̓͌̀͗́͝ͅ-̵̖͎͖̤̌̇̿̓̿̌́̆͛͆͘͝-̵̧̣̩͚̗͕̤͙͉̱͕͎͔̟͐̑͊͌ͅ-̶̻͕̲͓͈̼̥̰̘͔͛̍̊̒̉̈́̐̂̋̕͝ -̶̧̛̻͕̹̩̖͕̑̈́̂͗̾͊̓͌̀͗́͝ͅ-̵̖͎͖̤̌̇̿̓̿̌́̆͛͆͘͝-̵̧̣̩͚̗͕̤͙͉̱͕͎͔̟͐̑͊͌ͅ-̶̻͕̲͓͈̼̥̰̘͔͛̍̊̒̉̈́̐̂̋̕͝ -̶̧̛̻͕̹̩̖͕̑̈́̂͗̾͊̓͌̀͗́͝ͅ-̵̖͎͖̤̌̇̿̓̿̌́̆͛͆͘͝-̵̧̣̩͚̗͕̤͙͉̱͕͎͔̟͐̑͊͌ͅ-̶̻͕̲͓͈̼̥̰̘͔͛̍̊̒̉̈́̐̂̋̕͝ - Lvl.-̶̧̛̻͕̹̩̖͕̑̈́̂͗̾͊̓͌̀͗́͝ͅ-̵̖͎͖̤̌̇̿̓̿̌́̆͛͆͘͝-̵̧̣̩͚̗͕̤͙͉̱͕͎͔̟͐̑͊͌ͅ-̶̻͕̲͓͈̼̥̰̘͔͛̍̊̒̉̈́̐̂̋̕͝]!
Experience is awarded for defeating a corrupted piece of the world!
Class [Worldly Mystic of the Nexeus] Level Up!
[Worldly Mystic of the Nexeus - Lvl. 60] -> [Worldly Mystic of the Nexeus - Lvl. 61]
Gained 2 Secondary Skill Points!
Class [Worldly Mystic of the Nexeus] Level Up!
[Worldly Mystic of the Nexeus - Lvl. 61] -> [Worldly Mystic of the Nexeus - Lvl. 62]
Gained 2 Secondary Skill Points!