Hey everyone, I think I'm confident in being able to do 2 chapters a week now without having to rely on the weekend as a contingency. What day would you prefer the second chapter, assuming the first remains on Sunday?
Monday
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Tuesday
8.57% 8.57% of votes
Wednesday
41.43% 41.43% of votes
Thursday
22.86% 22.86% of votes
Friday
1.43% 1.43% of votes
Saturday
7.14% 7.14% of votes
Double release on Sunday
10% 10% of votes
Total: 70 vote(s)
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Chapter 59 — Gods and Illusions II

Claire cracked her neck and stretched her shoulders as she hopped up onto the mansion’s roof. Everything on the premises was dead. Most of her kills had come from the basement, but the icy statues had constituted less than a tenth of the experience she gained. There was an argument to be made that it wasn’t really worth her time, given that it had taken the better part of half an hour, but the halfbreed was satisfied. Bloodthief had kept her health topped up, even without level ups, and whaling on the icy statues had served as a decent opportunity for her to learn the ins and outs of her newest skill.

Opening her status for the fifth time since her evolution, the newly christened thief reviewed the ability’s functionality with a smile.

Phantom Blade - Level 2
Violence begets violence, sometimes more literally than others. Please be aware that this skill is not the solution to every problem. If you are using it as such, then you are doing something very, very wrong.

Effects
- Consume 25MP to empower your next physical attack and transform it into a Phantom Strike
- Phantom Strikes target the health pool directly and are considered magical in nature
- Phantom Strikes deal additional damage equal to 60% (50% + 5% per level) of the damage dealt by the initial attack

She couldn’t help but feel a sense of pride and satisfaction every time she looked through her most recent acquisitions. Rogue’s evolution wasn’t quite an ascension, but as the first class she had ever mastered, it remained an important milestone in her growth. The whole ordeal left her feeling a bit strange. If the last seven years were anything to go by, ritual mage should have been the first class she mastered, but there she was, with a powerful rogue variant at level 50 roughly a week after acquiring it. It was nothing near the record—one particularly bold gladiator had acquired his first class and capped it in just half a day—but Claire was more than proud. It was her most impressive achievement, barring the time she had tricked Princess Octavia into drinking from a toilet.

A few moments of gloating later, the halfbreed raised her head from the display and gazed upon the lava-lit city. As much as she wanted to dawdle, there wasn’t any time for her to sit around and relax. The two levels she had earned by exterminating all the guards had bought her a bit more time, but she needed to stay on the move if she didn’t want to die. The only problem was that she had no idea how she was supposed to find another half-decent hunting ground. She didn’t know how Borrok Peak worked, given that it was ultimately a smaller part of the dungeon known as the lost library, but something about the surprisingly intelligent way the creatures conducted themselves led her to believe that it was unlikely if not impossible for the manor to suddenly find itself repopulated.

Jumping into a crowded district and slaughtering the city’s denizens was always an option, but a poor one. She was sure to be surrounded just as easily as she had been the first time. Claire was open to the idea of taking on a large horde of borroks and other insectoids, but she wasn’t willing to do it in the open seeing as how the buildings that lined the settlement’s streets were effectively non-present, as far as her enemies were concerned. Half their forces could fly right over them, and their mages could see and fire straight through them. She needed a quieter stretch of land, preferably one that was either soundproofed, like the mansion, or one that had a choke point that would prevent her from being swarmed.

“You have the staff! I sense its power!”

Herk called out to her in his ear-piercing voice as he swam down the side of the mountain. The obnoxious spirit was as loud as his flaming core was bright; it was like he was making no effort to keep himself concealed. Had any of the manor’s guards still been alive, he would have grabbed their attention as easily as would a bell signalling an enemy attack.

“Be quiet.” The halfbreed shot the dolphin-shaped gargoyle a blatant glare. “Are you trying to get us killed?”

“It doesn’t matter! With the staff’s power, our king will finally be whole again. Our magic will be blessed to overcome their immunity! They’ll drop like flies!”

“I don’t care. Quiet down or I’ll make you.”

“No need to be so hostile,” said the rock. His eyes ran over her body, eventually settling on her chest. “What happened to the staff? Why is its tip inside of you?”

“Don’t ask me,” said Claire, with a shrug.

The gargoyle paused for a moment, but soon regained his vigour. “It’s not a problem. The shard, the power source, appears to be fully intact. We should still be able to offer it to our king.”

“How are you going to remove it?”

“Painlessly, of course. Our king will perform the operation himself.” The dolphin turned around and lowered his posture as if to offer her a seat. “Now come, let’s return posthaste. We wouldn’t want to keep the lord waiting.”

After a moment of deliberation, Claire placed a hand on his spine.

And started draining his health and mana.

The true ice was fused with her flesh. Even with a paltry understanding of her own biology, she knew that its removal would not be simple. Surgical precision was needed to avoid any heavy damage, and the giant whale’s poor vision served as a clear indicator that it would not be able to deliver.

“W-what are you doing!?”

“I know you’re lying.”

The flame spirit tried to squirm away, but she grabbed its sail with her other hand. Squeezing on the stony appendage not only kept the fishy boulder in place, but also disfigured him and left an imprint of her grip on his dorsal fin. Hurting the cete was the only way she expressed her annoyance. Her face was kept calm and free of emotion.

“How!?”

“You wouldn’t have just asked that if you weren’t.”

Moving her hands to the dolphin’s tail, Claire grabbed him, lifted him over her shoulders, and smashed him into the mansion’s roof full force. The rock monster was surprisingly light for what he was; moving him around took nearly no effort.

“What are you planning?”

“Nothing! I was going to take you to our master so that he could extract it!”

“Tell me the truth.”

“I am!”

The shout did nothing to prevent the halfbreed from attacking. Again, she picked up the gargoyle and bashed his face against the roof. The second strike carried more force than the first, cracking ice and stone alike. The softer of the two materials was deformed by the heavy blow; the dolphin’s bottlenose was squished and made to look like that of a boar’s. One of the cracks running along the side of his body revealed the cause of his lack of weight. He was hollow—the rock that comprised his frame was but a thin membrane floating around his core.

“I know you can’t remove it.” She placed a foot on the cetacean’s head and ground her sole into its temple.

Herk stayed silent for a few seconds before bursting into flame. The heat emanating from his body forced his assailant, who was unwilling to lose any more health than absolutely necessary, to release him and step back as he took to the air.

“Fine. I admit it. There’s no helping you.” The flame spirit sneered at her as he reshaped his snout and snapped its broken jaw back into place. “You’ve merged with the shard. I was worried you were going to absorb it, but you don’t have even the slightest affinity for ice. It’s going to eat at you until you die. It could’ve been painless if you listened to me and let my master consume you, but I won’t be letting you off so easily anymore.”

Claire rolled her eyes. “You couldn’t kill the borrok. You won’t be able to kill me either.”

“I don’t need to. The king will learn of this. Now that he knows you have it, he will hunt you, he will find you, and he will wrench the shard from your charred corpse! There will be no mercy!”

Cackling in his usual shrill tone, the dolphin turned tail and began swimming away, ascending to prevent her from getting to him. But while he was able to escape her grasp at first, he soon found himself losing speed. He went from dashing to slowly swimming forwards to moving in the direction opposite the one he intended. The combination of his low velocity and his lack of weight had left the gargoyle highly susceptible to Claire’s magic. She easily overpowered the force of his acceleration and reeled him into the palm of her hand, like a fish on the end of a line.

Turning his head, horrified, the lavaswimmer vomited a projectile at her, a desperate last ditch attempt to escape. But that too was proven futile. A swing of the halfbreed’s mace dismantled the flames mid flight, and a second did the same to the cete’s tail.

“You’re just a low-leveled rogue with heavy investment in speed! Why can’t I resist your spell!?”

Not bothering to answer the question, Claire bashed open the dolphin’s gut, grabbed his core, and squeezed. He tried to resist her, but was unable to break free. Having his resources drained straight from the source of his power was disrupting the flow of his magic; he couldn’t piece together any spells, nor could he manipulate the crumbling, artificial construct he used as an exoskeleton. He couldn’t even talk. For a ball of fire wrapped in stone, that too was a process fueled by mana. All he could do, as he was subjected to magical strangulation, was tremble with rage and terror.

Log Entry 1262
You have slain a level 24 lesser volcano spirit.

This feat has earned you the following bonuses:
- 1 point of strength
- 1 point of wisdom

That was a lot less satisfying than I thought it would be.

Claire frowned as she threw the dulled core, the only part of the spirit that remained, off the side of the building. She had been wanting to rid herself of the annoyance for quite some time, but something about following through on the impulse left her feeling empty.

She didn’t want to dwell on the depressing sensation for long, so she turned her eyes back on the city and resumed the search for a suitable place to hunt. Her gaze eventually settled on the arena. If the battleground was anything like the Valencian colosseum, then it was sure to contain a subterranean space filled with monsters and combatants. Getting chased around by the local authorities remained a relevant concern, but the arena’s barracks were sure to feature hallways that she could use to limit the number of enemies she had to take on at once.

The pyramid seemed to be the only other notable alternative, but she wasn’t keen on visiting it just yet. She was almost entirely convinced that the sentinel and the lifegiver were in or around the settlement’s tallest building; the intricate icy structure looked to be the sort of fancy government facility where all of a society’s higher ups would gather. And though she had every intention of murdering both within the next few days, addressing the ticking time bomb that was her abnormal status condition was a far higher priority. At the very least, she wanted to boost her vitality stat to its third threshold before fighting any tougher foes. The corruptor had already almost killed her when she fought it in good health.

Moving through the settlement proved surprisingly difficult. The warriors on patrol weren’t the only ones on guard. The entire population seemed a bit jumpy, save for the foreigners, who for whatever reason, were no longer present.

Avoiding contact with the locals sounded like a simple and easily achievable goal, but the icy buildings professed otherwise. It was easy for the monsters to spot her through the translucent walls, and the bloodstains that covered her clothes only made it even easier. Like the ice, the reds and yellows glimmered beneath the light of the stars.

Two hours and eight silenced wolves later, Claire finally arrived at the circular landmark. Unlike when she last visited it, it was busy and rife with noise. Borroks and their corrupted companions lined the stands, cheering and jeering as they watched the pair in the ring. Both of them were clear outsiders, one an uncorrupted watcher with an icy bow in hand, and the other, a halfling wielding an axe twice the size of his body.

The tiny berserker’s top-like fighting style led Claire to raise a brow. She was amused by the speed at which he was spinning around, but her attention didn’t stay on him for long. There was a far more important, time-sensitive matter at hand, and it just so happened that she was more interested in living than she was watching a man spin five times a second. Using the duel’s climax as cover, she snuck around the building and sought an entrance. The first one she found was quickly dismissed. There were three borroks guarding it and no way for her to get past them. Likewise, the second doorway also featured a living bomb that she couldn’t displace. It took finding a third entrance for the halfbreed’s requirements to be met.

Watching over door number three was a group of watchers and wolves. The seven-guard headcount meant that it was technically more secure than the alternatives she had previously discovered, but she would much rather find herself swarmed than use an entryway protected by a bug-monkey. There was simply no way for her to stop the supposed primates from exploding and subsequently attracting more of their kind with the resulting noise. The corrupted monsters, on the other hand, were easily dispatched. Hardly any effort was needed for her to strangle and consume them.

With all the guards dead and the path clear, the blueblooded rogue tiptoed her way down the stairs and entered the arena’s basement. She had expected to see an inferior rendition of what she had seen when she visited the facility’s Valencian equivalent. Back home, the fighters were treated as local celebrities, often given suites so beautiful that even the most pretentious of guests would rarely ever complain. The VIP service provided was the best that money could buy. Anything that a combatant requested was procured almost immediately; food, drinks, harlots, and servants were always at the ready. Even the beasts were treated well. When not in combat, they would be taken care of, fed, and groomed by staff trained to attend to their every need. Many thought of the gladiator pit as a paradise where aspiring warriors would be made into legends. A place where dreamers would bridge the gap between fantasy and reality. The space beneath the borroks’ arena, on the other hand, was a place where dreamers went to die.

Thick bars of ice lined the sides of the stony corridor. The individual cells were spacious, with each having more than enough room for its inhabitants to pace back and forth. There were a few prisoners present within each, most of whom were huddled away in distant corners, as if to make themselves unseen. The lack of space made it impossible for Claire to sneak past them, but even though most of them were quick to notice her, few were willing to interact. Some went as far as shirking away, as if to express that they wanted nothing to do with her.

They were too busy speaking with each other, quietly whispering getaway plans that failed to escape the halfbreed’s ears—not that she cared. The only group that caught her interest was one she heard in another hall, a group that happened to contain a familiar set of voices.

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Spicy Space Squid

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