Blinking the blood from his eyes, courtesy of the gash across his forehead, Brock yanked his dagger from the skull of North, who slumped forward and collapsed to the ground. Its bloodied corpse lay dead among that of its pack. With sagging shoulders, the victor sighed in relief. From the feline’s remains, a shard with a radiant aura appeared, before promptly turning to a mist of golden energy and entering Brock’s body.
[A Fragment of the Key has been obtained and merged with the current Key Fragments in your possession.]
Once Brock had left the domain of South, the ape he had barely managed to defeat without losing his life, he had made a direct beeline through the urban jungle of emerald once more, skirting around the less dense parts, as to give his wounds ample time to heal.
By the time he reached the north section of the jungle over thirteen hours later, the majority of his injuries had eased up significantly or were at least well on their way to returning him to his newly unseen peak. The northern jungle had shifted to hues of blue this time, and his trek through the place had netted him several kills against both a blue variant of the Treants, strange glowing tigers, and camouflaging geckos.
This part of the environment had seen a vast increase in creatures that could utilise Augments, with even the geckos capable of using them, albeit to a limited degree. Just spending an hour in the place, Brock had seen over ten different Augments in action, though the intricacies of them eluded him. The Alpha, North, had been a Lion commanding a pack of the luminous blue tigers.
Surprisingly, the Alpha was far easier to kill than South was, so much so that Brock was certain he could have tackled him and won before his latest powerup. Though, while he lacked power, North far than made up for it in wits. Simple traps, pincer tactics, calculated retreats; the office worker had seen it all while fighting the lion, and it made him a formidable foe, in its own sort of way.
The beast had known it would lose a direct confrontation, so it had adopted guerrilla tactics to whittle him down before finally striking. Unfortunately, the cruel machinations of nature weren’t about intelligence, but about might, and he and his pack were soon slain with barely any resistance.
That wasn’t to say Brock hadn’t been wounded during the fight, however, but they were all practically superficial injuries, apart from the gruesome gash on his forehead that had continued to spill blood into his eyes as he fought, providing a potentially life-threatening distraction. His rebar wound had also reopened, much to Brock’s dismay.
Sitting with his back against a root, Brock took a second for a breather and glanced down at his weapon with no small amount of affection. It was during this fight that Brock had finally infused it with his Augment of Sparks, and boy was it a sight to see. Not only did his blade handle the added power perfectly, remaining fully intact even after several quick uses, it also formed an extension of the blade made purely of his Augment, extending his effective melee range by twice as much.
Although it added no weight, the extra length made it a bit unwieldy to use while throwing, though Brock had soon found he could shorten the extension or altogether dismiss it with his mind. The weapon was truly a reward worthy of a king, and he was boundlessly happy the System had deigned to supply him with it, instead of just spawning him a chest with a dog shit inside.
That would have been hilarious, depending on who you asked. Don’t ask Brock.
With the fight that had just occurred, all that was left now was for him to approach the western domain of the jungle and slay its resident Alpha, though he had a feeling that the beast would be the hardest he would face so far. It had taken a bout of inspiration mid-fight, but Brock had realised something.
East had only been around level 15 or so from what he could tell – and even then had appeared to be stronger than the massive Treant, while North had actually been even lower than that at level 11. His pack was lower than even that. South had been at a whopping level 19, and almost unbelievably, his pack had been at a higher average level than both the previous Alphas.
If Brock used a compass as reference and circulated its cardinal directions clockwise, North, the weakest, was first, then East, then South, before finally West. It was the same order of ascending power levels he had come to experience from both the Alphas and the denizens of their domains. Meaning, he was probably in for a fight with a being even more overpowering than South.
The thought was slightly frightening, though more than that, Brock felt a small seed of excitement sprout within him. He wasn’t sure when, but the man had found himself coming to enjoy the process of combat, finding it almost cathartic as he beat out his mental woes and loneliness on the unsuspecting beasts of the area. It couldn’t have been a healthy way to deal with it all, but Brock didn’t care. He had bigger fish to fry than his own personal wellbeing.
Unfortunately, North wasn’t hoarding any sort of fruit tree, nor was he harbouring a hidden Treasure. He did drop a blue Shard of Awakening, however, matched within by an also blue fluid. At first, he had been excited, but Brock soon came to learn that the fist-sized crystal somehow possessed less of an energy potency than the golden crystal he had obtained and then promptly lost. Hell, it even appeared to emit weaker energies than the purple, or ‘epic’ one he had used, to quote the words of the System.
It was annoying, but it allowed Brock to see that the outside colours of the crystals seemed to determine the power of the Ascendancy or the rarity or some such. He had no idea what the fluid inside indicated though. The type of power obtained upon consumption perhaps?
Ultimately, they were thoughts for another time, and after cleansing himself of stubbornly clinging blood, dirt and sweat in a nearby pool of water, Brock kitted himself out with an outfit found in the wardrobe of another person. It looked nice and had a casual vibe to it, though Brock knew its ‘vibe’ wasn’t going to help its combat survivability much at all.
In fact, the only reason he even wore clothes at this point despite being certain they’d last no longer than a few battles, was A: he would feel like a psychopath running around slaughtering monsters in the nuddy, and B: he needed to make an effort to maintain at least some sense of normalcy, lest he let himself devolve into some sort of beast.
A ‘become the very thing you fought so desperately against’ sort of scenario, he supposed.
The subsequent trek through the blue jungle was an oddly peaceful event. Coupled with the fact that none of the beasts could pose a true threat to him, and the beauty of the blue-lit jungle plus the glowing cosmos swirling in the sky above it, the journey was a stunning venture through the best Brock’s newfound magical reality had to offer.
To his dismay, however, a tiger growled off to his side, its once black stripes replaced by stripes of luminescent aqua. The silly beast had found a knife embedded in between its eyes faster than it could even process what happened, and it fell to the ground limply as the blade was yanked free and flew back into the hand of its user.
“I almost feel bad,” Brock lamented as he stepped around the corpse, “It’s almost like smacking around a five-year-old. Though, if it was the old me, they’d have torn my arms off faster than I could even shit my pants.”
He shrugged, “So I guess it’s deserved. Fuck you.”
The rest of the adventure went without a hitch, apart from the occasional intrusion by hungry monsters. They were dealt with promptly, and Brock was always back on the road within seconds. The process was oddly… fun.
He didn’t know what was more horrifying: his daily kill count, or the fact that he was becoming progressively more accepting of violence as time went on. He would be lying if he didn’t admit he had a small fear of turning into a psychopath.
Finally, after cutting directly across to the west of the aqua jungle and spending a night resting within a building, Brock found himself watching the trees with narrowed eyes as the leaves slowly shifted to crimson and the trunks to grey. If going by blood colour was any indication, then hadn’t East had red blood already? Though, he had been the Alpha of the emerald domain, despite the colour. South and North had both had blood colours corresponding to the palette of the place they were found in.
There’s a story behind this, and I have to say I’m intrigued.
Ignoring the ominous colour scheme of his surroundings and the blood-red sky fading into view above him, Brock continued onward, entering the domain of West full of resolve. His quest prompt reappeared, seemingly to remind him of his objectives, and he quickly discarded it.
It only took about five minutes of walking before Brock finally met his first opponent in his new location. Like that which he had seen in the green, it was a wolf creature, although of a far more muscular and rigid stature. Aside from that, they looked basically the same, albeit with sharper claws and bigger teeth.
The fur of the beast was also tinged deeply with a rustic red, and a familiar name flickered overhead as the beast bounded forward to engage the prey it had located.
[F] Pontiac (LVL 18)
Brock grimaced as he saw it possessed a similar level to South, though he knew all too well that the strength of Alphas didn’t exact abide by the normal logic of levels. If he used the creature’s level in the high teens as any indication, Brock would probably pin West in the mid-twenties, maybe even the early thirties. Immediately, he knew the coming fight was going to be a tough one.
The Pontiac soared through the air and Brock ducked underneath it, slicing at its exposed belly with his summoned dagger. His eyes widened in surprise when he found the silvery metal of the blade skittering off the wire-like bristles of fur, doing minimal damage. It seemed the beast had built-in slash resistance.
It hit the ground a few meters away and rounded to face its opponent with a snarl, barring its teeth menacingly. Brock ignored it however and felt the heated flow of his Augment as it seeped into his dagger and an edge of swirling orange energy flashed out from the tip, imitating the curves and intricacies of the dagger as though it had been elongated into a shortsword version of itself.
Chuckling to himself as the wolf narrowed its eyes in his direction, Brock had to forcedly duck as a wolf appeared from the interior of a building off to his side and lunged at him, its teeth chomping together loudly as it flew overhead. Close...
Grimacing, Brock watched as a third and fourth wolf appeared. This time, however, Brock didn’t even consider running, as if he couldn’t even beat a pack of grunts, he had no chance of beating that of the Alphas. His body was still injured and slightly sore, but he felt himself confident in taking out the fodder arrayed before him.
Ducking under a swipe, pivoting out the way of a bite, lopping the head off a wolf, Brock was locked in a brutal dance of death as he attacked, defended, dodged and wounded. Jumping back from a furious offensive presented by the remaining four, Brock narrowly avoided a follow-up chomp and flicked out his arm as his foot met the snout of another beast preparing to attack.
It recoiled with a whimper as the blade slithered forward through the air and struck true between the eyes of its companion, tugging it along and killing it instantly as the blade returned to his hand just in time to cleave the front leg off another attacking wolf and stomp its head in. It took only five minutes before the battle finally ended with Brock as the clear winner.
"I... did it..."
He was littered in bite and claw marks, and his fresh outfit was torn and once more soaked with the blood of him and his enemies, but he had won. It was an exerting battle, forcing Brock to truly put everything he had honed and learned to use over the past few weeks to the test, but it had paid off. It might come off as arrogant, but Brock was certain he could have won even if all of them were at level 20.
Surrounded by dismembered wolves and blood, the quiet hum of wind brushing through the trees the only noise apart from his own laboured breathing, Brock felt like a monster walking among monsters.
And he felt ready to tackle whatever the System could throw at him.