If there was one thing Misa had never really understood despite trying to, it was how [To Fall Yet Hold the Line] worked.

It was, by all accounts, an absurd skill — there was no reason it should be possible to block every attack. More to the point, she'd seen the results of an impossible application of it not too long ago. When she blocked an unblockable attack, rather than one skill trumping the other, all of reality had sheared in half, and then chose the 'average' of those two results.

She suspected, therefore, that whatever mechanism the skill operated by would be strained by what she was doing now, attempting to block hundreds of attacks simultaneously. Every single meteor counted as a separate attack, and every single one of them were attacks she would ordinarily fail to block. Not by slight degrees, like before, either. By massive degrees.

But she had [To Fall Yet Hold the Line]. So she would not fail.

There was another instance before, when she'd attempted to block something that was outside the realm of what should have been possible for her to block — the intrusion of the system on Derivan's mind. Her memory of that moment was faint and fuzzy, like there was some specific detail about it that she couldn't quite recall in perfect clarity.

Except now. When she used the skill now, straining it to its limits, that memory slammed into sharp focus, for the system couldn't hide from her what the skill did while it was doing it.

She wielded nothing against the meteors, and she felt the skill reaching. Not a sword, for a sword could not strike down a meteor. Not a dagger. Not a staff or a wand or a focus, either, for there was no version of her — no iteration of Misa that wielded any of those weapons — that could strike a meteor down.

At lower levels, the skill forced her to move in physically impossible ways, adopting what would allow her to best block a skill. At higher levels — when no amount of physical convolution would allow her to block an attack — it began to reach for other versions of her; versions that were similar, but had a slightly different weapon. A sword instead of a mace, if that would be more effective. A wand or a focus instead of a sword, if she needed to counter some magic. She didn't know any magic herself, but there was some version of her out there that did.

Shields were few and far between, but even at the outer edges of her possibility of self, those failed. There were no shields she could wield that would block all of these simultaneously.

All this knowledge came flooding into her mind, because however the skill operated, it was reaching. It was going out to the very farthest edges of everything Misa had been and ever could be, and it was coming up empty, for there was no version of Misa that existed — or that ever would exist — that would be capable of stopping an entire meteor storm by herself. There was no weapon, in the system-limited world where the level cap was supposedly a hundred, that could stop what was essentially an apocalyptic event.

And so, out of other options, the skill reached out to her and asked: What weapon could she wield, against a power such as this?

And Misa answered.

I am more than the sum of my parts. The effect I have on the world is more than the footprints I leave behind. I have carried my village with me for years; their hopes, their dreams, and their prayers. I have met new friends, and they, too, are now part of my power. Because my power does not lie in what I do alone.

The weapon I wield is not sword nor shield, not staff nor wand. It is in the lives I have touched, with kindness instead of cruelty, compassion instead of rage. It is in the strength of community, in acting together to enact change that cannot be accomplished alone.

The skill responded.

There was no version of Misa that could stop hundreds of meteors alone; a single one was an apocalyptic event, all by itself. But she would not fail to block this attack, and she had a lot more to leverage than just herself.

Thousands — then tens of thousands of mana poured into the skill through the mana she had borrowed, stolen directly from the [####### A#####].

Ghostly versions of people manifested in the air — most of them the people of J'rokksur. Each of them carried with them something special.

Not a class. Not a unique skill. All of them had [Common] classes, and [Common] skills.

These were just versions of them that had had their lives touched by Misa. Variations that had learned to abuse their skills to truly absurd degrees. Not alone, perhaps, but working in concert, with maxed out skills. These were variations of them that had lived with Misa for years, and grown up with her. They were from a village that had survived the horde, and learned to fight with everything they had.

[Classify], from the village [Categorist], who very reluctantly classified a group of meteors as a mannequin.

[Clothe], from the village [Tailor], who worked together with the [Cobbler] to bestow a pair of massive shoes on the lowest two meteors in that group.

[Light Steps], from one of the guardsmen, who had a buffing skill that could make any piece of footwear tread lightly.

[Adjust], from the village [Builder], who could move rocks slightly. 'Slight', as it turned out, was quite astronomic when dealing with the scales and distances involved for meteors. The impact would still have done damage, if not for the [Light Steps] buff, which caused the entire set of meteors that had been [Classified] together to land with a move that could only be called dainty.

Those particular rocks rolled peacefully onto the ground, and struck some invisible border where the dissolution of the bonus room had begun; they vanished as they struck that invisible barrier.

Misa grinned at the sight. The sky began to undulate in anger, but not even a second had passed, and they were far from done.

The village pickpocket — who had received the class when he had once pickpocketed a friend as a joke and hated it, though no one judged him for it — [Stole] several meteors, then [Trade]d it with the [Quartermaster], who [Store]d it.

There was a version of Derivan, here, who had learned to Shift and had boosted the stat to impossible numbers. He slashed with a hand, and holes were outright torn in space; holes that sent one meteor crashing through and into another, and those fragments into another five, sending each crashing off course.

There was a version of Vex who had learned to master magic — not through runes, not [Mana Manipulation], but magic as he wished it to be. It was an art, in his mind, and this version of him had leaned entirely into it; he had discarded his dagger for a brush, and he painted strokes in the air. Each stroke of mana became a glittering panel of light, and the meteors that struck those panels flashed into a dozen shades of prismatic color before shimmering down into nothing.

There was a version of Sev who stood, silent — but behind him were figures, and one of them looked like the familiar form of Onyx. He gave Onyx a nod, and Onyx stepped into him; reaching out with a hand, half a dozen meteors were instantly crushed together, turning into a perfect sculpture of Velykos; the priest they'd met, not too long ago.

The skeletons each — being highly leveled combat classes already — had their own attacks they could levy against the meteors. Five attacks streaked into the sky, even from the one that had refused to fight; one of them was the captain, launching his entire body at a meteor. Another one was an arrow. The third physically leapt up with a greatsword that should have been too big to carry, the fourth struck with a mace that shattered the rock, and the fifth held up a shield that somehow held up against a meteor.

There was Jerome, or a ghostly figure of him, who appeared in front of a meteor and seemed prepared to convert it to gold — only that meteor swerved, for some reason, and never hit him at all; it smashed into the side of the bonus room instead, and dissolved into nothing.

And with that, the sky was clear. Misa couldn't help but stare in some awe. Some of those were things that she'd assumed was possible, but never tested; for obvious reasons, [Common] classes were rarely put into combat situations. Especially non-combat classes. Even the tests she'd done with the other villagers as a kid...

She glanced around. Some of the villagers looked awed, too. Vex and Derivan were staring up at the sky, watching with a glimmer of something inscrutable.

"Can I do that someday?" Vex whispered.

"I am sure that you can," Derivan answered, gentle.

Others just looked afraid of what would happen next, which was... valid. Misa grimaced. This was just the opening salvo, and the sky was angry, rippling in furious coils as it prepared to strike again.

And then it did. It was a single attack, springing its head at the village like a snake going for a bite, covering kilometers in an instant. Misa gritted her teeth and blocked the single attack — her weapon this time was a greatsword of strange, fractal design, that seemed to suck all the kinetic force of the attack into nothing — and then she was falling.

Vex caught her with a spell. Orkas and Charise were both running up, one demanding to help and the other asking her if she was alright; she nodded tightly to the latter, but didn't know how to answer the former. She didn't have any ideas. Just blocking the thing felt like it had drained her on a fundamental level, for all that she was supposedly still full on health.

At least the snake seemed stunned from having its attack stopped.

"I'm okay, mom," she said out loud when Charise didn't stop worrying. Footsteps made her glance to the side, where she saw Sev running over.

"I think I have an idea." Sev's words were half-panted out; evidently, he'd been running around for a while. There were lines of exhaustion around his eyes. Determination still burned in them, though, strong as ever. "I'm not sure if you saw, but some of those meteors hit the edge of the bonus room and disappeared."

"And the Serpent attacks ridiculously fast once it lines up for a strike..." Vex thought out loud. "You want to get it to hit the side of the room?"

"Exactly." Sev managed a fierce grin, despite his exhaustion.

"That might work," Misa said. She glanced up and winced. "It better work, actually. I can't keep this up forever, and that thing looks pretty fuckin' mad."

Sev looked up, too, and grimaced. The Serpent was glaring down at them in two glowing spots of light, looking like miniature suns narrowed into slits. If it had been stunned, it was already coiling around for another attack.

"Dad," Misa said, glancing at her father. "You need to evacuate the villagers. I don't want them anywhere near where this thing is going to hit."

"There isn't anywhere to run even if we wanted to," Orkas said, shaking his head. "But it's focused on you."

Ah. Because of the ####### #####R, still held tight in her hand. She'd almost forgotten.

"Alright then," Misa said. The Serpent was already coiling up again, preparing for another strike. "I guess I'm going to be the bait."

A note from SilverLinings

I regret nothing.

Astute readers may have noticed that in early chapters Misa's weapon kept changing. This is the payoff for that.

As always, thank you for reading. I also have a Patreon, if that's your kind of thing. If you've enjoyed reading, reviews and ratings are really helpful for visibility. 

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About the author


Bio: I enjoy writing in my spare time. I try to envision a world where people that act in good faith have the power to enact change.

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