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All three options were interesting, to say the least. Tier 5 skills were certainly a qualitative change, each option gave me advantages that would all but triple my strength in their own way.

[Dark revival] gave me incredible survivability, but I wasn't sure if the system would recognize me as my own bonded necromancer. The fact that it went into more detail than just "as long as you have mana" was worrying. On top of that, my mana situation wasn't exactly stable right now.

[Dark Phantasm] was the option that personally excited me the most. Temporary intangibility would allow me to go toe to toe with tier 4s at tier 2! The mana consumption was a massive downside though. I wouldn't be able to use it consistently before I actually reached tier 4 in my mana core skill, if that was even possible anymore.

With a wince, I looked at my status.

 

Name: Arthur
Titles [Dark prodigy]
Class: [Death Knight] LVL 25
Strength 104
Constitution 100
Dexterity 100
Intelligence 25
Wisdom 50
Affinity 299
Free stat points 8

Skills:

Passive: [Overloading Dark core](dissipating)(3%), [Dark sight](9%), [Berserker Swordsmanship](13%),

[Growing lifespan](N/A), [Mana physique](N/A), [Mental resistance](N/A)

 

Active: [Dark augment](100%), [Shadow apparation](53%), [Battle meditation](21%), [Flexible senses](N/A)

 

My skills had grown a little, but my core skill was actually slowly dissipating. I could feel it unravelling itself inside of my chest. The whirlpool was slowing down, and more and more mana was escaping its clutches. I would have to choose fast.

The final option was [Dark Form]. It was the least exciting one, but the fact that it became a passive skill catapulted its value above the others in my opinion. Because it didn't require mana to use, even in the worst case scenario I would be left with something. Still, reaching the higher tiers without a core was nigh impossible.

There was only a single tier 7 that didn't use mana, the sword sage. He was an old man that lived in a far-off country as a hermit. If the legend was to be believed, he tiered up to tier 7 relying solely on his swordsmanship skill, setting him apart from the other legendary warriors. There hadn't even been a single tier 7 in the Roa kingdom since the founder who disappeared thousands of years ago, so their rarity spoke for itself. Still, I wasn't confident in recreating his feat. With my current mana state, I simply didn't have the room to gamble. I would need to tier up quickly if I wanted to keep any of my mana-generating capabilities.

Mentally, I chose [Dark Form].

Ding! [Dark augment] has reached tier 5. [Dark augment] turns into [Dark Form].

 

[Dark Form](0%)

Tier 5 skill.

Your dark-aligned mana is regulated and follows a set path as long as it remains inside of your body. Regulated mana does not dissipate or expel naturally.

The more mana is regulated, the stronger this skill becomes. Your body can withstand a large amount of mana.

While mana is regulated, you heal incredibly quickly.

While mana is regulated, you ignore pain.

While mana is regulated, you gain physical strength, dexterity and constitution based on a stat multiplier, which in turn depends on the amount of regulated mana.

 

When I read the description, I roared in fury.

"What do you mean 'regulate mana'? I have no mana, you damned system!"

Right as I was about to continue shouting, I noticed a change in my body. My core was no longer dissipating! It didn't recover either, but it wasn't degrading. The whirlpool just floated there, no longer spinning or drawing in mana. The rest of my mana that was still in my body from breaking my core was now neatly flowing again, without my core doing anything to pump it around my body.

It slowly flowed along my veins and limbs, like a lazy river. All the mana followed the stream naturally, as if it knew what to do.

When the circular system completed itself, I felt my strength increase again. My augment had activated on its own! I supposed it was my [Dark Form] now. There was just one big issue with this saving grace. The amount of strength I received was nowhere near what I had come to expect from my augment before. Was the skill just weaker? No, it would have mentioned that, and the skill description is more impressive, meaning that its limits were above that of [Dark augment]. Despite this, I felt like I was using my augment at 20% output, which just wasn't enough to deal with another tier 3, even if it was another low-level one.

After pondering on this topic for a while, I concluded that I just didn't have enough mana in my body to increase the benefits further. I tried to draw in mana using my [Mana physique] and [Battle meditation], but I had no luck. For some reason, neither worked. I couldn't draw mana into my core like [Battle meditation] always did, while mana I drew in using [Mana physique] wouldn't be accepted by my [Dark Form] skill as my mana. If mana didn't pass through a core, it wouldn't be recognised by the system as 'your' mana, after all. It would remain categorized under 'ambient mana'. The small amount of mana I drew in using my physique simply dissipated after a while.

There was a silver lining though. Because my core was no longer destroying itself, I didn't need to tier up here. Returning to the guild first might be the best option right now. The guild master was resourceful and knowledgeable, he might be able to help me out. Tiering up using the resources of the guild would definitely give me a better chance at solving my mana issues.

With a new goal in mind, I stood up and walked to the entrance of the cave, finding Michael sitting there, hiding behind a rock.

"You okay there kid? My business is finished for now, so why don't we return to Reito right now? We're about a day away on foot. If we leave now, we can make it there by nightfall tomorrow."

He looked relieved at my return. Sitting here alone after tonight's events won't have done his sanity much good. Above all, the kid needed stability right now. I was hoping the guild could give him that.

"R-right now? But it's not safe to travel in the middle of the night! I don't know how far I can still travel either, my feet hurt a lot."

I smiled at him to reassure him.

"Don't worry, we can just take one of the carriages the merchants left behind. You can sit in the back while I keep a look out for any monsters."

Michael looked surprised at that information.

"The merchants are still around after that fight? Are they still allowing us to travel with them?"

I grimaced. I had forgotten that Michael wasn't aware of the full situation yet.

"Yeah, about that. Turn's out the merchants weren't really merchants. Either that or they were paid to kill me, too. On the bright side, we get free horses!"

That last part didn't seem to work in cheering him up, since he still looked downcast.

"Let's- let's just go, kid."

He gave a small nod and grasped my hand. I put him on my back and ran through the forest, returning to the caravan. I avoided the previous campsite so Michael wouldn't have to see the corpses and took a carriage attached to two horses for my own. After putting the kid inside and telling him to stay put, I got to looting.

The tier 2s didn't really have anything of value. Some tier-less weapons and equipment, the occasional tier 1 or 2 sword or dagger, they weren't really worth much considering my current fortune. I took the coin and grabbed the tier 3s sword to get it appraised. I also found a small, nearly empty vial containing a purple poison. Considering this was probably the tier 4 poison they had used on me, I would give it to the guild to take a look at. When I had scoured the other carriages, looking for anything valuable, I had only found empty crates. That confirmed my theory that this caravan was a setup. They never intended to enter Reito in the first place.

I did loot every corpse and carriage for its coin, however. In total, I had found another 1000 silvers, about half of what the mayor had paid me to kill the necromancer. Most of that had been inside of the tier 3s purse, in the form of 3 gold pieces, which were worth about 300 silver. I stored everything onto our own carriage and set the rest of the horses free. Horses weren't that valuable to tier 3 warriors, because stats allowed one to travel more quickly. Considering even Barnold and Melinda were nearly tier 3, these horses wouldn't make for good gifts. I could try bringing them along to sell, but at most I would get another 100 silver for the lot, which just didn't make it worth the trouble to guide them all by myself, at night. On top of that, it would draw attention, which I wanted to avoid at all cost in my current, weakened state.

To clean up a little, I took some time to dig a mass grave and filled it with the corpses. Investigative classes would still be able to find out what happened here as long as they were of a high enough tier, but such classes were rare and often monopolised by guilds and nobles. Trackers like the ones in Ralston could track a person, but usually didn't have any skills to find out what happened with a small amount of evidence. The dark mana in the air would dissipate before anyone else noticed or found this place, unlike the basement below the alchemist's house, which was built to maintain a certain level of dark mana. As a result, I was confident no one would find out about this battle until I made it to Reito, and then I could just ask the guild to send people with the right classes and skills to clean up all of the evidence.

With our business finished, Michael and I set off into the night, following the trail to Reito.

 


 

A few days later, we passed through the gates of the big city. Michael was staring around wide-eyed, gasping at everything he saw. I supposed I had looked a little similar when I had first entered the city a few weeks ago. The large amounts of people, the guards with expensive-looking armour, the carriages running up and down the street.

The wooden gate into the guild district gave way to the first look of the hunters' guild Michael had ever had. The large fortress had people running across its battlements and guards standing at the gates. It was an impressive sight if you originated from a small town like Ralston. I showed my badge to the guards at the entrance of the guild and brought the carriage inside after it had been searched. I had just parked the carriage near a warehouse used specifically for such purposes, when Michael and I were approached by Doran.

"Michael, I'd like to introduce my instructor, Doran. He has helped me grow as a warrior and helped me with my skills. Doran, I'd like to introduce you to Michael, a kid I met. I know he has a lot of potential, and he wants to join the guild."

Doran looked at me sternly. Apparently, he wasn't willing to endure my 'happy go lucky' behaviour.

"You brought an unawakened child to the guild?"

I smiled hesitantly.

"Do we...not have the facilities to keep him here until he awakens?"

He sighed at my question and looked at Michael, who squirmed under his stare.

"The issue does not pertain to our facilities. We have official guild-sponsored orphanages that could take care of him until he awakens. It is simply not expected behaviour for our members to randomly bring back kids. What kind of message would that show to the world? Our reputation would fall even further."

I could hear him charge up his 'reprimanding' skill. Evidently, he was going to keep me here and scold me for ages. I had to get out now, if I ever wanted to get out at all.

"Hey listen, not to interrupt you or anything, but I have to report to the guild master right now. It's a pressing matter. Can you get Michael settled into my room and put an extra bed in it? We can talk about his arrangements after I've tiered up."

Doran huffed at my response, but smiled when he heard that last part.

"So you have successfully reached level 25 then? That is good news. Ask the guild master for our specialised rooms. I shall take care of young Michael for now. Follow me, child."

Doran turned around without waiting for an answer, which caused Michael to look at me questioningly. I nodded at him slightly, signifying him to follow my instructor. He caught the hint, because he ran after Doran to catch up a moment later. This must all be very new for the kid. I hoped he would soon fit in well amongst the guild members, like I had done.

With that task finished, I steeled my nerves and left for the guild master's office.

 


 

"Have you completely lost your mind?! Do you think breaking a core is EVER a good idea? All of your potential, your entire future! It could very well be gone entirely!"

I tried to cover my ears to protect myself from Andross' shouting. I had told him the entire story leading up to this point and explained my current situation. Clearly, he wasn't happy with my choices. Still, I felt the need to defend myself.

"Even in hindsight, I don't know what I could have done differently. That tier 3 poisoned me before I could even react!"

The guild master's experience showed itself when he replied, giving me the worst dressing down I had ever had. Considering my mother's temperament, that was saying a lot.

"You should have kept your distance! You could have struck first! You could have just run away, you fool!"

"How was I supposed to know that they had a tier 4 mana poison?"

"You couldn't! That's why you should've played it safe in the first place!"

The old man huffed. It looked like he had finally run out of steam. I looked at my feet in shame.

"So what do I do now?"

Andross grunted.

"Now, you rely on this old man's preparation to pull your sorry ass out of the fire!"

With a slam, he put an ornate chest on the table.

"About a week ago, I sent Doran on an errand to fetch me this. It's your reward for completing the mission. Thank Helios you didn't tier up yet, because this might solve your problem."

My attention was peaking now. The guild leader had something that could heal my core? Did he know in advance that I would fuck up?

He opened the box, revealing a dull grey pyramid with ornate markings along its surfaces. Some of its markings glowed light blue, reminding me of the appraisal crystal.

"This is a [Skill merge Pyramid], a very rare item. The item does exactly what it sounds like. It merges three skills and turns them into a [Unique skill]."

I looked at him strangely.

"Huh? That sounds good, but how does that help me with my situation?"

"I was getting to that, punk! Originally, I was going to recommend you combine 3 of your milestone skills, probably your physical ones. That would combine some of their effects while losing other effects. The end result is a much more powerful skill though. To use this relic, you need to have three skills of the same tier. The unique skill will then be one tier higher."

"What makes unique skills so good? You talk about them like they're definitely worth losing other skills over."

"Well, they have several qualities that other skills don't have. Unique skills can't be affected by meta-skills, similar to mutant skills which are also immune. You don't need to know what those all mean right now, let's focus on the matter at hand. The reason why I originally wouldn't recommend using your core skill in this skill-merge, is that unique skills could technically be anything, meaning that you might have lost your core entirely in return for a skill that needs a core to function. Are you starting to understand the problem now? With your core broken, you have much less to lose and much more to gain, but its entirely possible that you'll gain a skill that's useless without mana. Using an item like this is entirely luck-based. That being said, unique skills definitely count towards your class evolution as well. You have three options: use it now to possibly heal your core, use it after tiering up and hope that your core is healed by the tier up itself, or not use it at all. I'm warning you, tiering up with a broken core will negatively affect your class evolution."

"So, what do you think. Are you willing to risk it?"

With a determined nod, I replied affirmatively.

"Of course. I just don't have any other option right now. I would rather risk everything and make it big, than try to play it safe and lose everything."

He smiled at my confidence.

"Good. I would've been disappointed if you had rejected that option. Melly, get in here!"

A young woman entered the office at the leader's command.

"Bring Arthur here to one of our class evolution rooms, the one we took all of the lights out of."

The young woman nodded with a deadpan face.

"Very well, sir. Follow me, guild member Arthur."

 


 

I was led into a stone-cold room, that was devoid of windows. It was pitch black inside, but that didn't bother me. I grabbed the pyramid-shaped metal object, and focused on using it mentally. I wanted to gain a new mana absorbing or generating skill that would allow me to use my other skills, so I decided to combine all of my tier 2 mana skills into a tier 3 unique skill.

Ding! [Skill merge Pyramid] recognised. Use [Skill merge Pyramid]? YES/NO

Affirmative....choose three skills to merge... three skills have been chosen....[Overloading Dark core], [Battle meditation], [Mana physique]....calibrating.......

Ding! Skills lost! You have gained the skill [Dark radiance].

[Dark radiance core](0%)

Tier 3 unique skill.

You possess a dark core filled with dark elemental mana.

The core can passively absorb ambient dark mana incredibly quickly, but has a small total capacity.

The core is immune to overloading damage.

Ambient mana of any affinity can be absorbed and converted into dark-aligned mana with an efficiency of 1000-1.

[Dark radiance core] provides a very large amount of extra power to dark-aligned skills and reduces their mana cost by a minimal amount.

Increase proficiency by drawing mana into the core for prolonged periods of time.

 

The absurdity of the skill made me shout out loud in shock.

"What the hell!"

Could tier 3 skills even be this good? Its description was as expansive as my tier 5 [Dark Form]!

I heaved a sigh of relief. Though the smaller capacity was a downside, the rest of its properties were fantastic. Now I would just need to tier up.

Right as I was calming down again, I felt an enormous amount of mana rush into me. I had forgotten about the feeling of a core skill settling in. With this skill being a tier 3 unique skill, it would be even worse. Damn Helios, this was about to be a wild ride...

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The tier up is coming next chapter, I promise! Really!

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Belgianfri

  • Your holiness

Bio: I like fries. The belgian kind.

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