The Colossus’ quickness was extremely irksome as its leg whipped forward to meet me. But its deceptive speed wasn’t any match for the strange perception given me by “My Soul is the Flame, my Body the Blade.” it was something akin to being able feel the heat from fire; even with my eyes clouded, the direction the blow was coming from was clear, and I leapt above it.
-Which is a bad metaphor to use while you are covered in fire, but still…
But I didn’t have extra mental energy to deal with Other Me, because it turned out that moving powerfully increased the ambient pain I experienced from Immolation. The same veins that previously burned from moving immolation from the strange core within me to my skin were jostled and shaken, the powerful flame energy angered by the whole situation.
For a second I hung in the air, dazed. But for only a second. Then I narrowed my eyes and gritted my teeth, rushing forward.
The Colossus chopped downward with its arm, smashing the ground and splintering stone up in every direction, but it only elicited a small smile from me. My left arm stabbed forward, the furiously burning flames aiding in my punch’s power.
The reverberation from the blow was satisfying, but I narrowed my eyes. This wouldn’t be enough.
It pulled its arm back, gathering for another blow, but I surged forward under its guard, my relatively tiny body moving among its limbs easily. This time when I struck, I made sure to use the forms of Thunder Stance to explode forward, smashing with something close to the epitome of my physical destructive power.
The metal of the Colossus deformed, but only slightly. And even then, I suspected it was only due to the high heat produced by Immolation.
Congratulations! Due to your actions, your skill has changed to “Thunder Stance Lvl 7”. Your destructive power while utilizing the Thunder Stance has increased. Your ability to understand some of the 2nd Tier forms of Thunder Stance has increased. Decreased mana usage for 2nd Tier forms.
-2nd Tier forms?
-Ashni has not mentioned them….But at least the power increases. Won’t be enough for this one though.
-Let’s check if the heat does have some effect.
Leaping to the side, I dodged the Colossus’ elbow as it lashed out at me. I then created several platforms of air and jumped up towards the Colossus’ shoulder. It turned strangely, looking away from me, and I smiled, thinking it had lost sight of me.
But then that strange sense exploded, and I could feel more than see the blow coming.
Automated Air Armor hummed online.
Lunar mist formed, condensing into a pearly white shield.
Air wrapped tightly around me, forming a tight egg.
The whole Colossus dropped away as it leaned back, bringing its leg over in a bicycle kick. The split second I hadn’t detected it movements made it impossible to dodge. I crossed my arms, preparing to receive the blow.
All three defensive skills shattered, so fast that I couldn’t even detect the slightest bit of effect they had against the oncoming attack. Then the attack reached my arms, shattering my wrists to nothing and doing quite the number on my forearms. Foreboding sounds came from my shoulders when the shock wave reached them.
The blow continued, bulldozing through my defense and smashing into my chest. Luckily the blow had thrown me backwards slightly when it shattered the shields, and a lot more when my arms were broken, meaning that I didn’t receive most of the force.
But still my ribs splintered and my heart stuttered briefly to a stop.Then the whole world became a blur-
The ground welcomed me, and I skipped across the grassland several times, leaving craters in my wake, before I can to a stop.
The whole time, all I could think was-
“IT FUCKING BUUUUURNS!”
It was literally lava flowing through my veins, searing every nerve ending and muscle. I tried to sit up, but my chest was so torn up that the agony punctured through the burning, forcing me to acknowledge it. But I didn’t stop.
I sat up, my arms flopping around uselessly, barely enough solid bone remaining in them to maintain a constant shape.
The Colossus had crashed to the ground in the wake of his blow, and was now slowly rising, its six eyes burning as they swiveled towards me.
But for some reason, I wasn’t worried. I wasn’t scared of death here. If anything…
“I feel alive,” I whispered savoring the words slowly, almost running my tongue over them as I said them.
-We are Predator. We cannot exist without struggle and strife. And the ultimate goal is victory, the fundamental joy of being Apex. That is the core of our existence. But for now…
-But for now, we hunt until we drink blood.
I was laughing wildly spitting up blood almost unconsciously as my body frantically began to repair the damage done. The Colossus slowly began to walk towards me, the light from its eyes growing brighter by the second.
-First order of business is getting back to our feet.
I formed a hand of air and tried to grab myself by the scruff of the neck, lifting myself up. Unfortunately, the Immolation immediately superheated the air I controlled, immediately ballooning up the mana usage, so much so that I stopped immediately.
Next I used ice affinity to freeze my blood in the shape of bones to give me the ability to move, but again, the heat interfered; my blood bones melted. Finally I gathered Lunar Mist and condensed bones inside my body, specifically my arms, allowing me to push myself upwards.
My legs were trembling, but I chalked that mostly up to adrenaline and mild shock. They didn’t seem injured, and any aches or pains they may be experiencing weren’t strong enough to reach my Immolation-numbed pain receptors. Then I considered the accumulated notifications.
Congratulations! Due to your actions, your skill has changed to “Automated Air Armor Lvl 2”. Mana costs significantly reduced. Your ability to condense air into hard barriers has increased. Slightly higher chance of deflecting weaker blows.
Congratulations! Due to your actions, your skill has changed to “Physicality Lvl 9”. Your physical body has been through so many injuries and healings that it has learned to cope with any sort of damage. Injuries are now extremely localized, i.e. they have a relatively minor effect on the uninjured parts of your body. It has become almost impossible to die from blood loss or the failure of a single organ.
-Desirable improvements, but little bearing on the current situation.
-We hope. We aren’t out of the woods yet, and blunt force is more than enough to cause organs to fail.
My bones in my arms were starting to knit back together, but they were far from being capable of striking, let alone withstanding blows. It would be a miracle if the healing bones didn’t crumble just from the force of me dodging the colossus’ attacks.
Thunder Stance was too forceful to my body, and Air Stance was too aggressive in its body movements for me to handle right now. I needed to use one of the defensive stances, but of course, they were the two I hadn’t even achieved a basic level of mastery in. Earth Stance wouldn’t work either, because even if I turned the attacker's force against it, it would still break me.
My grin twisted outward as the Colossus loomed closer.
-I guess it’s time for me to learn Water Stance.
Shuusuke did his best to ignore the pounding at his door, content to remain sulking after his earlier embarrassment. If he never had to leave his bed for the rest of his life, it would be too soon. Besides, his parents shouldn’t be home for hours, and he had no friends. Why would he open the door when it was likely just a Wing Brush salesman or something?
Shuusuke sat straight up. The pounding continued, and the voice was screaming, but due to the walls, he could barely make out what he was saying. Only about 1 in 3 words could be understood.
The whole house abruptly shook, as if something had been slammed against the door. Horrified, Shuusuke ran out of his room into the 2nd floor roost, which had a window facing the street.
Looking down, Shuusuke saw a Cloit he didn’t recognize hefting a garden Human, which were all the rage these days, his mother had recently bought on one of her rare days off. Now that he was closer, the words were much easier to understand.
“How dare you upset him! He’s just a scientist, he wasn’t meant to be an Industrial Head! If you think you can come and strong arm-”
Once more the Cloit slammed the garden human against the door, which was beginning to crack.
“You think you can hide in a worker’s dwelling?!?! I’ll follow you to the ends-” But as the Cloit leaned back, preparing to slam the garden human against the door again, he overbalanced, stumbling back. He stepped on Shuusuke’s traditional Cloit overcoat, which he had thrown to the ground in his distress when he had returned home.
The Cloit’s foot slipped, his body falling backward towards the stone fence.that surrounded Shuusuke’s house. The cloit flailed his arms, but the weight of the garden human was pressing him downwards.
His neck struck the fence at an odd angle, breaking with a sickening crack.
Shuusuke just looked down, dumbstruck.
His neighbor, Mrs. Sanders, had come out to see what the hubbub was about, began to screech. “Oh my gaaaaaaaaaawd! He died! Someone call the authorities!”
My eyes relaxed, going slightly unfocused. Whipman had-
-Before he abandoned us for god knows what
Emphasized the need to relax while seeking the forms of water stance. He talked long about how the water stance was about connections and flow. How every action causes ripples that the Water Stance is designed to follow, and make use of. The epitome of Water Stance would be completely controlling another’s ripples, thereby rendering them helpless before you.
Now, confidence aside, I knew that I wouldn’t reach that level right now. Perhaps not ever. But given how quickly I could level up some of my other skills, I thought it to be reasonable that I could learn the stance well enough to gain the levelable skill.
My eyes unfocused further, the little vision I had through the flames covering my body falling away. Everything was just motion and shape. Color lost meaning. The sense I gained while using immolation helped immensely, sending me powerful visions of the Colossus’ intent.
I felt the magic from the Colossus’ eyes surge, and was happy to find that I wasn’t weighed down as I had been previously. As I thought, it was an optic skill. As such….
My eyes closed completely, my senses reaching out to touch the Colossus.
While Whipman believed flow was critical, I had my own path. I had found metaphors to under the different stances, which had served me relatively well thus far.
-50% effectiveness is fine, I suppose.
Where as Thunder was fury and Air was fear, Water was hatred. It was insidious and unrelenting, it moved around resisted and corrupted from the edges, breaking off other emotion until all that remained was the hate. It also beget itself, growing larger and more monstrous until it was the sole thing of import in your life.
It was easy to allow that dark emotion to rise within me. It was hot, then cold, then vibrating, but all the while it was sharp, rising up out of the hole in my soul where I had banished my petty concerns.
This Colossus struck me. For that, I would make it bleed.
I felt its intention, and my body was already shifting to the side, struggling to pull back far enough, just to touch the edges of the ripples the Colossus gave off, finding the distance from which I could strike.
The ground next to me shattered as the Colossus brought its arm down.
“DAMNIT” I bellowed, my teeth grinding as I hastily hobbled away.
Although I had maintained enough distance to dodge the attacked, the shattered stone ripped into my leg, exacerbating the agony of the immolation.
-At least you didn’t break any bones. Try harder next time.
I stamped on the ground a few times after I created some distance, making sure my leg could support my weight. But it seemed to be a superficial injury, so I once more settled into the form that Whipman had drilled into me for Water Stance.
The Colossus’ attack this time was a kick that was low to the ground for it, but would only crush every part of my body above the waist, should it hit me. For a split second, I admired the speed with which such a huge creature could move.
-I wonder if you need a higher amount of agility to move a larger or heavier body faster.
Then I was spinning down and away, under the kick, my mind racing furiously as it struggled to keep up with the wripples created from the attack.
It as a matter of surface area, I believed. Some others might intuit the movement of those “ripples”, the lingering hatred, but I couldn’t. My perception showed me them all, and my processing power furiously observed them and attempted to calculate their movements, every ripple at once. They then flowed together and bounced off of each other, mixing and moving.
Suddenly I was extremely disappointed that I hadn’t received a race that boosted processing power, only memory. Sure, I could remember every single ripple after the fact, but during a fight…
-Not so useful.
Even though the kick missed me, the air pressure it generated sent me tumbling. Normally, this wouldn’t even be something worth mentioning, nor would it be close to injuring me, but my natural reaction was to shift my arms to break my fall.
Since being injured, the bones in my arms had started to knit back together, growing rapidly. But they were nowhere near completion, and my str was so high that as my muscles flexed to move my arms, the healing bones were squeezed until they shattered, another lightning bolt of pain shooting through me.
Something snapped within me, the strange, colorless perception I had of the world around me slowly being tinged with red.
“These….. Stupid….. Forms…..!” I hissed, furiously cursing Whipman for teaching me these worthless stances. The Colossus was just recovering from its attack as I stumbled to my feet, and jumped towards me.
I stepped, using my most sophisticated and controlled Thunder Stance form that I knew, alighting on its shoulder before it had even registered that I had moved.
Twisting quickly to act during that split second of confusion, I wrapped my legs around its neck, pressing myself tightly to the back of its neck.
“Just burn with me, fucker.” I whispered, frantically willing my arms to heal faster so I could grab more tightly.
At first the Colossus didn’t seem to know what was going on. It searched around, and was unable to find me. Its 6 eyes landed on Ashni, who regarded it cooling.
-Heh, serves her right for refusing to take part in the fun.
But just as Other Me began to gloat the Colossus stiffened.
-Ah. Must be getting a little hot under the collar.
I could sense it too, that he metal near where I was grabbing was beginning to deform, if just slightly. In response, the Colossus began to shake itself side to side.
When that clearly did nothing to dislodge me, one of its huge hands reached up and pressed against me, latched onto the back of it neck as I was. I suspected that even it couldn’t take a full strength blow from itself when it worked up momentum without incurring some injury, so it didn’t strike. Instead, it simply pressed, taking full advantage of its large size, weight, and strength.
Truly its power was formidable. My bones groaned uncomfortable as it pressed, struggling to squash me.
A dangerous light flickered to life in my eyes.
“I am a Predator, you are prey.” I spoke aloud, even though I couldn’t be sure if it could understand my words.
-It doesn’t seem to have ears.
“I care not for honor or pride. What I care about is my dinner; at the end of the day, you will be devoured.”
I savoured the words as I spoke them, delighting in the way the sounded, the truth I felt in them. This, ultimately, is what I was. A killer. A predator.
My smile stretched even wider as the Colossus gave up on the pressing strategy and began rubbing back and forth, almost trying to scrape me off of my perch.
Unfortunately, this was ultimately a much more effective strategy. I winced as I felt multiple small fractures beginning to form across my body. I had already given up hope of recovering my arms for now, as he broke bones much faster than I could heal them. My hips were approaching the point of no return, and I wasn’t sure how much longer I could hold onto the Colossus.
My eyes burning with ill will, I once more formed bones of condensed moonlight in my right arm. Reaching forward, I began to dig into the Colossus’ metal skin, long trails of metal scraped off by my sharp nails. Licking my lips, I did the same thing in my other arm, giving up on defense and just madly slashing out, hoping to reach blood.
A notification popped up that made me happy and depressed at the same time.
Congratulations! Due to your actions, your skill has changed to “Immolation Lvl 2”. Heat produced by your core has greatly increased. Due to increased integration, you feel the increased heat as slightly more bearable. Mana to maintain state decreased by a very small amount.
Happy because the temperature was up and because the heat was SUPPOSED to become slightly more bearable.
Depressed because it seemed that the greatly increased heat more than compensated for any benefit the integration might have had.
The previous pain was white, and seemed to override every other thought. This pain was black, and disintegrated at the edges, as if too much exposure would lead to my consciousness slowly falling to pieces.
-And this is only level 2….
But my cheshire smile just continued to stretch. I didn’t see pain or struggle. I saw only survival. I craved power, and I loved how fast and hot my blood was flowing through me right now. Let everything burn, I craved it.
The increase in heat had a noticeable effect on the Colossus. It began to more frantically and erratically, desperately trying to be rid of me. And as I watched, the metal near me began to visibly deform, melting.
My slashes quickly became much more determined, larger chunks of half molten metal ripped off as I dug for its flesh.
Then, almost too quickly, I reached it.
There was a drag as if I was pulling through a particularly heavy layer of metal, but I thrust with my nails viciously. Then I felt a hot spurt as its warm blood sprayed out over my hand.
Grinning, I raised my other arm.
But the entire world shifted. Air was rushing past me and my mind frantically tried to process what my senses were telling me. Just before impact, my processing finally caught up with the rush of information.
The Colossus had done a backflip, and was now about to allow the back of its head into the ground-
I blinked groggily, abruptly coming away. My mind was slightly foggy and I couldn’t parse apart the information, so I deactivated immolation. As the streams of molten heat withdrew from my skin and returned to my core, my entire body seemed to sigh with relief.
Then it kicked into overdrive, rapidly healing me. My lower back was in shambles, but the real scare was the large crack that stretched across the back of my skull.
-I wonder how well brains would heal. Hey, other me, how long was I out?
But there was no response.
I blinked rapidly, sitting up, or at least attempting to, and immediately regretted it. The pain was no longer a blanket, but more like a series of localized spikes. Still quite painful however. But before I had a chance to speculate what had happened to Other Me, I felt a strange shift in my head.
-....woah, I wonder how well brains can regenerate. Hey, other me, how long was I out?
I was half annoyed, half amused with the similarities between us. I suppose we were the same person.
For several minutes, I lay still and simply breathed. After about 15 of such minutes, I felt well enough to move, and dragged myself to my feet, hoping I didn’t look quite so weak as I felt.
The Colossus, to my surprise, was emitting a low buzzing noise that sounded suspiciously like a whine, clutching the back of its neck with one hand, while the other was attempting to delicately pick up the hunks of melted metal that I had ripped off of it.
The Colossus stilled. Then it turned towards me.
“Always finish prey before you nurse your own wounds. Dumbass”
Its vibration rose in pitch and strength, become a dull rumble. Its arm blurred, smashing into the ground.
But in its stance I saw something new: fear.
“Heh, you are a crybaby when it comes to pain, huh? Well let me tell you, that’s gonna make this an extremely long night for you.” I said with a smile. Then I activated Immolation.
Mrs. Sanders curled a wing protectively around Shuusuke. His parents still hadn’t gotten off work, and likely the overseer wouldn’t think it important enough to interrupt the factory cycle for. After all,Shuusuke had only been attacked, not actually injured.
“Y’all need to ask less questions. Can’t ya see the poor boy is scared witless? He is a victim!”
Mrs. Sanders had taken charge in all of the conversations with the authorities. She had told the story, a story which had become increasingly embellished, about the strength and evil of the Cloit that had followed Shuusuke home. By the end of it, it sounded like Shuusuke had been lucky to escape with his life, and the police should be ashamed that they allowed such a vicious Cloit run free for so long.
Before the medics had taken away the body, Shuusuke had looked at how small and crippled the strange Cloit looked. He couldn’t get the image out of his head.
“Well,” the Investigator finally said, closing his small book with a snap. “I think that’s all we need for today. Good luck with your studies, son.”
He turned to leave, but then turned back at the last moment. “Oh, and if he does get classified as a criminal, as the victim, you will receiving a portion of his estate.”
“Oh gaaaaaaaaawd, can’t you see how upset he is? Why would you talk about money right now?!? The boy needs peace!” Mrs. Sanders shooed the authorities away, her wing still around Shuusuke.
Only when everyone else had left did it fall away, Mrs. Sanders typical toothless grin showing through. “Ehehe, I hope you have the good sense to buy lil ole me a good gift for that excellent performance. Did you like it? They really ate up my provincial accept.”
Humming happily, she left Shuusuke alone.
‘What…’ Shuusuke’s stalled out for several minutes as his eyes remained locked on the slight discoloration that was all that remained of that strange Cloit’s blood.
It took a transport driving by to restart his thought.
‘What… what is happening in my life….?’