It had been a long night.
There were a few notifications to keep things interesting, but most of the time was spent with me trying my best to stay close to the Colossus, while it tried, with increasing desperation, to stay away from me.
Immolation in and of itself didn’t seem to do any actual damage to the creature. Perhaps some quality prevented the grey mush that was the inner flesh of its body from being susceptible to burns, but simply melting it did nothing.
When, however, I scratched at that revealed skin, the colossus swiftly became wild and panicked.
-And it bleeds just as red as everyone else.
-Pretty sure its blood was more brown.
-Whatever, we drank it all the same.
That was the other, unexpected, benefit of killing the colossus: Biomass. All told, consuming the entire thing, including the metal that formed its skin, ended up giving me just under 700 biomass. The sheer mass of the thing ended up being an unexpected boon.
I rubbed my stomach with a contented expression.
The process had been sped up considerably by the notifications.
Congratulations! Due to your actions, your skill has changed to “Immolation Lvl 3”. Mana costs slightly reduced. Heat of the core slightly increased. The amount of time it takes activate and deactivate Immolation has greatly decreased.
Congratulations! Due to your actions, your skill has changed to “My Soul is the Flame, My Body the Blade Lvl 4”. The enhanced state slightly increases your resistance to magical attacks. The enhances state greatly increases your resistance to mental attacks. Certain types of attacks will cause you to grow stronger.
Congratulations! Due to your actions, your skill has changed to “Absolute Control: Self Lvl 4”.
Congratulations! Due to your actions, your skill has changed to “Greater Fire Resistance Lvl 2”. Your ability to survive exposure to extremely high temperatures has increased. Your state will not be impaired by burns.
Once again, I obtained a level up for the absolute control skill I gained from Tamara, seemingly at random.
-Well, you forced yourself to stay conscious after Immolation leveled up. If that doesn’t show a great degree of control, I’m not sure what does.
-Still. I wish there was more clues as to what it did. And also, how is it different than Iron Will?
EIther way, it was true that Immolation Lvl 3 pushed the envelope even farther, making it almost impossible to be conscious and looking at the enemy at the same time. I simply didn’t have enough brain power to manage those two things at once. Even with Other me helping.
So I would force away the pain and stand still, sensing where the Colossus was blubbering. Then I would leap at him. All of my attention now consumed with staying conscious through the pain while moving.
-Probably was pretty foreboding though. For him I mean. When we went so still.
Either way, the level up in Greater Resistance to Fire couldn’t have come at a better time. But even then, all it really did was reduce the pain to a level less than Immolation at level 2, but higher than level 1. Comparatively manageable…
-But still hurts like a bitch.
Almost unconsciously, my hands curled upwards into fists and my heartbeat sped up slightly. The pain reminded me of the joy of struggle and dominance, even if it almost drove me mad.
“So?” Ashni had watched with distaste as I tortured the moaning Colossus, before I had finally killed it. She had practiced Thunder Stance forms while I was eating, and I noticed that there were several I didn’t recognize.
-2nd tier forms…
“So what?” I asked lazily, glancing around for more of the Colossus to eat. I had gotten rather wild towards the end, throwing hunks of metal everywhere. I didn’t want to miss anything…
“Can we leave now? Every moment you waste means Whipman moves farther ahead.” She was glaring at me with arms folded across her chest.
It was strange, I reflected. It almost seemed like she could sense my change of outlook immediately after it happened, and she had been judging me ever since. Still, she wasn’t the only one who was paying attention.
“Are you that worried about Whipman…?” I asked slowly, doing my best to sound casual.
Her face went white and her mouth pressed together in a thin line. I just grinned.
“But no,” I continued, turning my attention to the east. “We need to stop somewhere else first.”
When she was on earth, she was called Janine. She had taken advantage of humanity being transplanted to change her name to Jana, which she always thought was…. More of who she was.
Or of who she wanted to be.
But now… now she was known by many names. Ms. Yin. The Blood Rabbit.
Morgana, one of the three sisters that Predator had encountered in the white world..
Jana, a human who dreaded Predator more than anything else she had ever encountered, but had no strength to resist him.
‘We are one,’ She thought herself reflexively, and they were. Since Morgana had flowed into her mind, Jana had- they had- felt the two distinct personalities blurring into each other. Jana had been panicked at first, but Morgana’s ocean deep confidence had rid her of the worst of it. Now that the blending was well and occurring, Jana barely thought of it anymore.
They still maintained separate memories, but those were only of before. Now they were one.
“And,” She said out loud to herself. “Our 10 am appointment is late.”
“Ahaaha, did I keep you waiting? I lost track of time.” Jester strolled out of the darkness, arriving at the SubFloor without a hint of asking if he could enter.
Jana was shocked that he appeared, but Morgana narrowed her eyes, wondering how he wasn’t bound by the Solicitor’s covenant. Still, if he had been, they wouldn’t have been able to progress this far.
“This is a courtesy from my end, you are the one here for a favor.” Morgana said coolly, adjusting her cascading crimson hair. Her small bunny ears twitched in annoyance.
Jester waved his hand. “Yes, yes, but we both know I pay my debts. Even with a god.”
Morgana nodded slowly. “Fine then. We shall let your results speak for yourself. Did you bring it?”
With a flourish, Jester produced a hunk of crystal, heavily inscribed with runes. Had Predator been there, he would have recognized the coloring as the crystal they had done so much to destroy on the 3rd floor.
“Yes, your brother’s soul is trapped within. Or at least a cached copy of it.” Morgana removed her hand from the crystal and looked at Jester. “As you know, The Soul Record-”
“Yes, yes, he had achieved ascension, eternal servitude in return at a lottery shot at godhood.” Jester waved his wand flippantly.
Morgana allowed herself a small smile. “Some would say that a copy, even a perfect one, is not truly oneself.
“Then ascenders are all slavers.” Jester’s voice lost all of its playfulness. “I care not, child.”
Morgana felt a flash of irritation. Jana wondered how old he was.
“So what do you want?” She asked casually, offering him the hunk of crystal.
Jester went unnaturally still, and Jana felt a hot rush of fear, similar to what she had experienced around Predator. It was the feeling of observing the truth of your own mortality.
“I want a weapon. One that will liberate the souls of my foolish family members. And perhaps at the same time…”
Jester pressed the hunk back into Morgana’s arms. “Perhaps it will corrupt the entirety of that accursed armory, up above.
Morgana’s eyes flashed red.
To the east, of course, was a test to weaken the Colossus. Ashni perhaps had a point that it was ultimately a waste of time. But….
There was a small chance it would prove incredibly lucrative.
After all, it was administered by minotaurs. If in his puzzle there was another portal to their home realm, it would help me me advance my Code of the Dragon. And it would provide another definite boost in biomass.
-Plus, there is a Silver minotaur that needs killing.
The test itself was a giant, shifting labyrinth. Ashni had been surly ever since I suggested she cared about Whipman, and had remained behind, leaving me alone to wander around the maze. The walls seemed only about 10 m high, but they would rise as you did, making it seemingly impossible to leap over them. So I stayed on the ground.
This lasted for about 10 minutes. There were complicated sigils and different lights, and pressable pads that somehow shifted the labyrinth, I sensed.
But I didn’t care to try and notice them. I wanted to find fucking minotaurs.
My eyes were wide and bright, my mouth twisted into a grin as I found the longest passage I could, pointing a finger down towards the end. Essence swirled up within me, frightful and bright.
“Break for me,” I whispered, forming a condensed bit of lunar energy only the size of a fingertip. One that burned so brightly I couldn’t see a thing, even as it shot away from me. I could only sense the enormous mass of the thing, the heavy permanence.
Then it hit the far wall.
The force of the explosion was enough that I was knocked off my feet. Laughing brightly, I leapt back up, dusting off the chunks of stone that were sent flying. Before me, the walls continued for a while, but they soon gave way to a… glittering crater?
-Must be an effect of the lunar energy.
Either way, it was strangely beautiful,that shattered stone and the shimmering motes of light that floated above them, dancing back and forth.
-And it’s a waste of time. Let’s go.
So I went forward, searching. The huge explosion appeared to have made the extendable walls fail, so I was able to fly up over and search much more quickly.
Sure enough, in the far corner of the labyrinth, a few dozen minotaurs were looking around in confusion, freshly emerged from a portal.
-Perhaps they came here to investigate the explosion.
-Unlucky for them, they will find only me.
Feeling strangely nostalgic for the old days, I created a few dozen daggers of ice and whipped them towards the unsuspecting minotaurs, killing them all in either one or two cuts, their blood spreading out over the ground as they lost strength and tumbled over.
I walked calmly towards the portal, my steps spreading ripples out on the bloody floor.
“Time to go hunting.”
***POV Jana, Day 44***
Jana yawned, getting up out of bed. Yesterday had become a blur after Jester and Morgana had begun discussing in more detail what they would need to do to create the “Weapon” as they begun referring to it as and Jana basically… dozed off.
It was strange, and really scared her at first, but she could fall asleep and Morgana would continue to use her-their-her body, seemingly with no consequences. The flip side of that was that Morgana would often sleep until past noon, while Jana would get up and begin training with the rest of the team that was attempting to kill Predator.
Still yawning, Jana walked to the training area, grabbing a small amount of food to munch on the way there. No one else in their suite was usually up at this hour, so Jana took the opportunity to familiarize herself with her newfound skills that she had gained upon merging with Morgana.
Even her old skills had experienced a significant boost, so much so that they felt quite different.
As Jana did some of the warm up exercises prescribed by Kettle, she realized that she had no idea how much her physical body slept at night. If Morgana kept her up late, and Jana woke up early, how did the body feel this good…?
Jana faltered in her stretches, realizing that some others had arrived. It was Kat and the two men who stuck close to her and whispered, all the while looking at the rest of them with tired eyes.
Just was she was wondering how to deal with the situation, another person arrived: the man who she considered her stalker. Not that he did anything strange, Morgana just found him somewhere and assurd her that he could be trusted. The hooded man had an incredible ability to resist damage, so Jana could see why he was useful, but still….
But then the calmness spread back over her. It was all fine. She knew even if she didn’t quite remember, that he was trustworthy. And incredibly important.
The hooded man walked over and stood next to her. Kat was studying them, but Jana did her best to ignore it, continuing to stretch.
Finally, Kat walked over. “Hey, you are… Jana? I don’t think we’ve had a chance to talk.”
“Uh, hello. You’re Kat, right?” Jana said, feeling surprisingly calm about being addressed so suddenly. One benefit of merging with Morgana was the vast amount of confidence that she was slowly gaining access to.
“Yep. Let me get straight to the point; I’m going to be managing the….” Kat seemed to consider the word she wanted to use for a while. “...the operation, and I wanted to become more familiar with your abilities.”
Jana just tilted her head, and Kat offered, “For example, I specialize in communication, illusions, and mental attacks. This guy here-”
She pointed at the slight, asian man next to her, “Knows several advanced martial arts techniques and can use basically any weapon. He also has skills that boost his physical stats and their growth rates. He-”
Now she pointed to the other man, who was alternating glaring at Jana and giving a pleading look to Kat. “Specializes in spatial and acceleration manipulation. We are all in this together. Let’s not forget that.”
Jana wondered if that comment was more for her, or her companion.
‘Companion,’ that confidence deep within her seemed to answer. Jana nodded slowly.
“I… can create powerful forces of push or pull, but they only originate from my body. I also have some minor healing abilities.” Which was quite an understate; Jana was shocked to discover that Morgana had gifted her with Greater Blood Affinity Lvl 4, which was certainly…. He flashiest of her new abilities.
Kat looked expectantly at the hooded man beside her, and Jana cast her mind around, trying to remember any details that she had noticed from his training.
“He…. is a silent type. Incredible resistances and ability to regenerate, however.” Jana supplied.
Kat nodded, satisfied, then looked around at the training equipment. After a long silence, she sighed.
“Honestly…” She murmured, just loud enough for Jana to hear. “When I hear about all of our abilities, I know how powerful we all are, but then…. Then I also think, Predator can do all these things too. All of them. Why are we waiting around here to fight him?”
Jana shivered. “Could you keep living, knowing he would be chasing you?”
“Yes,” She replied simply, then walked over towards the training field.
If I had to describe today in a single word, it would be…
My current biomass was just over 4,000, after ransacking multiple large towns of minotaurs. Most of the time I killed Minotaurs with my bare hands, savoring the feeling of their torn flesh, but I did remember to activate my Aura of the Predator before I begun, which paid dividends.
Congratulations! Due to your actions, your skill has changed to “Aura of the Predator Lvl 7”. The Aura’s area of effect is slightly larger. Enemies oppressed by your aura shall become lethargic, even if they resist the corrupting influence. Prolonged exposure shall kill creatures a lower level than you.
Congratulations! Due to your actions, your skill has changed to “Aura of the Predator Lvl 8”. Enemies at the same or lower level than you will experience minor hallucinations when looking at you. Enemies at the same or lower level than you will see after images that remain for half a second after you move. The speed at which your Aura will corrode the will to live of your opponents is greatly increased.
It was almost too easy. By the end, the basic minotaurs were laying on the ground of their own accord, whimpering. I had also left Immolation on, but unfortunately it hadn’t increased in level, even though I had killed hundreds of them.
After several long hours of searching and feasting, I arrived at a palace. The blue fur minotaurs roared their defiance, running to meet me, but they died quickly, if not as resistanceless as the regular minotaurs. I could feel something drawing me inward, and a I grinned.
The Silver furred minotaur was waiting, sitting on a crystal throne. He was old, incredibly so, his milky eyes locked onto me as soon as I entered the room.
He slowly opened his mouth and intoned, “Why?”
I shrugged. A lot of reasons. The biomass, the skill experience, the joy of killing them, it being my natural role as a predator, the Code of the Dragon…
His eyes closed, pain evident in his expression. Then a golden shield flickered to life around him as he stood.
I summoned wind blades that screamed towards him, but the smashed into the shield and shattered harmlessly. I frowned.
Utilizing the Thunder Stance form, I launched myself towards him, using the same technique I did initially on the Colossus. But this enemy was infinitely smaller and lighter.
-Well, not infinitely so, but-
But when my fist met the golden shield, I felt the force bleeding away, my momentum disappearing just like that. It was honestly an extremely shocking feeling.
A kick of his lashed out, smashing into my side. However, it wasn’t strong enough to inflict damage. I moved to steady my stance, but fell helpless to the side, a strange numbness spreading from my right hip, where I was kicked.
“Surrender, devil. You cannot fight justice. I don’t feel your strikes, only pity for you hatred. I…”
My eyes glittering, I created as much lunar mist as I could. Then I condensed it. Then I condensed more.
My head began to throb as my attention was spread across more reflections than I could maintain. The reflections that I had already created began to drift to and fro slightly, and in some places tremble.
Other me stepped up, using his attention to maintain a larger and larger amount. The headache grew worse, my vision beginning to swim.
But I couldn’t help but smile.
-This is it.
-The struggle to avoid death. The struggle to kill. The struggle to be Apex.
Small daggers of pain in my head started to escalate towards rods of electric torture, but I felt something shift abruptly.
Congratulations! Due to your actions, your skill has changed to “Lunar Reflection Lvl 6”. Your ability to form additional reflections has increased. They can form faster, and can be maintained for longer. The mana required to maintain a reflection has decreased to nearly nothing.
At least 20 mirrors floated around his head, Other Me frantically tried to hold them together as I laboriously stilled their shaking and moved them back to be around the approaching minotaurs face.
Then, they all shattered.
The Silver minotaur swayed strangely.
Congratulations! Due to your actions, your skill has changed to “Lunar Break Lvl 4”. The physical damage from the break has greatly increased. The area affected is somewhat larger. The mana costs are slightly decreased.
The minotaur swayed again. Then he fell, the golden shield of light dissipating.
-Guess the mental damage was enough.
-Well we created enough lunar reflections, holy fuck. I have a terrible headache.
A notification popped up.
Congratulations! You have succeeded in your first Demonstration. Your code of the dragon has progressed. You are Determined. A dragon is only as powerful as its code, and only as capable as it is wise. For slowly learning the Code, your maximum mana has increased by +50. Continue, and find your next Demonstration, so your code may evolve further.
-All that, for just a bit of mana?
-Well, it’s not like that’s the only benefit we got from the trip. And we unlock the next one.
I turned my attention to the body of the Silver minotaur, licking my lips. I began dragging my still numbed body across the ground, intent on my prize.
As I had hoped, he was extremely delicious.