A Pale Demon jumped in front of him and Whipman sidestepped its slash, Utilizing pure Air Stance to slice twice with blinding speed. With its throat hanging on by gristle and its arm severed, the demon fell to the side, gurgling.
Congratulations! You have reached Level 19.
Due to being a summoned undead of Predator, you have gained additional stats!
Due to your title “Disciple of a Hero” +1 to all stats!
Whipman took advantage of the small break to wipe the sweat off his brow before he pushed forward, chasing after the rest of the group.
The skeleton and she-ogre lead the way, while a caped woman and a monkey followed behind. Whipman brought up the rear, usually finishing off those that were weakened by those ahead of him.
He unfortunately only had time for a brief break, because none of the others bothered to notice he was trailing. Panting heavily, Whipman trotted after them, the Azure Snake still snoozing around his neck. If he hadn’t seen the snake effortlessly manipulate water to defeat a Pale Demon, Whipman would likely try to disturb it. After all, in a prolonged fight, the extra weight really began to add up, dragging him down.
But for now, Whipman was wary of its reprisal, should it be woken early.
The group crested a small hill, and the leaders stopped, inadvertently allowing Whipman to catch up. He glanced around, surveying the surroundings.
In front of them remained only a small grove of trees and plains before they would reach the Golden City But streaming in towards the same direction on either side of the hill they were on were columns of pale demons.
“If we do not move quickly, we shall become trapped.” The skeleton stated simply, “And further…”
Its gaze turned to the South, were another, smaller column of demons was moving, not towards the city like all the others, but directly towards their group. “...Let us go.”
“BREAK THROUGH!” The ogre bellowed, recklessly running down the hill in a straight line. The skeleton floated down after her, ignoring the terrain as well.
Sighing, Whipman followed, carefully choosing his steps down the steep hillside. His stats might be higher now, but he didn’t have a deathwish.
14 names had been read. That meant that 7 days had passed, Ashni realized. It all felt like a blur, everything merging together into one huge ball of frustration.
Whipman, assuming he didn’t die on her, could have even passed the 10th floor, Ashni thought gloomily.
But her frustration and hopelessness quickly turned to anger, which she directed into a death stare at Predator, who remained firmly entrenched by the buffet, now waited on by 6 floor assistants at all times.
What compounded Ashni’s anger was that more challengers arrived everyday. They would come in droves, and then be whisked off to other, similar areas in the city, Ashni assumed, where they likely would join the group of waiters.
And it was just like fucking Whipman to bumble his way through a floor like this one quickly, Ashni thought furiously. Although he was lazy and haphazard in his training, he still lucked his way into climbing the tower.
“And yet I am here with…!” Ashni mumbled under her breath, her eyes glued on Predator.
Predator belched loudly, rubbing his stomach with a contented expression.
“Oh my. First time I’ve been feeling “full” in my entire life. So what’s the rush, Ashni? Why do you want to move on so fast?”
Folding her arms, Ashni turned up her nose and looked at the wall.
Shrugging, Predator continued to eat.
The demon in front of him roared, sending several globs of spittle spattering against Whipman’s face. This variant of demon had the same unhealthy looking skin as the pale demons, but possessed extremely thick, tentacle like arms that they whipped back and forth, bludgeoning their foes into submission.
‘You could call them… Whipdemons,’ Whipman thought to himself, allowing himself a small smile.
The most problematic issue with fighting this variant is the sheer amount of space that their blows took up. It wasn’t easy to dodge, and the long, tree-trunk thick arms were so huge that managing to calculate all of the ripples created by the blow was impossible. Quagmire Zone couldn’t handle all of it. In addition, using Stormwalking to dodge every strike was inefficient.
The remaining team members were leaving him behind, the skeleton floating forward and melting the opponent’s flesh with his strange violet spells and the she-ogre simply bowling over the demons in her way. Whipman gritted his teeth and stepped towards the oncoming blow.
Even as adrenaline thundered through his system and his heart beat a rapid rhythm of fear, he closed his eyes, senses extending.over the huge arm.
He quickly began to sweat.
“The world is really an unfair place,” Whipman whispered, his expanded senses quickly covering the entirety of the body of the demon, feeling its power, the easy arrogance with which it was able to rely on its powerful body to accomplish its goals.
Predator wasn’t there yet, but Whipman grew increasingly worried as he watched Predator realize how superior his body is to most others.
“In Strength there is complacency,” His master used to tell Whipman. “In weakness, there is sight.”
Just as the blow was about to smash Whipman’s body, with such force that even with his improved stats he would be seriously injured, Whipman’s eyes snapped open.
Although he cut it close, he finally saw.
Whipman’s body became insubstantial and light, the particles that constituted him separating and sliding into the vast emptiness between the air. Except this time, Whipman did not step into that space, as he would when using StormWalking. Whipman simply allowed the chaotic ripples produced by the violent blow to push him to the side. As the attack came closer, Whipman disappeared.
With a huge crash, the arm destroyed the ground where Whipman was once standing, leaving only shattered rock and dust. The demon blinked in confusion, unsure of what happened to its opponent.
It died from a spear sliding into the top of its spinal column before it realized Whipman had appeared behind him.
Panting, Whipman hurried after the rest of the group and grinned at his notifications.
Congratulations! You have combined “Water Stance Lvl 9” and “Air Stance Lvl 8” to form a new, unique skill. Previous skills will also be retained at their current levels. Would you like to create a name for the unique skill?
Congratulations! The skill “Clinging Mist Lvl 1” has been gained…
After stuffing another turtle truffle into my mouth, I spared Ashni a glance. She was still dull eyed, looking at the ground.
Then I turned to the administrator. “Is it pointless to train on this floor?”
He shook his head vigorously. “No, no, no, all of your training is counted. But due to the nature of the floor… you won’t see your progress until you advance. Or rather your group.”
“Of course,” He added, sidling closer to me, rubbing his hands together, “You could leave without your other member, ascending immediately-”
My hand blurred out and flexed, crushing the assistants skull.
Pointless, because I didn’t doubt that like all 149 times I had killed him before, he would come back just as cheery, serving me more food and asking me if I wanted to move on.
And it wasn’t as if I wasn’t tempted. I didn’t care for Ashni refusing to give me any information in regards to the 2nd tier forms, but still… if the training counted….
I looked at my Biomass as I lowered a wiggling centipede creature, crunching down with relish.
I didn’t mind staying here for a while longer.
Wheezing, Whipman stumbled after the remnants of the group. After passing through the Whipdemons, they had a few moments of respite, as the way to the Golden City appeared clear. But swiftly those demons they had witnessed making a beeline for them were gaining, and the Skeleton decided it wise to cut back through the Whipdemon column.
The Whipdemon’s had received them with glee, attacking them with wild abandon. Of the group, only the skeleton, the she-ogre, and Whipman were remaining.
‘Well, and this freeloader,’ Whipman thought, barely suppressing a surge of irritation at the dead weight he had been lugging up and down the hills this past hour. The rest had been smashed to pieces by the Whipdemons, unable to persevere through their lines.
‘And I’m going to join them soon,’ Whipman thought with a sinking feeling in his stomach. Although Clinging Mist was an incredibly useful move against these type of enemies, and was his highest leveled move at Lvl 8, it still consumed a noticeable chunk of mana.
In a 1v1 fight, Whipman could rip through the demons. But they came in mobs, swinging their huge arms wildly, often doing as much damage to the terrain and each other as they would do to Whipman. But managing to stay alive in that barrage of attacks took effort and attention.
Whipman’s supply of which as swiftly dwindling.
He narrowly dodged to the side, hopping around a huge arm that smashed into the ground, cracking it. His spear shot forward, slithering gracefully to the demon’s throat, slashing it out in a heartbeat.
The demon fell over, and Whipman was greeted by several notifications.
Congratulations! Due to your actions, your skill has improved to “Serpent Strike Lvl 3”. Speed of attacks have increased. Time between attacks has slightly decreased. Mastery of the technique has allowed you to increase the range of your spear by an extremely slight amount.
Congratulations! You have reached Level 20.
Due to being a summoned undead of Predator, you have gained additional stats!
Due to your title “Disciple of a Hero” +1 to all stats!
With a wane smile, Whipman dismissed the notifications, not even bothering to look at his stat screen. Although he felt a small bit of strength returning to him, Whipman couldn’t help but think that relying on that strength was a trap. It was hard to continue and fight before he leveled, and it would be hard after.
What mattered most was his will to continue. And to see and seize opportunities.
With hands that were slightly shaking, Whipman raised his spear towards the next demon. Or rather, series of them.
Ultimately, seeing the 5 attacks coming towards him and the angle they were approaching, Whipman opted to not use Clinging MIst, deciding instead to conserve mana.
The attacks whistled closer, and at the last minute, Whipman felt a thread of fear in his heart.
After all, he had died once before.
But the moment before the attacks struck, Whipman surged into motion, hopping and twisting through a small opening in their net of attacks.
Even though he had planned as well as he could, several of the attacks brushed against Whipman with enough force to jar bones. He made it through, but his landing was sloppy; he staggered to the side, tripping over one of the Whipdemons arms.
The voice was extremely small, but echoed strangely in Whipman’s mind. He blinked, looking around to the skeleton, but it was already calmly floating away, leaving Whipman behind. Even the ogre was struggling, her blows severely weakened at this point as she continued to smash her way through the throng of bodies. But now, the demons landed some blows before they went down, leaving her face even more swollen than it was naturally.
If you can’t manage it yourself, I suppose I’ll have to help a bit.
A strange notification appeared in front of Whipman.
A Contract of Familiar has been cast on you. The contract was cast for the following reason: Bad bed needs help. Accept? Y / Y (You have insufficient Lvl to resist the contractor) As a Familiar, you gain access to 1% of the Contractor's mana pool. (Percentage increases as intimacy grows)
As Whipman slowly blinked, one of the demons that attacked him recovered, raising its arms for another blow. Gritting his teeth, Whipman clicked on one of the Y’s carefully selecting the right Y in case it was a trick.
Unfortunately it didn’t appear to be, and he felt a strange power enter his body, freezing him for a split second. His eyes continually widened as the blow rushed towards him, even as the strange energies invading him held him completely still.
Whipman immediately activated Clinging Mist, his body becoming incorporeal and sliding through the space inherent in air, appearing behind the demon. He dispatched it effortlessly, and then looked at his hands and body, trying to get a feel for how he changed.
Indignant at its comrade’s death, another Whipdemon forgo its powerful smash attack and just body slammed, Whipman, sending him staggering.
As if that wasn’t enough, after Whipman barely recovered and was preparing to counterattack, he felt a sharp pain in his shoulder and suddenly lost all feeling in his left arm.
Looking down, he saw the azure snake was glaring at him, but what really drew Whipman’s eye were the two disturbingly large holes in his shoulder, leaking a strange, luminescent blue liquid. Apparently satisfied that it had made itself clear, the snake curled back around Whipman’s torso, beginning to snooze once more.
“Fine, have it your way,” Whipman muttered, using Clinging Mist several times in succession to dodge his way through the flailing Whipdemons and catch up with the skeleton, now even leaving the ogre a little bit behind.
He hesitated as he looked back at her as she struggled, considering the option of helping her, but a wave of dizziness that almost resulted in his left knee being smashing by a powerful whip arm swiftly disabused him of that notion.
The throbbing headache quickly faded, but it gave Whipman a dose of fear.
‘Even though I have access to some extra mana, my body isn’t strong enough to handle all that extra mana without repercussions. That wasn’t bad, but if I push much more in the future…’
Then, curious, Whipman checked how much extra mana he was receiving.
His eyes went wide at the total.
“1300 extra mana?!?!”
Wouldn’t that mean….
That this snake’s mana was 130k!?!?
Why was he on the 9th floor!
Bed shopping, the strange voice answered in a smug tone.
Whipman’s face fell, and he trudged after the skeleton through the army of Whipdemons.
The assistants had brought a reclining couch, of all things, for Predator, which he had taken to like a puppy to a mud puddle. He sprawled over it, mostly holding his mouth open as a procession of assistants came out and dumped trays of food down his gullet.
Ashni watched him hatefully, wondering how she had ever been tricked into believing this waste of space had any talent, both as a person and as a warrior.
It had been almost 3 months, and yet on the chair he remained, gorging himself.
“Do you not,” Ashni practically spat. “Care at all about the people waiting for you above? How can you be so content to remain here?!?!”
Predator’s eyes focused, his gaze suddenly razor sharp, and Ashni shivered involuntarily. It was uncanny, the way his persona could shift away. The way he could suddenly remind her that under that fat and greasy and bloated exterior was a monster, waiting to pounce.
“...perhaps not people, but I have a dream,” Predator said slowly, almost speaking more to himself than to Ashni.
But she seized on this admission, excited by a break in this monotonous existence. “What dream would that be?”
His smile curved, growing and twisting, until his face was nothing but a mouth and ill will and a hunger so large and greedy Ashni could scarcely believe it. His mouth was wider than her in that moment, wider than the world, that stomach more terrifying than the monsters of Old Tellus, the ones she grew up fearing, learning on her father’s knee on of their cruelty and Evil.
And then he spoke, his voice velvet coated in nightmares. “To be Apex. To be able to eat freely, the Predator that all other’s fear.”
Then he turned to look at her, his expression shifting to something uncomfortable. Suddenly he was just a greasy man, laying on a chair while she paced back and forth again.
“Uh... “ Predator hesitated, then said. “You too, must also have dreams…?”
Ashni knew he meant it as a question, but she ignored him, furiously, imagining all the trouble that Whipman could have gotten himself into over this large stretch of time. He was likely dead, if not worse.
Whipman, new unwilling familiar to the strange Azure Snake, shivered abruptly, feeling as though someone somewhere was thinking about him.
But then he shook his head; he didn’t have attention to spare for anyone else in this moment.
“Wait up!” The She-ogre panted, her right arm more mashed flesh than limb at the moment, as she staggered after Whipman and the skeleton. They had managd to break through the group of Whipdemons, but this time a sizable amount of them had given chased, swiftly running them down in the open field.
When they had space to utilize them, the Whip arms could easily be used to throw themselves forward, swiftly gaining ground on the the three of them.
Four, the voice corrected, sounding bored and sleepy now. For which Whipman was glad, because a happy snake was a snake that simply slept, and didn’t bite. And only now was he regaining feeling in his limb.
“We should help her,” Whipman stated, hating how uncertain he sounded. Although his spear was strong, his moves were mostly for control and mobility. Whipman hadn’t yet figured out how to combine the insights from Thunder and Earth stance, creating fourth and final, for now, signature move.
The skeleton tilted his head to the side, then said. “...Perhaps you are correct. They shall catch up with us shortly anyway.”
Whipman grimaced. “Their arms are annoying, but if we work together-”
“Oh no, I mean them.” The skeleton said, pointing to the back of the group of Whipdemons that followed them.
Sure enough, that strange column that had made a beeline were rapidly closing in towards their position. He couldn’t make them out clearly, but Whipman could tell they were some kind of cavalry, with multiple legs and shiny, black-metal bodies.
“Their leader will be tough as well. Still…” The skeleton glanced at him. “You and I should be satisfactory. This is an auspicious fight. Our first fight together.”
Whipman felt the snake on his chest move slightly, its head peeking at the skeleton. Whipman just gaped at it. “Uh, excuse me?”
“You are Whipman, are you not?” The skeleton chortled. “I was sent back several floors, to ascend and assist you. My name is Corporal Dave.”
Ashni was practically pulling out her own hair at this point. They had been there almost a year, as name after name that wasn’t theirs was called, and as the queue of challengers grew larger and larger. It was almost a statistical impossibility that they would ever escape from this floor.
And yet Predator…
She glared at him, lying under a veritable conveyor belt that slowly delivered food to his endless stomach.
“Fuck! Get up! Kill them! Eat the assistants! Do something!” Ashni yelled, finally exploding after tedious months of silence, watching him eat and do nothing else.
“Why?” He didn’t even bother to spare her a glance, continuing to guzzle the food.
“Why? WHY?! Don’t you care about your path? Didn’t you have a dream? Don’t you worry about your friends? Jen is probably inconsolable with you gone for so long? Jerry looks up to you! Whipman-” Ashni’s speech turned into a low sob, and she covered her mouth, disgusted with herself.
“You are Whipman’s pupil. His one apprentice. How DARE you dishonor him like this.” Ashni hissed, recovering from her short display of emotion.
Predator visibly perked up. “So you want to see him.”
Ashni just gave him a withering glare. In her mind, several things clicked into place.
Predator was an incorrigible gossip!
He had been able to leave at any time, but was only keeping them here so he could blackmail the details of her and Whipman’s relationship out of her!
“IF. YOU. MUST. KNOW.” She bellowed, drawing her spear and spinning it around until it hummed. “Yes. Yes, I want to see him. I believe he is the man who will become my husband. No matter how weak he is now, I will wait and allow him to challenge me until he succeeds, most likely by fluke, but it will be enough. And then we will wed. I want that future. I want it just as much as I hate you. And that’s why-”
“GET ME OFF THIS FUCKING FLOOR.” Ashni bellowed.
The air around them shattered.
The column of demons that were chasing them were centaur derivatives, completely covered in powerful black armor. Their speed and agility was incredible, and they used their arms that were basically segmented spears, to attack with deadly power.
But their leader, The Black Knight of the Demon Emperor’s army, was lying shattered before a trembling Whipman.
“Cleft Earth,” He said simply, and then collapsed to the ground.
Corporal Dave and the She-ogre, named Honey, cleared out the rest of the routed knights, who were still reeling from Whipman’s attack.
He didn’t know whether he could have pulled the attack off without the extra mana from the snake, but with the slew of notifications he had received, for leveling up Cleft Earth, for making his 4 moves, an advancement in his title “Disciple of the Hero” to “Inheritor of the Hero’s Will”, Whipman believed he would have enough strength to accomplish it on his own.
After they defeated the scraps, Corporal Dave and Honey came to his side, Honey gingerly picking him up, looking at him was a look of reverence.
Whipman simply looked at Corporal Dave, barely enough energy to speak, but he still forced the words out. “Why were you sent back? And by who?”
Corporal Dave’s skeleton jaw, to Whipman’s surprise, smiled. “I think you know who,” It answered confidently, then it tilted its head to the side.
“I was sent back because it was uncovered that several powerful factions are targeting a member of your group-”
Whipman waved a hand. “We had been told they are setting a trap for Predator. He’s going to rush into it anyway, there’s nothing that can be done.”
But Corporal Dave shook his head. “You are not mistaken that Predator is the fulcrum, but he is not the target. The target is that mysterious creature that acts as your Administrator, the slime Jen.”
Ashni blinked, snapping awake “What…?”
I chuckled, stretching, as I stood from the food table. “An illusion. Apparently set to keep uninteresting challengers out of the tower. Only if you want to climb enough and are able to admit to yourself why will the illusion shatter.”
-Or you could just immediately see through it, because illusions are for the weak.
I grinned at Other Me’s comment, but said nothing.
She nodded slowly, some color filling he cheeks. “So we waited for a month for..?”
I shook my head. “No, time is accelerated in the illusion to break the spirit faster. Most people who do not exit after a certain amount of time never leave. It’s only been about 12 hours in the Tower.”
An awkward silence fell between us, but I didn’t care enough to break it. After a few minutes, the assistant appeared-
-Because you just HAD to kill him one more time.
And waved his hands. “Well down! You both pass. Before we continue, the experience that was restricted will be absorbed by your bodies.
The world shattered further, leaving just Ashni and myself, surrounded by my experiments. With only a tinge of regret, I looked at my Biomass.
-Too bad they were slow bringing out food, or we could have gotten even higher.
“What are those?” Ashin asked, pointing. “They are lovely.”
My smile was slow and full.
In the air around us, over 1000 compressed lunar reflections were floating. In a way, the strange, pearlescent light they emitted was quite beautiful, filling the empty floor around us with the air of jeweled snow storm.
But to me, they were beautiful for a completely different reason.
Congratulations! Due to your actions, your skill has improved to “Lunar Reflection Lvl 7”. Mana costs have significantly decreased. The speed with which the reflections form has greatly increased. More reflections can be maintained at once.
Congratulations! Due to your actions, your skill has improved to “Lunar Reflection Lvl 8”. Mana costs for creation have decreased by half. Reflections now form instantly, upon application of will. Lunar Reflections are much easier to form.
Congratulations! Due to your actions, your skill has improved to “Lunar Reflection Lvl 9” Mana costs are close to zero. An infinite amount of reflections can be maintained at once. The amount of will required to compress them as significantly decreased.
Congratulations! Due to your actions, your skill has changed to “Floating Pond Beneath the Moon Lvl 1”. In addition to creating reflections, you may now create a pond beneath your feet and a small amount of area around you. The amount of potential energy in the pond is vastly greater than a reflection. When shattered, all reflected in the pond will take physical and mental damage, including yourself. Damage to yourself is decreased by 20%.
Grinning, I looked up to the sky. “Time to ascend.”