Throwing myself across the early morning sky, the whimpering Demon Emperor dangling below me, was an invigorating feeling. The air was cool, and the floor design was well done, so that the sun was rising to my back, over the demon’s citadel we had left a while ago, long shadows stretching ahead of me as I took my time floating forward.
I could clearly see the wall, and it seemed like it had been breached in a lot of places, the demon army marching through.
But as I scanned the wall, I saw that the portion that my “squad” had been stationed held. Several flailing figures still held the wall, at the center the graceful lines of Ashni dominated the view, sweeping back demon after demon, treating it like child’s play.
-Which it really is.
As I floated down towards the wall, slowing my descent with Air Affinity, a few hundred Wind Blades turned all the nearby demons to headless sponge bodies, which obligingly collapsed.
Even now, as I landed, I continued to ignore the level up notification, my eyes bright.
I would handle that later.
Ashni gave me a strange look, and I unconsciously straightened my spine.I didn’t doubt that I could force her to do this, but it likely wouldn’t be worth the effort. Much easier to convince her to help of her own accord.
-And should she fail, we will break and devour her.
Offering her a small smile, I said, “I need a favor.”
She tilted her head to the side, and I continued, throwing the wizened creature at her feet. “Protect this creature for a day or two, as I destroy the demon armies.”
“Why?” Her question was bored and dismissive.
My eye became bright, but I knew remaining civil was the best option. Force was only a useful option when I was there to apply it, but I wanted to leave the emperor in order to level my more deadly skills. So I smiled, like a coiling snake.
Shrugging, I spoke with an even tone. “A favor from me. We are… friends, are we not? From what I know of Tellites, sharing your martial arts is a show of trust. I want to repay that.”
Ashni looked at me, likely judging me, for a long time. Then she straightened, and to my surprise, she smiled.
“Good. I had assumed you were honorless, but it appears you are not without integrity. What I want is simple; continue to climb, through the traps and the plots.”
I managed to keep my expression light even as she insulted me, but her last statement made me grin. “You just want more opportunities for Whipman to challenge you to a courtship duel.”
Her face became frosty, but then it quickly turned into just an embarrassed annoyance, her glare indicating her ire, but without any edge.
Still chuckling, I leapt off the wall, confident that Ashni would do as she had agreed. Mid air, I activated Aura of the Predator and Immolation, falling down among the demons like a cataclysmic comet.
-This is going to be fun.
Gillette tapped the desk, annoyed.
“I get that this “plan” of yours will stop Jen from climbing the tower,” He said with a frown. “What I don’t get is why it has taken so long. I don’t suppose you have forgotten what happens when you don’t follow my orders.”
Kettle felt the beginnings of her recurrent headaches forming behind her eyes. She had had them as long as she remembered-
“No, I haven’t forgotten,” Kettle answered coolly, reaching for the small, brass bottle that contained the medicine, the kind she had used since-
The throbbing intensified.
Kettle deftly removed a small pill and placed it into her mouth, immediately feeling it dissolve on her tongue.
Her mother, who was standing next to her sister behind her, began to sweat and pant.
Kettle narrowed her eyes, the headache receding and focus returning to her.
‘Just need to kill Predator,’ She thought fervently, that mantra being the lifeline she held onto.
“Isn’t this… beneath you, Gillette?” Kettle asked, doing her best to remain calm even as her mother began to tremble, her eyes rolling back into her head.
Gillette’s smile was all teeth. “None of you understand what I’m capable of. I feel like the death of your mother would remind you to-”
Gillette’s terminal lit up, distracting him from the three humans in front of him. Gasping, Kettle’s mother fell to her knees, hugging herself in a rare display of emotion.
Kettle felt an irrational surge of irritation at that, but quickly stifled it. It was understandable that she was weak. Even she…
The low throbbing remaining, driving up from the base of her spinal column, a low, constant thrum of pain.
Kettle stood. “I get your point. May we go?”
Gillette waved casually, his eyes locked on the screen, a slow smile spreading across his face. “You may. Do not fail here. Jen must not climb the tower. She shouldn’t have even-”
His expression darkened, but after a small hesitation he only shook his head. “Leave me. I need to read this report.”
Her expression neutral, Kettle left, gesturing for her sister to help her mother out of the room.
The bodies of the demons around me felt like wax, half melted and collapsing by the time my blows reached their body. ‘But there were definite advantages to attacking like this,’ I thought with a grin.
Congratulations! Due to your actions, your skill has improved to “My Soul is the Flame, My Body the Blade Lvl 5”. Bonuses of the enhanced state have increased. Wounds heal moderately faster while in enhanced state. Perception abilities have become more effective.
Congratulations! Due to your actions, your skill has improved to “Immolation Lvl 4”. Heat produced by the ability has slightly increased. As the skill has leveled, your body grows used to the heat, slightly increasing your ability to withstand it.
All and all, after leveling the ability, the pain was just as maddening as before, but no worse. The demon’s seemed strangely driven mad by it, rushing towards me even as their compatriots were ripped to shreds, which was doing wonders for the annoyance I had from leveling before I intended to, but every time I dismissed a skill up notification, the level up notification sat there, taunting me.
So I slowly walked deeper, leaving a trail of molten and melting rock, glowing red from the ambient heat I left behind.
Very quickly, the imps fell away, reduced to sobbing invalids by my aura of the predator. The pale skinned demons that formed the lion’s share of the army continued to attack for a while, bu they too soon fell.
Disappointed, I deactivated Immolation, looking around.
-Columns of different troops are coming over the hill, but they won’t be here for a while. Time to level up some other things.
I deactivated Aura of the Predator as well, strolling forward among the demons, who began to groggily sit up, no longer having their will ground down by my ability.
Another world came, pressing down on this one, a world with a monstrously large moon hanging over a shallow pool, its huge reflection brimming with violent power.
I smiled. “Shatter.”
Jen sighed, swishing her body back and forth inside of a bowl. She wasn’t sure why, but the strange feeling of swiring was oddly calming.
She looked around at her bare office, the office of an official administrator.
“Why am I even here,” Jen muttered, continuing to use tentacles to swirl herself.
The investigation team had come to her about using prophecy to fix gambling bets, and all of her winnings had been confiscated. Kettle had also called, sounding rather preoccupied, but still extremely annoyed.
Gillette barely ever bothered to contact her anymore, and Predator…
Imagining Predators large, strong hands spinning her around in a bowl made Jen giggle, but then she swiftly returned to her funk.
“And Predator has only ever contacted me once, and his message was only… ‘Send food.’” Jen sobbed.
She had tried to cheer herself up, imagining that Predator was coyly making a joke about the time he had confused food for her, imagining herself showing up with a bow tied around her head and saying something like, “Eat your heart out, Predator,” with a lusty voice, but the reasonable side of Jen quickly made her admit Predator probably would just eat her, like he ate everything else.
“All he cares about is grubs…Why do I even bother…” Jen sighed again, setting herself down on her desk.
She wanted to be near Predator, that was she had become an administrator. Because she was friends with Gillette and Kettle, and she thought it would be fun.
But now they all seemed to have dreams, and she…
She was scared of dreams. She just wanted things to go back to the way they were a month ago.
“Well,” Jen said to herself, hopping down off the desk. “I could have done without Kettle kissing Predator, but they seem to have gotten over that, so…”
Jen was tired, always tired, but she didn’t dare sleep. So she always hopped around, looking for something to do.
Because in her dreams, the world was shattered, and she dreamt of a crown of bent light and emptiness, and it cast a long shadow of darkness over the world.
And the woman wearing it was beckoning to her, drawing her closer. To that broken world.
A beep from her terminal abruptly brought her back to the present. Jen oozed back up the side of desk and looked at the screen.
It was a message, a request.
A request to be the official streamer of Predator’s team, from a sender named Shudator.
My chest heaving, a trickle of blood leaking out of the corner of my mouth, I leapt after the fleeing demons, a cheshire grin stretching across my face.
“Where do you think you are going?!?”
My eyes blazing, I formed a huge mass of lunar mist, preparing to condense it.
Congratulations! Due to your actions, your skill has improved to “Lunar Affinity Lvl 6”. Ability to manipulate the lunar energy has increased. Mana costs slightly decreased. You may now maintain a much greater amount of lunar energy at once.
I swirled the energy around me, enjoying the newfound feeling of control, then pressed, creating that shallow pond, the huge image of the moon looming ever closer.
Congratulations! Due to your actions, your skill has improved to “Floating Pond Beneath the Moon Lvl 2”. The speed of condensing the image has increased. The size of the pond has increased. Potential energy in the pond is now 320% increased from a reflection of a similar size. Damage to yourself decreased by 22%.
-The damage increased by 20% but the resistance increased by 2%?
-So typical. Let’s take them all to hell with us.
“Break” I shattered the pool, catching about 30 or so demons in it.
The shrieked, writhing in agony, even as I stumbled and fell to my knees, my body straining under the force, my vision swimming. By the time I straightened, I considered the notification before me.
Congratulations! Due to your actions, your skill has improved to “Lesser Spiritual Resistance Lvl 2”. Resistance to spiritual attacks increased. You have a slightly increased awareness of attacks that target the mind or spirit.
-Cheh, still no level up for Lunar Break?
I considered my mana pool while wiping blood away from my mouth. Using Lunar Break on the pond floating beneath the moon still took too much damage to use feasibly. Because it seemed like an advanced move, I wasn’t holding out much hope about the mana cost for forming the pond to decrease. It kept getting bigger, requiring more mana. But if I could get the shatter portion to decrease…
-Time to go back to basics.
A few dozen lunar reflections formed around me, even as I turned to meet a column of bull like demons that were rushing towards me. My smile was wide.
-Time to hunt.
-God, I could use a good meal right now. Hunting enemies you can’t eat is such a chore.
When the administrator had requested that they talk over image connection, Shuusuke had hesitated. But ultimately, he really wanted this deal. Both for the publicity, and for the money.
Earlier in the day, Shuusuke had checked the status of the credit chip he had left at the INdustrial Complex when fleeing, only to discover it was completely used up.
‘There’s no way that table was that expensive,’ Shuusuke thought to himself, but he didn’t have the courage to go back and ask for the money he was owed. So he went back to the place he got money before: Predator.
Gritting his teeth, Shuusuke thought about his upcoming payments for his new recording equipments. After putting on his formal coat to hide his still skin covered and itchy wings, he accepted the image connection.
He was surprised to find himself face to face with a green slime.
“...Hello?” He asked tentatively.
“....hello….” Came the equally tentative reply. They both sat for several seconds, awkwardly silent. Shuusuke wasn’t sure what he was expecting, but it was someone more….
Professional, he supposed. He had never even heard of a green slime that could talk before. They were mostly just unintelligent pests.
“I’ve never-” Shuusuke started to say, right as the slime said. “You are a Cloi-”
They both fell silent. The slime rolled her body back and forth.
“Er sorry.” The slime spoke, and for the first time, Shuusuke realized her voice was feminine. “You go first.”
Shuusuke shifted awkwardly, his budding wings itchy like crazy. He had been going to say he had never met an intelligent slime before, but now he realized that sounded extremely rude. So…
“Uh…. ou are very…. Umm, I like your green color.” Shuusuke said, doing his best not to sound lame.
Even to his ears, he didn’t do a very good job.
“Oh” The Slime said. “Thank you. You have a nice coat. I’ve always wanted to try a Cloit coat.”
“But you don’t have any wings.” Shuusuke answered automatically, then paled.
“Uh, yea…” The slime seemed to wilt, slowly spreading out over the table like spilled water. But then she perked back up. “But! I can control my body pretty well, so…”
And before his eyes, the slime’s body extended, forming long, wing like protuberances. Well, they were more like a series of tentacles in a wing shape than a real wing, but Shuusuke had had enough of voicing his opinions.
“....honestly, it would help a lot if I had an image to work with,” The Slime admitted. “Can I see your wings.”
“Uh…” Shuusuke hesitated, but was surprised with how excited she seemed. “Well I’m not done molting, so…”
“Oh that’s fine. Please?”
...She honesty sounded really cute.
Embarrassed, and completely out of his social depth, Shuusuke slowly removed his coat, revealing his wings, still bound by flaking skin.
As he watched, the slime studied him and his wings. He turned awkwardly to the side, giving her a better view. Before his very eyes, her lumpy wings shifted, and within seconds, they mirror his own, in shape and size.
“Wow,” he breathed you are really good at that.
THe slime nodded in a satisfied manner. “Thank you. I practiced a lot. My name’s Jen, by the way. And…. are you okay? Why are your wings shaking?”
After a slight hesitation, SHuusuke admitted, “They itch like crazy. During the molting, I mean.”
“Oh.” Jen tilted her head to the side. “I mean I don’t mind if you itch them.”
Too driven mad by the itching to care, Shuusuke began scratching at them furiously, large flakes of skin coming off.
His expression settled into one of pure contentment, before a giggle drew him out of it.
“I didn’t realize Cloit’s were so funny. I always heard- wait, what’s that?”
Shuusuke froze too, staring a the same thing Jen was. Standing, straight and proud, out of the spot he had been itching was a tip of a feather, tall and proud.
“Oh wow,” Jen breathed. “It’s so pretty. It’s-”
“Gold,” Shuusuke whispered. “And not golden, it’s gold like-”
“Like money,” Jen finished matter of factly, her eyes following it as light reflected off it its metallic gloss, an aura of shining opulence filling the air.
Congratulations! Due to your actions, your skill has improved to “Lunar Affinity Lvl 7”. Mana costs decreased. Maintaining lunar mist costs an extremely small amount of mana, and condensed objects can remain solid for longer.
I hissed my disappointment, a long stream of air through my teeth. Lunar Break was stubbornly resisting leveling up. Still, leveling up lunar affinity decreased the mana cost of the lunar mist, but the sheer amount of it required to make a pond was such that it was not significantly reducing the cost.
Regarding the sinking sun in the sky, I concluded that the day was spent well enough. Tiring of the battle, I turned back towards the golden city, looking forward to a large meal and my first nights sleep in several days.
Demon’s roared at my retreating back, surging towards me, but I simply snorted, a veritable wall of wind blades spreading out towards the approaching demons, ripping them to pieces.
Congratulations! Due to your actions, your skill has improved to “Wind Blade Lvl 9”. You may now summon an infinite amount of wind blades, assuming you have enough mana. Mana costs significantly decreased. Sharpness of air has neared an impossible level.
A vein throbbed in my temple.
-It’s like the system enjoys leveling us up when we don’t want it.
-Not that this is a bad one to level, but…
Lunar break continued to sit stubbornly at level 6. I continued to leave the level 24 notification, hoping that I had calmed down enough by morning to deal with it reasonably.
-God, there better be food back there, or I’ll start eating the other challengers…
-You and me both, brother.