Jana was an entirely different animal than Dak. Whereas Dak was a lumbering berserker, despite his rather thin frame, Jana was a tower, shooting out huge blasts of pressure towards Whipman and Ashni.
“Come on!” She shouted, laughter in her voice, pointing out at them. “Why won’t you come closer?”
Ashni was a blur, doubling back and forth so fast that Whipman could barely follow her movements. Still, the size of Jana’s waves of force were enough to keep Ashni at bay; if she wanted to approach, she would need to chance getting smashed backwards.
And Whipman wasn’t positive about it, but he suspected that Ashni had neither the benefit of the extra stats he had gotten for being a minion of Predator, especially the endurance boost, nor the regenerative power of the azure snake’s mana.
Whipman narrowed his eyes as he shifted again, a blast of force missing him narrowly.
That meant that he would need to be the one to break this stalemate-
“Fine then, let me help you,” Jana purred, beckoning towards Whipman. A huge force slammed into his back, sending him sprawling forward.
Grinning wickedly, Jana raised her arm to point towards him. “Now that you are here-”
Whipman’s hand slammed into the ground, throwing himself back up and to his feet before Jana could unleash her power. He spun to the left, desperately pirouetting around the blast of force. Drops of sweat formed on his forehead as Jana frowned at him.
Although it was possible to dodge the force from the front, which had to travel from Jana’s body directly in a line, when she had caused the pressure to come from behind him…
Time seemed to slow as Whipman landed lightly on the balls of his feet, righting his stance. Jana’s “pull” technique was almost impossible to dodge. Although there was warning, she had to pretty obviously miss at the moment of inception or else the skill would land. The only saving grace was that there was a small window between the two skills, a time period where her power had to “switch”, allowing a quick witted individual to act.
And allowing someone like Whipman to make a desperate play, and hope for the best.
Whipman Stormwalked directly towards Jana, appearing a little to her left in a discharge of sound and static. Some of the small bolts that he produced in his movement darted towards Jana, hitting her and making her wince, but Whipman saw her steady hands swinging around, to point towards him.
His spear shot forward, intent on the target, his eyes narrowed. But it was a feint, his weight remained in the balls of his feet, marshalling more mana as Jana’s finger arrived at his direction.
Clinging Mist was activated prematurely, but the vicious blast of outward force from Jana’s finger arrived soon enough, dispersing his body in a damp gust of air and reforming it behind her.
For the second time today, although this time due to the speed of the strike, Whipman forwent his spear and punched towards Jana, aiming for, once again, the back of the head. As the blow shot forward, Whipman narrowed his eyes and pressed drawing the weight and momentum of the blow tighter and tighter, until it was all concentrated in a barely controlled, hyper dense point, rushing to crush Jana’s skull.
“Well, I’m done playing. I reject.”
It took a moment for Whipman to register that it had been Jana speaking. By the next moment, Whipman felt his right wrist snap as huge surge of force, exploding outward from Jana’s position, hit him and threw him backwards.
His mind went blank for several seconds as pain and several impacts shook him up, then a final slam against a rock made his vision go black.
Shuusuke panned outward as fast as he could, catching the huge wave of force that Jana released. Such was its power that it refracted the light, picking up broken bits of bone, dust, and dead bodies, as well as throwing Whipman backwards like a rag doll into a partially collapsed wall.
Jana’s blood red hair fluttered, but otherwise she looked completely pristine, smiling around through the cloud of dust she had kicked up.
The murloc/undead melee that was going on around them had slowly begun to creep closer, as its illusioned combatants scrambled for more room to fight and more imaginary demons to kill, but the wave had smashed them back, crushing the bodies of several tiny murloc hunters that were unlucky enough to wander close.
A skeleton bear roared, bellowing and charging through the slowly dispersing smoke, furious at another, perceived demon.
‘Irony being,’ Shuusuke thought, ‘This time it’s heading for an actual enemy.’
Jana simply winked at the oncoming skeleton bear; a huge tube of pressure smashed apart the cloud of dust and hit the skeleton bear.
Shuusuke must have blinked, because there was suddenly only pinches of bone and more dust where the bear had been, and barely any time had passed.
Jana laughed, a tinkling laughter reminiscent of wind chimes over gravestones.
Raising her arms, she said, “So-”
But a figure moving so fast it was just a blur shot across just above Jana’s head, a almost unseeably fast spear ripping down towards her. Jana jerked forward, leaning out of the way, but the spear still caught flesh and ripped a long and vicious gash down her back.
Jana spun around, her eyes slowly reddening with fury, but the speed of Ashni’s jump meant that she was already past and away, once more obscured by the dust.
“I. Said.” Jana said with gritted teeth. “I REJECT.”
Although this wave clearly had less force, it pressed outwards rapidly in all directions, blowing away all the dust and floating debris in the air, revealing a crouching Ashni. Seeing her cover was gone, she slowly stood, her eyes never leaving Jana.
Shuusuke quickly brought another camera over, showing close ups on both of their bodies and faces. Ashni’s dusty and sweating frame, and Jana’s slender body, and the wound on her back that blended so seamlessly with her hair that her head just seemed to be weeping blood.
“You bitch.” But while Jana’s face was twisted in fury, her voice was distant and hollow, as if someone else was speaking through her. “I want to keep this body for a while. Don’t you dare touch it.”
Jana hopped lightly, her bunny ears bouncing, but then a wave of force slammed downwards, propelling her 10 meters into the air. Her eyes were cold as she surveyed the wrestling murlocs and the wary Ashni below.
Although it couldn’t be seen, once again there was a strange bending of the air that made the cone of force Jana was throwing down at Ashni visible enough to broadcast its impending arrival.
One of Shuusuke’s camera’s, that was close enough to catch sound, heard Ashni tsk in annoyance and then disappear in a blur as she streaked left and down, heading under Jana and out of the force.
Jana’s eyes just burned more brightly. “Crush. Crush. Crush.”
The sky was warping by Jana’s skill, which she continued to use tirelessly, as if she knew neither weariness or mana limits. Ashni squeaked out under the first wave, which smashed into the ground behind her, cracking the dirt and revealing damaged rock beneath, and stopped dead.
Leaning back cleanly in an arch, Ashni paused for a moment, then sprung straight, launching her spear in a whistling trajectory up towards Jana. Jana just continued to shoot down huge layers of pressure, creating an almost inescapable blanket that rushed down towards Ashni.
With a sneer, Jana allowed the thrown spear up through the net, deftly weaving a small hole. And as the spear surged closer she ignored it, content to watch Ashni dance back and forth, avoiding the crushing waves of force pouring down. Skeletons around her were crushed to powder, and murlocs were pressed on until they popped.
But then Jana upped the ante, sending down a wave large enough to hit everything in the surrounding area. The illusioned minions continued to fight, heedless, but Ashni slowed to a stop, looking up solemnly.
“Crush,” Jana whispered, a cruel smile twitching at the corners of her mouth. The spear passed by Jana, who simply tilted her head to the side, seemingly allowing it to draw a line of blood across her cheek on purpose. She reached up then, almost lovingly, and dragged her finger across the wound, gathering the blood. Then, with a smile, she dragged it along her lips.
Ashni just shook her head. Then she disappeared.
With a boom, Ashni reappeared 30 meters away, barely outside the zone of force. Jana’s eyes bulged, shocked by Ashni’s sudden increase in speed. But Ashni didn’t stop there; she disappeared again.
A soft klink had Shusuke scrambling with his cameras, refocusing on Ashni, who had reappeared above Jana, twisting her hip, knee, and ankle in a strange way against her spear, smashing it away, but completely dispersing her momentum.
Ashni’s other leg came around in a vicious kick towards Jana’s temple.
Jana still seemed bewildered, twisting to see the source of the noise.
Ashni spoke calmly, with a straight face. “I am not powerful enough to stop simply with air, but I am more than enough to educate the ass of someone who has lost themselves to arrogance.”
A bolt of black lightning streaked across the sky, smashing Ashni aside before her blow landed, sending her crumpled form to the ground.
Jana’s face went blank, then she slapped her cheeks and glared at the wall. “Hey! That one was mine.”
“You were talking too long, and were almost injured,” Ketlia said, her eyes fading back to a normal color, looking up at Jana with something like amusement. “You should be thanking Xieche. And are you sure that you should be moving-
“Now, isn’t this a party.”
Although it was likely instinctual, all of the challengers tensed up slightly.
Predator strolled through the destroyed gates, looking around at the sea of dead murlocs and crushed skeletons, the survivors blearily looking around in confusion.
Then he grinned up at the group on the wall. “Who is first?”
Ignoring another communication from Jen for now, I let my question hang in the air for several seconds
My eyes scanned the wall, and the absolutely piteous state of those people I had left to guard the fort in a second; it honestly looked like they had done the enemies’ job for them and killed each other.
Then I strained my hearing, locating Whipman, who sounded like he was sleeping very peacefully-
And Ashni’s breathing, which was labored and rapid, but from the noise I could tell that she was doing her best to recover from whatever it was that injured her. I turned from the group on the wall to Jana, who was slowly floating downwards to the ground, her eyes furiously studying me.
My eyes went back to the wall. Ketlia, Glove man, and slimy ole Magey stood there, also studying me.
Then I saw Ketlia shake her head, and put a hand over her mouth. She whispered something glove man. My ears twitched, managing to pick it up.
Her voice was pitched low, just so Glovey could hear. “Not yet.”
Glovey just nodded and said. “So what-... how can we handle him? We should bail, Kat. Encelldross and Xieche were supposed to-”
“Relax,” Ketlia said, her hand dropping slightly. “I can read his mind, we should be safe.”
Other me began to intelligibly list numbers while I violated my rule and summoned a wind blade that dropped from above like an executioner’s blade towards Ketlia’s head.
But as they continued to talk as it silently slid downwards, I noticed several things. The way Ketlia wouldn’t meet Glovey’s eyes, the way her hands were trembling.
The way the air blade was about to cut her in half, and she hadn’t batted an eyelash. I reached out with a hand of air, crushing the blade in a small puff of air. No point in breaking my rule for this.
Other me was just as disgusted as I was.
-They are all this weak, and still they have the nerve to stand here…!
-Ah, I hope their deaths will be more entertaining than the last struggles of their lives.
They continued to stare at me, which was just irritating me further.
-Are you sure we didn’t spare her because we met her before? And she is a cute human.
-What is “cute”?
-......I’m not even sure, I have just heard it from Jen….
At that moment, I received another communication from Jen, which I promptly ignored.
Then I stepped forward and leapt, landing on the wall a dozen meters away from the group. They all sprung into motion at once.
Glovey gave Ketlia a weird glance, half frustration, half confusion.
Ketlia just looked shocked and backed away.
Magey clenched his hands, summoning a ball of black lightning.
Jana, still on the ground, used her push ability to throw herself up into the air and pointed at me.
Grinning, I walked forward leaning at the last moment into the blast of force. The amount and strength of it took me by surprise, and I stumbled slightly, but my strength was more than enough to resist any real effect.
And it was extremely satisfying to hear Jana’s squeak as my resistance caused her skill to throw herself backwards, tumbling awkwardly through the air.
Ketlia was hopping down off the wall while Magey made his move, shooting a huge blast of lightning towards me.
Just like with Jana’s attack, I just leaned into the lightning blast, smashing through it.
Congratulations! Due to your actions, your skill has improved to “Lesser Lightning Resistance Lvl 3”. Lightning’s ability to damage you is decreased. Your body’s conductivity is decreased. Recovery time from paralysis has decreased.
I stepped a bit more quickly this time, closing the distance between Magey and myself. Although it wasn’t able to stop me, the lightning was still annoying enough that I didn’t want to just let him shoot it at me however he wanted.
-What I really want is a nice, lightning flavored meal….
Licking my lips, I pressed forward, nearing Magey before he could unleash his next blast of power. My hands curled towards his sore covered neck, preparing to crush him.
But then I stumbled.
Snarling as I turned, I saw Jana raising her hand towards me.
-She can pull too?
I jerked my body to the side, throwing myself towards the area out of the fort. My sudden move hit while Jana still had the skill activated, and she yelped as she was now thrown towards me, pulled by her own skill.
At the last second I put a foot out and caught myself on the lip of the wall, lightly dropping myself back to the ground. Casually raising a hand, I smacked a lightning ball that had been thrown towards me by Magey, dispersing it. My arm twitched slightly, but was otherwise none the worse for wear.
With narrowed eyes I watched Jana arcing towards me through the air. Glovey had twisted and threw himself off the top of the wall towards her, aiming to catch her midair.
Before I could even think about it, I had a hand of air formed and ready to smash them both into the round, crushing them against the rubble.
Other me hastily reminded me that I was ripping them all to pieces with my bare hands, and not utilizing skills. I frowned.
-...this is super annoying.
-Well you started it, now let’s finish it. Do we need skills for them anyway? We are greater than them. We are
My lips twisted and curled upwards, like gnarled and malevolent roots.
Stepping lightly, I threw myself off the wall and towards the two, aiming to meet them in the air before they could touch each other. I was becoming extremely weary of Glovey, and didn’t want his antics to delay this any longer.
I heard the crackling of thunder behind me, but decided to ignore it. I noticed Ketlia climbing back up upon the wall, a significant distance away, looking over towards our grouping.
Jana was the first one to notice my approach, her eyes widening with panic. She started frantically gesturing at Glovey as I raced towards his back, trying to get him out of the way; he was in the direct line between us, rendering her unable to use her powers.
As the distance rapidly shrank between us, my grin twisted even further upwards. I would reach Glovey before he reached Jana.
But then something extremely strange happened; Jana…. Shifted. Her panic disappeared, her face going slack for a moment. Then an expression returned, but it was a haughty arrogance.
She pointed at the ground and must have pushed, because she shot up several meters. Then, from her higher angle, she pointed again.
Surprisingly, it was at Glovey, and not at me.
Glovey yelped as he was smashed downwards, tumbling towards the ground. I didn’t bother to look down at him. From that amount of force, he would be seriously injured. Which, weirdly, pissed me off.
-That’s our prey, bitch.
Then, in an overly ceremonial manner, Jana lowered both hands towards me, opened palmed.
My cheshire grin in full swing, I pulled my arm back and punched with all the force I could muster.
The very air cracked, the invisible wave of force Jana had thrown forward first stuttering, then rupturing as I overpowered it with brute force. Jana flew upwards and away as if she was blown out of a cannon, on a trajectory that would throw her completely out of the fort and into the northern forest. Such was her speed that you could hear a soft whistling and she spun away.
With a tap, I landed on the ground, turning back towards the other, but before I could complete the action, my hair stood on end. It was not fear that flooded me, but a recognition of a threat to me. To even me.
Time slowed, and I distantly noticed that something strange was happening around my body. Not in a bad way, but a strange, flowing armor was seeping out of my skin and forming in a strange black ceramic armor. The surface was glossy, and 9 pieces formed in total.
A shoulder guard on my left shoulder.
An elbow guard with a sharp spike on my right elbow.
A gauntlet on my left hand.
A breast plate.
Greaves on both feet.
And two masterworks of metal, two tails that swayed slightly behind me, long things of interconnected ceramics.
Mind racing, I put the armor aside, facing what was coming, only a fraction of a second before it would impact me.
A huge monstrosity of grey lightning, so hot and violent the very air smoked in its wake, formed into the skull of a shrieking saber tooth tiger, its mouth open and about to engulf me.
My grin curled up even higher, warping my entire face.
-This is it.
My nerves still hummed, warning me of the seen, but still impending danger.
-Not much of a warning.
-It’s young, it will get better with time.
I also sensed that the ceramic armor that sprang up around me was the Black Exo-Skeleton with Nine Lives I had obtained.
-...But why two tails?
-I guess why not two tails?
With a an effort of will, that it resisted at first, I dispersed the exo-skeleton. It was nice to have, but I did not need it, not for this. It vehemently disagreed.
But I was in charge.
It seeped away, almost whining.
My smile shifted at the last moment, turning twisted and crazed to something sunny and bright.
-Thank god, I was worried this wasn’t going to be fun at all.
The tiger skull smashed into me.
The impact shook the entire path, a huge explosion that likely killed any strange minions of Predator that had made it through her illusion. It also created a shockwave that hit her with such force that she was thrown off the wall and into the moat.
Wet and bedraggled, she hefted herself out of the moat, her expression solemn.
That was to close. She had done some rough calculations, but her position hadn’t been exactly what she had thought; she was almost thrown too far, landing on stone instead of water.
As it was, her arm had smashed against the edge of the rock, and was likely broken.
Very rarely, but admittedly sometimes, she envied Kettle for her powerful calculation abilities and her obsessive determination in thinking about every contingency. But that wasn’t who Ketlia was.
She turned to see Diver and Xieche hopping down off the wall towards her, and allowed herself a bitter smile.
This was who she was.
“Kat! Are you alright? I’m sorry, I didn’t know the explosion-”
“No, I’m fine.” She answered Diver with an airy tone. And she was masochistic enough to wave her broken arm, sending hot daggers of pain through her entire torso. She maintained a calm expression the whole time. “Did he dodge?”
Xieche began making unintelligible noises, and Diver shot an angry glance his way, likely blaming him for allowing the possibility of harm to come near Ketlia. And that show of protectiveness made something in Ketlia’s mind click, her plans finalized.
“No, he didn’t,” Diver said, turning back to Ketlia. “...but it was hard to tell if it was effective.”
Ketlia shrugged. “We’ve been mixing part 1 and 2 anyway, but I think now we are officially in 2. Let’s make him mad. Kent’s already made his preparations, and I’ve contacted… Dak. Diver, send him over.”
Diver opened his mouth to reply, likely wanting to argue he should stay with her, but then hesitated. The real danger was Predator, and sending him away would do a lot to protect her.
He closed his mouth and turned, running back around towards the drawbridge to the fort. Xieche, meanwhile, muttered something unflattering in his language under his breath. Ketlia’s mental connection to Xieche conveyed the meaning, and she laughed, one of the few pure and true things she had done recently.
Xieche activated a magnetic field and began to float up towards the wall.
Alone, as she hadn’t been since this challenge had begun, Ketlia did two things. The first was admit to herself that the previous time she had been genuine and open had been with Predator, that first week in the marsh. And that was why he had to die. He knew her old name.
The second thing that Ketlia did was touch the fabric of the world, underlying this entire path. Ketlia let out a small smile. She had worried that the fabric of reality in the path would be different, which had made her waiver on her plans.
But it was not.
Flicking it mentally, the entire path hummed, in a way that no one else could detect. Then Ketlia turned and walked into the forest, away from the fort. She needed to find a good location for Part 3.
Everything hurt, for the first time in a long time. I leaned forward, slightly dazed, and quite surprised to find that I had somehow ended up on the ground. The area around me was completely bare, burnt and blasted clean.
I tried to push myself up, and found that my left arm was missing at the shoulder, charred and smoking flesh all that remained. Shrugging inwardly, I hoped it would heal quickly.
Almost consoling, even worriedly, the ceramic black armor formed again, the two tails wrapping protectively around my waist. There was a notification too, which caused me to chuckle, which turned into an extended cough.
Congratulations! Due to your actions, your skill has improved to “Lesser Lightning Resistance Lvl 4”. Normal lightning is slightly less likely to appear near you. Your body will be slightly less damaged by lightning.
I grimaced; something had punctured my lung, and it severely limited my mobility for the foreseeable future. All in all, not that bad in terms of injuries.
-It’s probably one of your own bones, idiot. What do you mean, something?
“Fine.” I spoke through gritted teeth, forcing myself to stand, despite the intense pain. “It’s just one of my own bones, I guess I’ll just tough it out then, huh?”
I began to take staggering steps forward, senses extending outward.
Magey was still up on the wall, but he had shifted positions to somewhere farther away. The corner of my mouth turned up.
-Good for him, that cagey bastard. I had him pegged as a weakling.
-Think he can do it again?
-...I’d say yes. He didn’t have much time, and threw it out pretty quickly. But I can’t imagine that he would have saved it this long if he could do it many times.
-We will just have to beat it out of him.
Still, I paused. Currently I was standing within a huge smoking crater, preventing any of my prey from seeing me. I stood there for 30 seconds, torn between running out there to tear them up and waiting to recover, when the huge column smoke around me was smashed away. The force wasn’t much, but it still made my injuries twinge uncomfortably.
Jana was shooting back towards him, her eyes gleaming like blood. I made to raise my arms to welcome her, and winced, as my back spasmed strangely and my left arm remained destroyed.
But to my annoyance, she flew around me, settling a little bit to my right.
Then, finally, she pointed towards me. My body tensed.
Disappointed I untensed.
Then my ears twitched, hearing the noise of something approaching me from behind at a high speed.
Twisting, I caught a glimpse of Glovey shooting towards me, pulled by Jana, his red glove extended towards me.
My arm blurred, pushing the limits of speed that I had.
I swore my hand bit into flesh, but before I could feel the satisfying, hot spray of blood, I was somewhere else: a clearing.
-This is so-
Then I froze.
The clearing was different from the last time I had been here. The grass had been largely cleaned. And all around there were crushed bones.
But these were special bones. They were all black. Twisting weakly, little more than a rat size skull on a fractured spine, was Black Bones, humming in distress.
Some of the black bones in the area had been crushed into powder. That powder had been carefully gathered and poured, forming a simple message.
“ARE YOU DONE PLAYING GAMES NOW, PREDATOR?”
Congratulations! You have reached 100 Fury. All stats +2 until the Fury degrades.
“So,” I said with an even voice, kneeling down and using my good arm to carefully gather Black Bones. When I first touched him, he flinched away in fear, turning my vision red for several seconds.
But then he seemed to realized something and did his best to crawl towards me, and only my hand.
His humming was so happy and warm. He was simple. I was good, and the enemies and pain were bad.
I sat cross legged, my heartbeat slowly growing more and more thundering in my ears.
My smile curled up as I rubbed Black Bones skull with my thumb while he flopped in a pleased manner on my hand.
He was so small and broken it was harder to NOT crush him, than to destroy him.
“Yes,” I said to the empty clearing at large.
Then I turned my gaze to the flesh of my left shoulder, which was slowly beginning to wriggle.
Shards of moonlight began to condense around me, forming reflections.
I kept going, my eyes locked on my growing flesh.
The quantity of floating reflections continued to grow, until the clearing was so densely packed that they brushed up against each other, tinkling dangerously.
“I’m done playing games.”
Shuusuke dutifully zoomed in on Diver as his hands rose to cover his eye, which began to spurt blood through his fingers. Even as Shuusuke’s stomach rumbled its displeasure at the show of gore, the viewers loved scenes like this.
Howling, Diver dropped to his knees, a string of curses exploding out from him.
“Mother fucking shit-dick piece of-....!”
But then he fell strangely silent. Jana floated down to land next to Diver, both of their faces solemn. The new arrival, the slight asian man with an arsenal of weapons strapped to his back, Kent, just folded his arms, his head tilted somewhat to the side.
Xieche remained on the wall, also remaining completely still. Shuusuke sighed.
‘I get they can communicate telepathically with each other somehow… but it really ruins the tension of stream…’
Shuusuke switched the activate camera, showing a rapidly moving Dak, who was heading up the road to the fort, pause. Then slowly turn and head back the way he came, likely aiming for clearing that Predator was recuperating in.
He had a camera there, too, of course, but the air had become so cluttered with those strange, slightly luminescent shards that Predator was making Shuusuke didn’t think it was worth it to display that image.
Luckily, the figures in the fort started to move, apparently having reached the end of their mental conversation. Jana roughly picked up a complaining Diver and pushed, throwing the two of them up and over the wall, heading towards the forest.
Xieche floated upwards, black lightning crackling across his fingers. Kent smoothly drew his two battle axes, holding them lightly, with the tips of his fingers as he walked under the floating Xieche.
After a few minutes of searching, Xieche produced a pleased gurgle, holding his hands up and gathering more and more lightning into his hands, his glazed eyes locked on a pile of stone rubble from a collapsed wall
Shuusuke used his ethereal cameras to float rapidly down, through and under the pile of rumble, coming upon Ashni’s cramped form, her eyes narrowed as she peered up through a crack in the rubble to see the Xieche’s approaching body. She drew her legs underneath her, wincing slightly. Shuusuke could see that she was still slightly injured, her body twitching sporadically from exposure to the electricity.
Although those twitches were small things, they were undoubtedly significant enough to affect her mobility.
But her eyes were determined, and she prepared to move as Xieche burped something in its native language, a blast of black lightning shooting down towards her pile of rubble.
Instead of leaping into action, however, she slumped to the side, a small smile on her face. Shuusuke zoomed closer, turning up the sensitivity on the microphone as Ashni’s lips moved.
“You can’t keep doing this…. I might start to rely on you…” She whispered, as another voice boomed outward above her.
“I think not.”
Whipman, a strange azure energy surrounding his body, materialized between the lightning and the pile of rubble, his eyes the dark, dark blue of the deep sea. The azure snake around his neck had straightened somewhat, but was also biting his shoulder. As Shuusuke watched, a small, azure drop of venom welled up out of its fangs, dribbling down Whipman’s shoulder.
The lightning arrived, crackling forebodingly. Whipman’s spear moved, and Shuusuke blinked several times, as instead of a spear, suddenly Whipman was holding onto the body of a thick, azure serpent, the spear tip turning into the vicious head of a serpent, lashing out and smashing apart the lightning as if it was nothing.
Kent’s face changed, just slightly, revealing a small smile.. “Finally. Show me the martial prowess of Tellus.”
Kent made this very large battle axes dance across his fingers like it weighed nothing. They spun and twisted, catching the light. Xieche continued to rain down lightning, but every time Whipman’s spear would transform into that hissing serpent, destroying the attacks.
“Two versus one? That’s hardly fair,” Whipman remarked mildly, the color of his eyes deepening to black. That lighting crackled and boomed as it smashed downward, but he continually turned it aside, his clothes starting to get slightly singed, either by the azure energy he was covered in, or the lightning, Shuusuke couldn’t be sure.
Shrugging, Kent said, “You are the warm up. Do your best.” Then, cracking his fingers, he began to stalk closer.
Then he Stormwalked, appearing in a discharge of snakes of azure thunder right next to Xieche, who was so shocked he just looked at him slack-jawed, for a second. Whipman’s palm surged forward, as he calmly said, “Zone of Quagmire.”
The palm struck Xieche in the diaphragm, knocking him backwards. Eyes bulging now, Xieche flailed, somehow unable to breathe and also completely unable to find his balance. Almost in slow motion he drifted backwards as Whipman brought his spear to bear.
Flashing with power, the azure snake appeared in Whipman’s hands, streaking towards Xieche’s throat.
A small knife shot upwards, striking the side of Whipman’s spear, dispersing the illusion of the azure serpent and also altering the course of the attack so the spear stabbed into the flesh of Xieche’s upper arm instead of his throat.
Impossibly fast and gracefully, Whipman withdrew his spear from the fleshwound and thrust again, aiming for the heart. Another movement that was only announced by a flashing glint of light lead to a clear ting, as the knife smashed into the spear strike, completely destroying the angle of attack and only inflicting a glancing wound across Xieche’s ribs.
Due to the angle of the throw, the second knife ricocheted up, spinning lightly, right in front of Whipman, so he grabbed it, thoughtful. The azure energy around his body pulsed as he examine the knife, and then looked down towards Kent, who stood still below, battle axes held loosely at his sides.
Ultimately, Whipman stood still, somehow suspended midair as Xieche fell, keening and moaning, until he smashed into the ground. Then, with exaggerated slowness, Whipman floated downward.
“If you are that good with the knife, why did you not attack my wounded companion?”
Shuusuke had thoughtlessly left a camera by Ashni, so he caught the moment where her small smile transformed into a frown.
“Her turn will come in time,” Kent said simply, walking towards Whipman.
Ashni’s face twisted into a scowl.
Nodding slowly, Whipman took a fighting stance and waited for Kent to approach, wondering what skills this individual possessed that gave him such confidence.
My eyes opened. I was not yet completely healed, and my arm still felt quite weak, but I could take my time walking back to the fort to kill them all and let it get back up to full strength.
-Hmph, it seems as if someone wants to hurry towards their death. We have company.
A strangely familiar individual came closer, hood drawn partially up over his face. Still, when I saw his face…
“Have I killed you before…?” I asked, frowning, stilling the reflections around me so they stopped tinkling against each other and my voice could be heard.
The figure ignored me, striding closer, a strange baleful energy coming from him. Not enough to threaten me, but enough for me to be able to tell that HE certainly thought that he could threaten me.
My frown deepened, and I hopped to my feet, carefully placing a vibrating Black Bones on my shoulder. All of my reflections, excluding 200 or so I had a special plan for, rushed downward towards my hand, compacting and pressing, becoming a dense mass of reflective energy that I continued to press, forming into a strange ball of refractive material.
Those 200 reflections I left out swirled forward, completely surrounding the cloaked individual, completely obscuring my view of him.
Then I shattered them. Like a puppet with its strings cut, the cloaked man fell, that strange baleful energy in his chest crushed, his body broken and bloody.
-....this seems familiar. Haven’t we killed him before?
I walked over to the body and peered closely down at him. Definitely not moving or breathing. To be sure, and to expel a little bit more of my tension, I kicked him in the side.
Through my foot, I felt, rather than heard, his ribcage crack, his inner organs popping and grinding into a mush. The force of the kick was enough to throw him across the clearing, smashing through piles of broken black bones and rolling until he came to rest against a tree at the far side of the clearing.
-Seems pretty dead.
I surveyed the clearing, the broken bones and the infuriating message.
As my hands tightened into fists, and I inwardly was glad I had previously put Black Bones on my shoulder, because otherwise I might have inadvertently crushed him in my rage.
All the while, he remained on my shoulder, perfectly innocent and content.
“And next,” I said aloud, relishing every word. “Kent.”
Whipman watched as Kent approached, his eyes narrowed, following the relaxed lines of his body. It was slightly unnerving how at ease Kent seemed to be, how relaxed in his skin he was. It reminded Whipman of a tiger.
All at once Kent’s moves changed, his body blurring as he rushed forward to lash out at Whipman with one of his heavy axes. Whipman moved smoothly out of the way, but the way that the axe moved was incredible; it curved to follow Whipman, homing in on his chest.
All the while, Whipman noticed how centered and balanced Kent was, relying on technique and poise to manage the feat, never straining at all.
He was, Whipman immediately realized, a master.
But Whipman was no slouch, either.
Whipman sidestepped, his body twisting, his spear moving in a powerful serpent strike, the image of the Azure serpent appearing to cover the spear. The serpent smashed aside the axe with brute force and curved back around, aiming for Kent’s arm.
But Kent brought the other battle axe up to bear, using the broad, flat side to brush the thrust away, sending it harmlessly sailing past his shoulder. Then both axes blurred, weaving together in a complex pattern towards Whipman.
Frowning, Whipman spun, moving through the barrage of blows with grace, the Azure energy flowing into him from the snake’s venom adding to his finesse and speed. Once he moved past the first series of axe attacks, Whipman had figured he would have a brief moment to regain the momentum, but as the next strikes chained cleanly into the first wave, Whipman realized he had made a mistake; this was a move that was designed to continue indefinitely.
“Zone of Quagmire.” The azure energy around Whipman grew and spread, making the air thick with compressed energy and lines of force, slowing down Kent’s attacks. Whipman pounced forward, preparing to strike, but Kent began to spin his axes in a strange, defensive manner.
Even more strange, the lines of force that Whipman had been intending to use to bind Kent started to turn against him, controlled by the movements of Kent’s axes. Whipman made to counter it, then hesitated, allowing the lines of force and momentum to turn and bind him.
Kent’s vicious, beheading strike came soon after.
“Clinging Mist.” Whipman’s body dispersed, and due to the influence of the azure energy, he reappeared almost immediately behind Kent, spear already blurring.
“Impressive. If I hadn’t been warned, you would have scored a hit.” Kent’s axes blurred, his arms windmilling strangely, and before Whipman could blink, his swirling axes had pushed him forward, past the head of the azure serpent strike and within arm’s reach, the second axe slashing down towards him.
Whipman instinctively activated Clinging Mist again, reappearing behind Kent’s attack. Eyes narrowed, Whipman executed a move that he had learned after he had leveled Serpent Strike all the way.
Three azure snake heads appeared, stemming from the spear in Whipman’s hand, their attacks so fast that nothing but their bright color and metallic scales could be seen. Although it looked powerful, it was really just an illusion based attack, that-
Kent’s axe moved, casually knocking aside the real head, the illusion dispersing. Whipman blinked.
Both fighters regarded each other for several seconds.
“How?” Whipman asked with narrowed eyes. Did illusions not work on him? And yet the attack also ups the speed on the serpent strikes. If those attacks weren’t fast enough, that only left…
Kent shrugged, resheathing his battle axes across his back. “You must have been expecting something flashier. But I am not flashy. My gift is simple. I see. And when I see, I understand. Skills, special techniques, illusions… they all rely on the unfamiliarity of the recipient to be effective. When I know you will reappear behind me, I can counter. When I know that two of those strikes are fake, and which is real, I can counter. Tricks will never work on me.”
Drawing the short, curved sword at his waist, Kent finished. “Only truth and skill will. So, may we continue?”
Whipman nodded slowly. He had two options. One was to rely on the strength of his 4th created move, ‘Cleft Earth’ to suppress Kent. The other was to toss aside his moves, and instead rely on simply the raw application of his insights into the stances. Whipman wasn’t exactly sure how much Kent’s skill to see covered, but it was likely somewhat based on the skill system of the Great Tower. That would likely mean that the more specific the skill was, the more information that Kent could comprehend at a glance.
Hopefully the more general stance skills would be harder for Kent to grasp under the pressure of a fast battle.
But looking at Kent, that short, curved sword in hand, Whipman shivered. Maybe he should-
But in that moment, Whipman felt the tension in his shoulders, and had a flashback to the previous time he felt this nervous and out of control.
It was the night before he had killed his master, stealing his power.
With an effort of will, he ironed the tension out of his body, his grip on the spear loosening until he held it with only the tips of his fingers. He began to bob and weave the head of his spear, his eyes relaxing until they were half closed.
Kent smiled. “Excellent. Then let’s begin.”
His sword blurred becoming a line of light. Whipman instinctively activated Clinging Mist. But as he did so, his gaze sharpened, and he shifted backwards away from the blow.
Calmly resetting his feet, Whipman ignored the long slash that cut through his shirt and left a thin line of blood where the sword barely broke the skin of his chest.
“There was no force in that blow,” Whipman said, his tone making it clear that it was a statement, not a question. Kent’s mouth quirked up in a smile as he stepped forward, blade swinging.
Whipman supposed this was for the best; he had grown too reliant on Clinging Mist. It should never have become the move that he went to always to dodge. It should have always been used for emergencies and finishing opponents. The sense of surprise would be enough to overwhelm most enemies.
‘Honestly…’ Whipman thought to himself, ‘What have I been doing?’
Kent practically slid forward, a preternatural grace suffusing all of his movements. Then short sword blurred, gliding through the air. Whipman resisted the urge to blink. There was something about the way the sword moved that made it extremely difficult to gauge how fast or slow it was moving; it was just approaching.
It chased after blood.
‘In the beginning, I didn’t have these skills of mine. And they are powerful but…’ Whipman did not use either of his movement techniques, but simply stepped slightly to the side, using basic step of air stance.
He executed it flawless, instantly creating the distance he needed between Kent and himself. Inwardly, he was shocked by the effectiveness of the maneuver, but then Whipman realized he hadn’t really been practicing the move since his stats had been boosted by becoming the azure snake’s familiar. That azure venom that was currently being dripped into his bloodstream improved all aspects of his performance, mental and physical.
Kent’s sword curved to follow Whipman, but there was a split second in which for Whipman to act.
In that time, he adopted a defensive form of the Water Stance.
Kent’s sword arrived aiming for his throat. But Whipman brought his spear across in a basic defensive sweep, brushing the blow to the side. Kent continued to cut, the sword using the redirection to change directions and attack towards Whipman’s thigh. This only made Whipman smile.
The spear continued, nudging the sword off course once again, sending it towards the ground.
Growling, Kent brought the sword up in a graceful slash, but Whipman pivoted cleanly, out of the slash’s direction, his expression tranquil.
The upward slash turned into a vicious biting stab that was met by the tip of Whipman’s spear, which knocked it aside with its superior weight and shot towards Kent’s chest. Kent leaned backward, letting the spear travel over him, and straightened it as Whipman withdrew it.
Both fighters regarded each other once more.
“That’s more like it,” Kent said without inflection, advancing towards Whipman with his blade raised above his head.
The slash came faster than Whipman would have believed. Originally, Whipman had planned to use that bit of distance to keep his opponent at bay with the superior range of his spear. But Kent had a way of traveling from just outside of his range to well inside of it in a split second. His short sword flashed downward, rushing towards Whipman shoulder.
His spear curled over, circling around the slash and pushing away, but this slash contained force again, and the abrupt increase in strength made the Water stance falter.
But as his spear fell aside, Whipman twisted it, planting the base up against his foot and lowering the point to meet Kent’s attack.
Realizing the danger, Kent blurred, pulling his downward slash back and almost immediately executing a horizontal slash that had the potential to dismember Whipman. But Whipman lowered himself into an Earth stance offensive form. Whipman picked up the base of the spear and swung it forward, aiming for Kent’s body.
The weapons smashed together, but this time Whipman had prepared for the extra power in the blow, and Kent was the one to grunt and slide backwards.
‘It was always like this, wasn’t it, Master?’ Whipman grinned to himself, stepping forward in a brutal rush of thunder stance, his spear exploding forward.
Kent, moving faster than he should be able to, drew a battleaxe and used the huge steel blade as a impromptu shield, sending him stumbling backwards.
Whipman advanced again, but somehow those feet of Kent’s had found purchase on the ground and he had regained his footing. He had sheathed the short sword and had both battle axes drawn by the time Whipman’s spear head arrived before him.
Thinking quickly, Whipman shifted again, becoming light and probing, his thrust slipping between the huge axes, utilizing Air Stance.
‘I kept becoming fascinated by bright and shiny ways to become strong, but…’
Kent continued to defend, slowly falling behind the onslaught of stabs with his huge axes. As soon as he managed to get his spear between then, he twisted, switching to Water stance, completely breaking Kent’s guard wide open.
Smiling slightly, thinking of his student, Whipman stabbed with the Thunder Stance move, Clear Sky, Sudden Bolt.
‘When all along, my strongest skills… were the ones that you carefully taught me.’
But Kent was gone.
His senses tingling, Whipman’s initial reaction was to activated Clinging Mist, but he suppressed that impulse and spun around, spear held at his waist. At the corner of his eye, he caught the whirlwind of axes that was Kent, and slammed his spear upwards, smashing aside the attack with the force of Earth Stance.
The blows parted and withdrew like the breeze, and Whipman spun around, frantically trying to keep Kent in his vision.
But his speed had increased to an incredible degree. Bobbing and weaving, Kent shot closer, almost invisible.
So Whipman closed his eyes, the azure energy cold fire in his veins.
His focus narrowed to a point, his weight and mass concentrating to the point of the spear. His muscles tensed, and then relaxed. Then they tensed again, and relaxed again. This continued, the time it took each to happen decreasing, until his body began to hum.
Whipman could not keep track of Kent with his eyes, but he only needed to know where he was for a single moment to release this attack. And even if he missed.
Whipman grinned and focused attention on his ears. Kent might be quiet, but..
Whipman turned slightly to the left and let his spear fly, exploding outward with such speed that a sonic boom was created. Even with his eyes closed, Whipman heard Kent hiss his annoyance, and opened his eyes to the amusing scene of Kent scrambling to the side, dodging the spear strike.
Still, even though Kent had dodged, when the strike was completed, the gathered weight exploded outward in a vicious blast of air, knocking the recovering Kent even further away, causing him to tumble over into a pile of rocks.
Grimly, Kent picked himself up, for the first time that Whipman had seen him looking disheveled. Brushing himself off, Kent regarded Whipman.
But his words belied his disadvantaged seeming exterior. “How many more times can you perform that move? Your hands are beginning to shake.”
He could feel it too. He had been using the Azure Snake’s venom for too long; his body was starting to reject it and shut down.
If Kent could tell that his statement had caused Whipman to start sweating, he didn’t show it, instead he simply settled into his fighting stance and said, “Well, let’s find out.”
“I think not.”
The air around them chilled. A strange, soft ringing filled the air, and Whipman turned to find Predator stalking over, a strange reflective orb held in his hand.
Predator’s face was all rage and teeth. “I think it’s time we had a talk, Kent.”
Kent had the nerve to tilt his head at me, seemingly considering my words as a proposal. My eyes beginning to go red around the edges, I conjured a dozen blades of wind and swept them towards him, intent on blood.
Black Bones hummed contentedly on my shoulder, a constant reminder of my motivation. And the steep price of mercy.
Congratulations! You have reached 100 Fury. All stats +3 until the Fury degrades.
Unsurprisingly, Kent blurred to nothing, slipping left through a hole in the net of wind blades.
-Well, if he didn’t this wouldn’t be very fun at all.
Although he was fast, I was faster. I pressed downward, throwing my body towards him, intersecting his movement. But he twisted midair, his feet gripping the ground, and he zig zagged away with an evident grace.
I grinned, my mouth all teeth, and followed. Bringing my hand above my head, I whipped the reflective orb in his direction, the strange, dense thing screaming through the air towards him. Although the easiest option would be just to activate Immolation and burn his body to ashes…
Black Bones clung to my shoulder, humming innocently.
As it was, I pressed my will into the reflective orb, a strange ripple disturbing its smooth surface. Then the orb began to bubble and swell, becoming oblong and amorphous, homing in on Kent’s position.
Apparently sensing that his dodging was useless, Kent slowed to a walk, considering the reflective orb as it shot towards him. Grinning, I raced towards him, my strides cracking the earth with their force.
But as the orb arrived before him it expanded, turning into a liquid wave of reflective energy, Kent disappeared.
What was even more shocking was that he appeared in front of me, a small, thin sword raised to strike.
-His speed is surprising, but his decision making leaves a lot to be desired.
My hand blurred, the long claws on my hand aiming for Kent’s throat.
As I watched, his sword swayed mid air, seeming to bend, reaching my hand. Flexing my muscles, I expected to crush the sword, but he barely even touched my attack, but strangely I felt its strength wane as it was guided to the side, across my body.
Growling, I turned, my other hand shooting under the first towards his exposed abdomen, while other me guided the reflective energy back towards us. But just as my claws were about to sink into his flesh, be spun again, his sword tapping lightly against my second attack, guiding that too, to the side,
With my arms cross in front of me, and Kent’s slight figure, I couldn’t even see his body, but I felt several sharp pains on my arms as he inflicted what felt like flesh wounds.
With my vision turning red, I almost missed Kent materializing beside me to the left, his sword snaking up towards my throat.
Grimacing, I tried to move to block, but abruptly realized what that pain was earlier; he had slid needles into my arms, pinning them together.
-How did he even pierce the skin…?
Gnashing my teeth, I pulled until the flesh ripped, large chunks of my left arm falling to the ground, the needles sliding out and clinking on the ground. With my right hand twisted into a claw, I twisted around, attempting to catch the sword. But Kent’s sword, and himself, disappeared like smoke, moving 10 meters away from me in an instant.
Blood dripped down my torn arms, forming small pools beneath me on the pitted ground that had once been the site of my fort. We regarded each other for several seconds. The reflective substance flowed back towards me, forming once more into an orb. Although it was undoubtedly very powerful, it wasn’t agile enough for him.
“I cultivate Truth and Spirit in martial arts.” Kent said calmly as he sheathed his sword and drew his axes. “If you do not also have these things… you will never be able to harm me.”
-How high must his Agility stat be, that it’s on par with me…
-Or it could be a skill. But still.
My eyes turned cold. The reflective substance turned once more into a liquid and surrounded Black Bones and carried him away, far from my body. I could feel him vibrating with worry, but I carried him over towards some relatively intact murloc bodies, so he could rebuild himself.
As for me…
Perception fell away, replaced by constant agony and heat, but I would swear I could hear Kent laughing.
-We shall see how long that lasts.
I threw myself forward, intent on burning him to ashes. Leaping backwards, Kent threw one of his axes at me side arm, the weapon turning into a whirling circle of bloodthirsty steel.
One that melted and then evaporated before it even came close to me.
Planting my foot, I chased after him. He simply sighed. “Must you insist on this? Both of us will cease if you force my hand.”
I ignored him, my rage bubbling, my steps becoming faster. And much to my surprise.... He didn’t attempt to dodge my next leap. Instead, he opened his arms, waiting to meet me.
‘What are you doing?’ Ketlia asked frantically, sensing as Kent stood and allowed Predator and his surging fire to engulf him.
‘Even I underestimated his power. So I must become something that his power cannot touch.’
‘It is not exactly death,’ Kent thought slowly. ‘But… yes. My Martial Path ends here. What I will become… cannot grow.’
There was a moment of silence in their mental connection.
‘...But you need it, don’t you? He is not yet angry enough to move to the end stages of this fight. For you, I will do this.’
Ketlia wanted to say something, to comfort this man, this stern, serious man, who was giving himself for her… but she felt nothing. Just a sense of relief.
Predator smashed into Kent, and Kent’s far weaker body was first smashed, and then was slowly turned to ash, until he was burnt away to nothing. Predator seemed to hesitate, obviously confused by this turn of events. Although Ketlia could sense his confidence in his victory, he didn’t expect… it to be that easy.
Ketlia turned away, touching on thoughts from another mind.
‘That was… unfortunate.’ The strange monster inside of Jana whispered. ‘That body would have been useful. Still, I’ll begin the next phase on my end. Two of us sisters will be more than enough-’
“No,’ Ketlia thought firmly, an opportunity clicking together in her mind. ‘Do not worry, I will provide a body for you.’
Admittedly, turning Kent into kindling was incredibly satisfying. But at the same time…
-That was all…? After all of his talk about Truth and Spirit-
But then a twitch warned me, and I became a blur, hopping lightly to the side, as a huge gash appeared in the earth besides me. My senses quickly pinpointed his new position, and while other me was wondering how Kent was still alive, I leapt towards him, my arms wide.
Without any sense of urgency, Kent turned, raising his blade to be horizontal. Then, in a smooth, almost inhuman move, he twisted and brought the blade across in a slow motion slash. But strangely, that slow slash caused my instincts to once more warn me of grave danger, but this time I ignored it, eyes wide and grin ready to devour him.
But once more, I arrived at his position, and he just… dispersed.
And the next thing I knew, I was tumbling sideways, my right arm barely attached to the rest of me, hanging on by only gristle.
Deactivating Immolation, I used my good arm to claw my way to a stop, my eyes narrowed.
Kent stood in front of me, still just a short distance away, seemingly more a projection of energy than anything else. He stood simply, with just the tips of his fingers touching his sword, and it gave the sword a hanging feeling, as if it was about to slip out of his fingers and fall.
“I told you. I cultivate two things. Truth and Spirit. I am the truth, and that…”
My eyes slid upwards, widening, even as I gritted my teeth. Floating in the air behind Kent’s weird golden energy form was an amorphous body of blue energy. There was noticeably arms, a torso, and what I believed to be a head, but the only part that was completely clear was the huge, 20 meter long sword that this strange giant mass of energy held. The smaller form of Kent shifted his stance, raising his sword up above his head, and the spirit followed.
“You have truly killed me. But… in terms of martial path, you are not my match. In both truth and spirit, you fall short”
His sword descended like an executioner's blade, the spirit above him following suit, slashing downwards towards my position.
My cheshire grin stretched wide. The flesh of my right arm was still stitching together, but I was unwilling to believe that in a frontal confrontation, I would lose.
Other me understood, as I clenched my fist, one finger at a time.
-It’s this feeling…
Eyes wide I pulled back my fist, using air affinity to rapidly compress a huge amount of air into a small space at the tip of my fist.
“It’s this!” I roared at Kent, who stared icily down at me as he struck.
“Without this I am not alive!”
The sword was almost upon me, but I shifted my stance, lowering myself into an earth stance. And just as it was about to land, I smashed upwards in Thunder Stance, smashing forward.
My bones shook, and in a very detached way, I curiously looked at my arm as it was slowly ground down by the force of the impact, leaving everything below the elbow more gore than limb. I regarded it silently, Then turned and looked at the long gouge in the earth behind me.
It wasn’t enough to overpower the blow, but my punch had changed the trajectory of the sword just slightly, leaving the rest of my body relatively unharmed.
-Well, the right arm hasn’t healed yet. So for now, we are armless. Not exactly unharmed….
-Don’t be so negative. Learn to enjoy yourself every now and again.
Eyes blazing, I walked towards the “truth” version of Kent.
He shook his head sadly. “Fool. You are naught but a mad dog. Truth is eternal. If you do not have a greater truth, it will cut you to pieces. Spirit may run out, but it will return, burning greater than ever.”
Which only made me laugh, throwing back my head, as I accelerated towards him. I utilized Lunar Affinity, condensing a series of binding wraps on my right arm, holding it together. Soon I was dashing, wind rushing past me. Ignoring him raising his sword.
Within a second, I had charged through him harmlessly, his truth form dispersing. A prickling on the back of my neck let me know that the huge spirit form had not shifted, however.
Scowling over my shoulder at the descending blade, I leapt sideways, condensing a platform of air beneath my feet. From there, I leapt upwards, angling around the blade, creating another platform before I flew too high. Then I simply stepped, crossing the distance to float upside down before the amorphous body of the spirit. Immolation flicked on, fire erupting from my core, burrowing upwards through my skin to explode in a way of heat. I felt the focus and strength from My Soul is the Flame, My Body the Blade, as my heart rate rose and my perception narrowed to a razor sharp edge.
Then I kicked downwards, concentrating all the anger and frustration that Kent had caused me into the blow, using thunder stance to have the kick bursting with force.
Its very passage caused a huge sonic boom, and then it collided with the strange spirit. It’s body felt like a huge, dense sponge, giving way slowly and unwillingly, even under the tyrannical force of my kick. And slowly, as the force of the kick was dispersed, its body stopped being warped, and slowly reformed.
Narrowing my eyes, I watched as it floated upwards, seemingly unhurt, raising its sword once more.
Snorting, I kicked off against a platform of air and went to the ground, narrowly dodging another huge slash.
-So how do we kill it?
-Smash it until it stops moving.
The truth form of Kent smoothly completed its slash, the one that missed, and then turned to me and spoke. “A spirit possesses energy and force, but it is more than that. It is guided by truth. As long as you cannot touch my truth, you will die here today. And when a Spirit wields Truth...”
Trying my best to ignore my rising fury at this impudent ant, I let the condensed energy fall away from my right arm, flexing my hand. Fully healed. I looked at my left arm, which was around halfway back to normal. I condensed lunar energy around it and turned back to Kent.
The ground between us was cracked and covered in deep gashes that the spirit made. In that moment, I hesitated. I had two options. Engage with Kent, trying to figure out the trick to this strange combination he currently had, or ignore it, and continue to try and smash it into the ground.
And strangely, in that moment, Jinka’s voice floated to the surface of my mind. A man who threw himself at danger, heedless, who had the audacity to grin at me as I popped his organs like balloons.
“I pity you, Predator.”
With a grin winding across my face like a mountain road, I opened my arms and shouted.
“I PITY THE DEAD.”
-Hey, we should-
Heedless, I stalked slowly forward, the clouds above our location starting to swirl as I gathered Air using my affinity, more that I had ever attempted before, so much that it began to rip through my mana at an unsustainable rate.
But I just felt a bubbling joy within my heart.
Yes, this feeling. This heat.
In that moment, I knew that nothing else mattered in the world.
Ketlia watched the swirling clouds above the ruined fort with pensive eyes. She knew Predator was strong, and he kept upping the ante, but now it seemed like they had finally pushed him to his bottom line. And the hadn’t even taken away a single one of his lives, as of yet.
But that didn’t mean that their side didn’t have cards left to reveal.
Jana floated calmly towards Ketlia position at the edge of the tree line, dragging a body behind her. With a grunt, she tossed it on the ground, and Ketlia recognized it as Jinka.
The only problem was that the head had been clearly ripped off, and then it looked like Predator had been angry enough to eat the jaw and the right cheekbone, before discarding the head. As it was, it stood as a grim testament to Predator’s cruelty.
Two of their team was dead already, having accomplished very little. Although Kent wasn’t exactly dead, there was something about his current form that made it extremely difficult for Ketlia to read his thoughts, which made her wonder if he wasn’t hiding how tenuous his position really was.
Jana waved her fingers at the dead body and tiny red threads of blood spread from the torso and the shredded neck, connecting to each other, pulling themselves close.
Finally, with a wet slap, the pieces connected.
Ketlia tilted her head to the side, considering the body.
“Getting cold feet?”
Ketlia could tell from the hollow sound to the voice that Jana herself was currently taking the backseat to whatever ancient monster had worked itself into her body. The time the creature could maintain control without tiring itself out was growing, but Ketlia found it difficult to care.
It wasn’t really her problem.
Shrugging, Ketlia said. “No. I don’t really care what you are planning to do after you get these bodies. Just hold up your end of the bargain. Predator must die”
Eyes glittering, Jana nodded, but Ketlia was getting delicate and strong enough to slip even into that monstrosity’s mind, and felt the derision in her mind.
Ketlia didn’t mind, but she could also sense that Jana didn’t care one way or the other whether Predator died. But these monsters wanted to climb the Tower. And Predator was barring their way.
Closing her eyes, Ketlia reached out, feeling the dimensions. After a few seconds of searching, Ketlia found what she was looking for. It wasn’t a dimension like most, layered on top of each other, but it was like a small bubble, existing separate, stuck between two sheets of rubber, forever suspended. She pulled that dimension closer, and then pressed, applying enough force that the line between that one and their current dimension began to blur.
For a long moment Ketlia struggled, applying more and more pressure.
Then she felt something flit across the boundary and settle in Jinka’s corpse.
With a loud breath, Ketlia released that strange dimension and stumbled backwards. It had taken more effort than she had expected to move the dimension. Although the dimension itself was light, there were heavy things within it. Like a huge, forgotten underwater world hidden at the bottom of a well, spreading downwards infinitely.
Jinka’s body spasmed, seizing upwards, slowly beginning to shake. But as soon as it had started, it was also over, the body relaxing downwards to the ground. Then the skin of it began to change, wizening and taking on a dry, green coloration, almost like a lizard.
Laboriously, the body stood, its eyes a brilliant emerald.
“Wha happened?” It asked, speaking with a wet, bubbling voice. Then it did its best to frown, but it only could furrow its brow, its jaw having been ripped off and eaten. It made a discontented noise.
“Is better than nothing,” Jana said smoothly, her blood red eyes flashing. Then she turned to Ketlia. “You said you could find another body? Kent’s would have been ideal, but….”
Ketlia simply nodded.
And then she sent a message to Xieche and Diver.
When Whipman and Kent had originally started fighting, both Xieche and Ashni had crept back in opposite directions, taking their time to recover from their respective wounds. Xieche’s injuries were primarily mental Shuusuke could tell; creating the black lightning tiger had exhausted his mana reserves, and he needed time to meditate and recover.
The camera following Ashni captured her limp and obvious discomfort, but she produced a strange medicine from a pouch at her waist, and was swiftly recovering.
By the time Predator had arrived again, Xieche had fled farther away, meeting up with Diver, who was still struggling to stop the flow of blood from his eye.
While Predator and Kent were struggling, they had joined the staggering figure of Dak, who now seemed to be alight with a baleful energy, his dead, dark eyes looking towards the being that had snuffed out its light twice already.
Shuusuke watched as the two did their best to restrain Dak, and whatever strange creature that was animating his body, but Shuusuke’s main attention was focused on Predator.
He stalked forward, grinning wildly, and although it was hard to see, the swirling clouds revealed that something was happening. Something was coming.
And it was going to be big.
“It’s useless. Show me your own truth, you cannot-” Kent spoke, but he only received a cackle from Predator in response.
“This is my only response! Overwhelm! Crush! Devour! Grow! Live! There might be people in this world that are more powerful than I, but…”
Predator raised a hand, and while Shuusuke kept one camera watching Predator’s body, another camera was furiously flying upwards, panning out. He had missed it at first, but a slight glimmer revealed the shape, and it was becoming more clear every second.
Kent’s truth was about 1.5 meters tall, as tall as he had been. Above that, was his 20 meter tall spirit energy, formed into an amorphous torso holding a crystal clear sword of energy.
Another 50 meters above that was a glimmering light. And as Shuusuke’s camera zipped up, it resolved itself into a mass of condensed movement in a V.
And above that, extending about 100 meters, an almost invisible, viciously fast whirlwind. A spear shaft, composed of a tornado, supporting a spearhead made of liquid moonlight.
As Shuusuke watched, the spear began to take a more distinct shape, the spearhead sharpening and flattening, the shaft whirlwind spinning tighter and tighter, faster and faster.
“But…” Predator continued, his differently colored eyes glittering, only pale yellow, the other ice blue. “But you are not my match. Die.”
The whirlwind had shrunk from the size of a house to the body of a skinny person, the wind moving so fast that the air was filled with a mournful wailing. Kent’s truth lowered its sword to its size, gazing up solemnly at the roiling sky and the oddly beautiful spearhead suspended over him. The camera Shuusuke had on the other three caught them beginning to move, but most of his attention was fixed on that spear in the sky.
Seeming to slow considerable, the vicious winds that formed that shaft had shrunk to the thickness of a wrist. Then the air stilled.
The compressed air exploded, throwing the spearhead of moonlight ripping downward, the very air being cut to pieces. Kent’s movements were still smooth, slashing upwards in a graceful arc, the spirit above him following him, and it seemed for a moment that his sword would get there in time to sever the spearhead’s momentum.
Shuusuke’s eyes were wide, sweat dripping down his forehead, but he prided himself on never losing himself in the scene. So when Predator slowly raised his hand and flexed it, staring at it in wonder, even as his huge spearhead slashed downwards.
“My truth…” He murmured, and as Shuusuke watched, a strange violet smoke swirled up from his palm.
The land quaked as the sword and spearhead met midair, the spearhead almost oppressively larger than the already huge sword spirit of Kent’s. It came down in a luminescent blur, and when it met the spirit blade, a blinding light erupted, followed swiftly by a shockwave that disintegrated most of the mutilated murloc bodies and reduced any skeleton bones to dust.
Shuusuke made a frustrated noise and repositioned his cameras in the chaos. True, the cameras themselves weren’t in the same dimension as the explosion and weren’t affected, but they still needed to look at the world of the challenge. And right now, that world was filled with swirling dust and debris, rendering visuals impossible.
Cool battle effects were great for showmanship, but the several minutes afterward where all he would be broadcasting was dust were not. If things continued like this…
But an explosion from the middle of the dust cloud soon sent things swirling.
Cursing, Shuusuke brought a camera high up in the air, the lense tracking the action. Something was moving rapidly through the huge dust cloud, shooting across the ground, leaving a trail of clear air in its wake. But the figure itself…
The rapidly moving figure hit something else and the dust filled air was instantly evacuated, the huge shockwave from the clash throwing it all away, revealing a snarling Predator, who appeared to have conjured a gauntlet of moonlight, and actually was the one defending against Kent’s attack.
Kent’s two bodies had apparently moved closer together and latched onto one another, resulting in his Truth body being surrounded by billowing spirit, condensed around him. It was now only double the size of his body, hovering close around his energy form, but the biggest difference was that the impressive sword of the spirit form joined the truth form’s sword, forming a 4 meter long monstrosity.
As Shuusuke watched the two in silent struggle, Predator’s gauntlet of moonlight began to crack and splinter.
“That attack was powerful. But it has left you without mana. Foolish.” Kent’s words were simple and terse, but there was something strange about them.
Predator’s gauntlet shattered all the way in an explosion of tinkling light, and Kent pressed forward, slashing his huge sword.
Snorting, Predator slashed out with his other hand, deflecting the blade, earning a spray of blood across his own face. With a huge amount of force, the blade crashed into the ground, but Predator’s pointer and middle fingers rotated midair, small spurts of blood shooting out of the severed digits.
Predator’s eyes narrowed.
“...but I don’t hate that about you… you have no hope of victory otherwise.”
Shuusuke abruptly realized what was strange about Kent’s voice; he was smiling while he spoke. And as Shuusuke watched, Predator’s mouth stretched outward in a crescent.
“Asshole. Don’t act so superior.”
They both hopped lightly backwards, opening up some space between the two of them. Kent revealed a wry smile, and as the dust continued to thin out in their area, Shuusuke zoomed his camera in as fast as it could go.
In the left part of the spirit form’s toso, right below the left shoulder, there was a huge gaping hole, with frayed edges like a ripped cloth. And those frayed edges would tremble, and tiny threads of the spirit would be pulled away, floating away into the sky, disintegrating with an almost audible sigh. Before Shuusuke’s very eyes, the whole scene transformed, even though nothing had changed. The Spirit form hadn’t combined with truth to form a more powerful whole, but was rather huddling against the truth form, using it to stem the flow of spirit away from its body.
Although it largely succeeded by pressing its form against the truth form, the damage was already done; its strength was largely depleted, as evidenced by its greatly depleted mass. And every second passed was another ounce of strength slipping away.
Blood dripped from the stumps of Predator’s severed fingers, but he just looked at Kent with a lazy grin. “You will bleed out long before I will.”
Predator’s grin stretched even wider, taking on a darker cast. “And you will die in agony for what you did to Black Bones.”
Kent shrugged. “There was no honor in that,yes. But there was truth. And it now led us here.”
Predator gave Kent a strange look.
“There is truth in all actions. Whether it is a strong truth or a weak one depends on the purity of action. So,” Kent continued, pointing his huge sword at Predator. “Let us forget the past and embrace this truth. It is time one of us dies.”
Laughing wildly, Predator sunk into a crouch. “The more we talk… Well, whatever. Don’t disappoint me, Kent.”
The ground underneath Predator cracked and Kent sidestepped smoothly, the two of them joining in a lightning fast dance.
As Predator shot forward, advancing towards Kent, Kent sent at least 7 slashes out towards him, dicing up the ground in the surrounding area, But Predator just weaved through the swords, and just as Kent was about to slash for the 8th time, Predator stepped, appearing before Kent, looming over him.
“Have you not learned? Such things are useless. Without mana-” Kent stopped speaking abruptly, as Predator became strangely still for a split second,and then exploded into motion, a momentum charged punch ripping into the chest of Kent’s truth form.
Based on his observations earlier on Whipman and Ashni’s actions, Shuusuke was able to tell that this move was based on the principles of Thunder Stance, and it certainly seemed to contain an unbelievably powerful force. But against the Truth form-
Eyes widening, Shuusuke finally saw what Kent realized; the shock wave from Predator’s strike might not do anything to the truth form, but the energy contained within it was enough to buffet the Spirit form, large strips of spirit fading away as its gaping wound continued to gnaw at its strength. It desperately tried to press its body tightly up against the truth body, but the damage had been done. Kent’s sword had shrunk from an intimidating 4 meters long to just under 3.
But Kent’s eyes flashed, and his sword was already cutting down as it was shrinking, aiming to sever Predator at the waist. Almost in slow motion, Shuusuke watched in horror as in Predator’s right eye, the pale blue one, his pupil dilated and shifted to look at the oncoming blow. Then his legs shifted, throwing himself to the left at an unbelievably fast speed, even as the huge sword cut through the air towards him.
Ultimately, Predator was fast, but not enough. The blade caught him just above the knee, and slid cleaning through the thick flesh of his thigh.
So when Predator planted his first foot, it was fine. But as his momentum continued to carry him forward, he didn’t have another leg to stabilize, and he tumbled to the ground in an ungainly pile.
Instead of seeming to be pleased by the blow he inflicted on Predator, Kent’s face was extremely grim, his mouth pressed into a thin line.
Predator pushed himself onto his knees and spat a mouthful of blood onto the ground from a split lip. “Why so serious, Kent?”
Kent didn’t respond at first, the energy of the spirit form sliding back from his sword and condensing into a sizable orb behind him. But even so, the hole remained, small threads continuing to be dragged away by some immutable law.
“You know why. From that wound, you will heal. But this is permanent.” Sighing, Kent closed his eyes, and Shuusuke watched as the truth form seemed to flicker, proceeding dangerously close to losing its light. But then his eyes shot open, his gaze sharp, and the light of his strange body became even more lustrous and pure.
“Spirit is built from continuous battles. It is the weight of my total experience. And yet you wounded it so…” But then Kent shook his head, and his truth body became even more bright. “But truth… truth is the persistence and belief that let me stand victorious in all of my past battles. It is the honed edge of my martial heart… And you, in your short life, have no counter.”
Even now, the flesh of Predator’s leg began to wriggle and reform, the area below the knee knitting together and growing outward. But still he stayed on his knees, perhaps preferring the stability he had in this position to two legs that were different lengths.
Ominously cracking his fingers, Predator’s smile spread even more wide. “Then come. I’m hungry for the dancing on the edge of death. Don’t let me down now, Kent.”
I licked my lips, my hands twitched slightly.
-You are having too much fun with this.
-How can I not? Don’t you feel it from him?
Other me went silent, and my grin deepened. Although it wasn’t obvious at first, there was a growing pressure coming from Kent. His strange two new bodies gave me a slight chill, as if they had the potential to threaten me. As of yet, his sword had been powerful, but it wasn’t a serious threat. His attacks weren’t quick enough with the oversized blade in the sky, and he seemed slightly awkward with the 4 meter blade after I ripped a hole in his spirit.
As I watched, what I sorta had been assuming was the main body, the one that had maintained his appearance the entire time, rippled. Then stretched.
It soon became a gleaming golden short sword, floating in front of the slow dispersing orb of spirit, which on its own rippled, and then slowly stretched to form Kent’s body. It was clearly an act of will for the spirit to maintain it, for stretching into that shape exacerbated its wound. More and more wisps of spirit disintegrated into the air, the vibrancy of its body decaying, but I kept my eyes narrowed.
Because as soon as that short sword formed, the hairs on the back of my neck stood straight up. I started to salivate.
-This is it.
-Come quickly! Shown me strife! Show me pain! I cannot wait any longer!
“This time, I shall attack with my ‘Truth’. If you shatter it, I will cease.” And with those ominous words, the quickly disintegrating spirit grabbed the sword, howled soundlessly, throwing its head up at the sky, and rushed towards me.
My eyes narrowed. Not because this movement was unexpected, but because the movements that accompanied them were. To my left and right, I felt two people position around me. The one on the right was charging directly towards me, a powerful aura of death surrounding him.
-.....didn’t we already kill that one?
-I think twice.
And from the other side I heard the distinct crackle of Magey’s lightning, likely prepping another one of those lightning tigers. Although I had probably gotten to the point it wouldn’t eviscerate me quite as much, the distracting from the brightly burning shortsword that made me breathless.
It was this edge, this tension… I shivered almost involuntarily, the pounding in my chest growing even louder.
Congratulations! Due to your actions, your skill has improved to My Soul is the Flame, My Body the Blade Lvl 6”. Physical performance across the board has increased. The ease with which you enter into the heightened state has increased. Resistance to physical attacks slightly increased.
I couldn’t spare a glance for the two enemies to my sides, but I also knew I didn’t even need to. As they bared their fangs towards me, other figures in the fog stirred.
With a power that was puzzling, considering the difference in our physiques, Ashni shot through the dispersing dust, her foot smashing into Dak’s chest with a resounding crack that echoed through the area. Gurgling and frothing blood at the mouth, Dak managed to stay on his feet, that strange energy surrounding him starting to roil and seeth.
Whipman struck like a snake, shattering the lightning shield Magey had conjured for himself. As he did so, I could feel that his spear instantly blurred, 4 azure snakes seeming to appear and swivel towards Magey, sending him hastily stumbling backwards.
My breathing slowed as that luminescent golden blade drew closer, the edge gleaming like a murderous smile.
The spirit body was amorphous and indistinct, but I could tell that it had a mouth, and it was open. And as I watched, the edges seemed to curl up into a smile.
My own mouth stretched wider to eclipse it.
During the earlier engagement, I felt something extremely strange. That when I punched using Thunder Stance, there was no middle. It simply started, and was finished in a huge blast of force. This insight, and the application in the earlier blow on the spirit body, was enough to raise my Thunder Stance to Lvl 8.
But I still felt I was somehow short. What I needed was that explosion. From ignition to completion in a split second. That was the ultimate power of Thunder Stance. The transferal of force through joints so smoothly it took no time at all to complete.
I raised my right arm and flexed it, then slowly folded each finger inwards, creating a fist. As the blade approached, I felt that strange liquid energy flowing around me, forming into those 9 pieces of armor.
A shoulder guard on my left shoulder.
An elbow guard with a sharp spike on my right elbow.
A gauntlet on my left hand.
A breast plate.
Greaves on both feet.
And finally, the two tails.
I breathed out, in almost a sigh. Then I punched out with my right fist, the force starting in my shoulder, and exploding outward, rushing along the arm, reaching the elbow, accelerating even further from there, rushing forward to meet the opponent, through the wrist, and then through the palm, reaching the knuckles just as the the glowing sword of Kent’s truth arrived, carried by the silent spirit.
Much to my shock, the sword took the force and continued to smash forward, ripping straight up through my right arm, bisecting it completely in half. The point homed forward, until the moment it struck my chest.
The strange porcelain breast plate cracked, but managed to deflect the force of the blow, sending me shooting backwards from its tyrannical pressure. Even as I struggled to regain my footing, hampered somewhat by my right leg only having grown back to mid shin, Kent’s short sword accelerated again, shooting towards me. I had barely regained my footing by the time it had arrived once more.
The breastplate, apparently having served its purpose, turned to ash and fell away, revealing a small scratch on my chest.
-You forced it. The lightning stance needs relax-
-NOT RIGHT NOW.
My left fist ripped forward to meet the sword, and as I threw the fist, I realized, for the first time in quite a while, that I could die. This might be my last day on this planet. If I couldn’t stop this sword…
And as I made this realization, two things happened to me.
My heart rate rose, pumping lava like blood through my body, spurring my regenerative capabilities to the next level
And my smile widened, turning my head into nothing but a spreading row of teeth and manic glee.
Even though I hated it, I took Other Me’s advice, relaxing my shoulder and elbow, punching with my gauntlet covered left hand. Although it seemed like a small thing, the difference was enormous. Force didn’t pass through my joints, it ERUPTED through them.
Gritting my teeth, I held back the mouthful of blood I almost caught up. By an effort of will, I stopped myself from stumbling backwards, but Kent was in even worse shape.
-If you can really even call that Kent
I had forced the short sword to a dead stop, which didn’t do anything to the sword, but the jarring halt had ripped the hole in the spirit body to an even larger degree. The entirety of its lower torso and left side had been consumed, and its upper torso and head were disappearing.
But even as the spirit faded, it maintained its grip on the “truth” that was its most powerful weapon and rushed towards me.
Now the spirit was just a shoulder, slowly slipping away, but rushing towards me with a golden sword so bright it was almost blinding.
I stomped my right foot, checking how it was recovering. Although it was only the heel basically, it was the right size to plant my weight. Grinning, I raised my left hand again.
But just as I did so, my senses tingled, indicating approaching danger. But after a slight hesitation, other me and I both decided to ignore it.
A blast of lightning struck the side of my face, charing my skin and superheating my right eye to the point that it expanded and popped.
-Magey, tsk tsk. You really have been bad.
-Also, what is Whipman doing…?
The once imposing spirit had shrunk to a hand, thrusting a short sword only two meters from my chest. My left arm was just about to press forward when my senses tingled again. A lot more insistently.
But my good eye just crinkled up.
“Good! If it wasn’t at least this hard, you would really have disappointed me, KENT!” I bellowed, preparing for this next clash.
A strange energy hit my left arm, which I swiftly identified as the baleful energy from the man I killed twice. As it smashed into my arm, it didn’t burn, it just atrophied the flesh, the skin wrinkling and turning grey, the muscle turning to grey sludge and melting away.
It only hit the upper part of my arm, and was quickly dispersed, but it had stolen all the force behind my punch, and that spirit hand and its truth sword were right in front of me.
As I narrowed my eyes, time seemed to slow. The short sword, still bright and shining, inched toward me.
-...perhaps this was for the best.
-No, the loss of muscle. We always wondered why Ashni can do what she does, right? This is our chance to find out.
-No, just do it. Don’t fail. Rush forward, Press. Struggle. Fight!
-And win. For we are Apex.
It was just a thin thread of force, traveling across my back. And as it did so, Other Me pressed his will down on our body, relaxing. It was one thing to know you needed to relax, it was another entirely to do it while throwing what you hoped was your most powerful blow. But with our attention split, we accomplished it.
When the thread of force came through my shoulder, it paused briefly. It met with threads that had traveled from my lower back, and from my left and right legs, weaving together. And when they passed through my shoulder, they became a violent river, the kind that floods and sweeps away unattended children.
That river rushed forward, and when it reached my elbow, it passed through, becoming a sliding tectonic plate. Larger, and more irresistible than even the countries and oceans atop it, it grinded forward, the very air vibrating with the force.
And as that tectonic plate of force slid down my arm, crossing through my wrist, it became solely darkness. And it was the weight of every empty space and unseen secret in this world, suffocating, unending, deadly.
And as that force of darkness reached my knuckles as I punched the short sword, it ignited.
“WRATH.” I roared, my existence consumed by conveying this huge forced forward.
Congratulations! Due to your actions, your skill has improved to “Thunder Stance Lvl 9”. You have touched on the edge of one of the aspects of thunder. Natural sympathy with thunder increased. Performance of Thunder Stance moves has greatly increased. You may now imbue the essence of thunder into more ordinary movements. Striking force of ability imbued with thunder essence are vastly increased.
Rather than exploding with force, this time the collision was one of vibrations, our two strikes almost exactly equal and opposed in force.
-....honestly, we were even slightly weaker.
The air shock, and I felt my eardrums rupture. But even as blood started to trickle downwards and I was forced to take a step back, I felt a spike of glee. The spirit had disintegrated into nothing, falling away.
Feeling victorious, I looked down, only to see the short sword still drifting forward, carried further by the remnants of its momentum. After all, even if our clash had been almost exactly even, Kent’s truth came out slightly ahead. I tried to move my right arm to catch it, but it was still mostly two floppy strips of flesh, split down the middle. My left arm was still shaking with vibrations, numb and useless.
So I watched as, with barely a breath of force, Kent’s sword of truth slid forward into my side.
For a second I froze, but as nothing but slight bleeding happened, I straightened.
“What… is this…?” I hissed, my breathing getting heavy. “I was saying earlier not to disappoint me… but this is how this ends!?!?!”
I removed the bright blade and squeezed it until my hand bled.
“Like this…” I murmured.
Congratulations! You have reached 100 Fury. All stats +4 until the Fury degrades.
“Like this…. IT’S A LOT LIKE I’M THE ONE WHO DISAPPOINTED YOU. YOU DIDN’T EVEN HAVE THE DECENCY TO STRIKE A BLOW? YOU JUST SLID INTO ME EFFORTLESSLY, AND-”
I stopped speaking, doing my best to calm myself down, but my chest was full of boiling blood. The small hole that the sword had almost healed up already. Starting to shake, I continued to hold the sword in my hand, inexplicably furious.
Around me, I felt the disturbances in the air that I knew meant battle, but I ignored them, focusing on the blade in my hand.
-...is it just a blade now....?
-It was fun. Too much fun. And now he let it end like this?!?!
“COME OUT.” I shouted at the sword held in my hand. “SHOW ME YOUR TRUTH.”
But it simply remained still.
While I was grinding my teeth, my perception picked up a new arrival, and I glanced up to find the man with the gloves was rushing towards me, holding a small murloc body in his left hand. He had appeared behind me, and was only a few inches away, currently reaching out towards my back.
Wind Blades cut off his arms in an instant.
Eyes wide with fear, he fell backwards as I coolly turned around to regard him.
“Now is not the time,” I whispered, reaching down to rip out and devour his heart.
But he dived away toward the murloc body, strangely pressing his lips against it.
-No, using that ability.
And as I suspected, the body disappeared, replaced by something else, which he turned around and spat at me.
Blinking, I took a split second to struggle with what I was seeing. What he had switched for was a palm sized… Black Bones…?!?!!
Black Bones had apparently found several bodies that were pleasing to it, and had expanded from his inchworm form into something like a centipede with a scorpion tail. Wriggled towards me when it saw me, obviously excited.
My eyes turned very, very cold.
-Using Black Bones against me again…?
Gently grasping him in my good hand, I simply kicked outwards, my foot smashing into Glovey’s chest, rupturing his organs, crushing his heart, and sending him flying, a good 20 meters from where I was standing.
“Alright buddy, it’s-” But again I froze, unable to believe my eyes.
Black Bones’ tail had blurred, shooting towards my heart. It sharp point had punctured the skin, only a bit, and was only then stopped, as one of my two tails whipped upward and curled around it, holding it in place, preventing it from ripping into my heart.
And with a tinkling sound, that piece of black porcelain shattered and fell away.
“What-” But before I could speak further, Black Bones attacked again, its tail aiming again for the heart. With foreknowledge, I easily caught it, and squeezed its body tightly to prevent any other movements. Still, it continued to struggle violently.
“Stop it,” I said, surprising myself with how cold and desolate my voice was. Still Black Bones struggled.
It was only then that I say the distinctive golden film over his eyes.
-That illusion again…? Who…?
Congratulations! You have reached 100 Fury. All stats +5 until the Fury degrades.
I gave Black Bones a long look, as he struggled. Then I closed my eyes, preferring to do this without seeing, or feeling, or remembering anything.
I squeezed my left hand until all that remained was powder.
“Did you want me mad, Ketlia?” I spoke easily, my small smile a mask over a furious maelstrom of hate.
Congratulations! You have reached 100 Fury. All stats +6 until the Fury degrades.
“You did it-” But then I twisted, eyes narrowing, as a crimson red spear shot towards me. Snorting coldly, I slashed out with my left hand, using my reconstructed muscle and my Level 9 Thunder Stance to do what was, without a doubt, my most powerful attack to date.
The spear knocked it aside as if it didn’t even matter.
Twisting frantically, I leaned back and brought my right elbow up, the elbow armor with a spike smashing into the spear.
The next thing I knew, I was opening my eyes, 300 meters away, my right side turned to paste, my elbow pad falling to pieces.
There was a light dusting of black dust on my left palm, slowly getting blown away by the wind.
I stood up, my grin stretching even more wide. But as I did so, as my vision began to grow red, I felt a strange disconnect beginning to form inside of me.
-They want to kill me? LET’S SEE THEM TRY.
=No, wait. That’s exactly-
But I ignored other me, as he voiced direct dissent for the first time, letting the fury build and build.
=That attack was on a different level! Who could even do that? It was-
Congratulations! You have reached 100 Fury. All stats +7 until the Fury degrades.
=You idiot! They will kill us like this!
I just cackled, my right side slowly reforming, peering through the dust cloud towards my attackers. Jana stood there, tall and straight, holding a blood red spear. And as I watched, several drops curled from the tip and dripped wet and crimson on the ground.
Next to her was someone who looked like Jinka’s wizened lizard uncle, slightly sagging but still exuding a dangerous aura.
And next to him…
My fury spiked upwards, as armless Glovey stood there, blinking black eyes at me, strange strands of darkness drifting too and fro, attached to the stumps of his arms.
“They will pay.” I hissed, walking forward. Immolation surged to life around me, the wild heat driving me forward. Panting, I almost breathed a sigh of relief, the vicious, soul wrenching pain finally giving me focus.
Finally joining with my fury and giving me purpose.
But still my mind remained strangely split. For even as I howled and burned, Other Me watched my actions and was filled with hesitation.
I began to unsteadily hobble towards Jana, my side slowly healing. And as I did so, I felt other me come to a decision. Notifications began to flit upward in front of me, and be dismissed just as fast, but I largely ignored them, my mouth stretching outward, my eyes locked on Jana’s still form.
=I didn’t want to do this without you, but.... Can you even hear me?
Congratulations! You have reached 100 Fury. All stats +8 until the Fury degrades.
I felt, rather that saw, Other me reach into the status screen and click level up. That level up I had been saving for days But it felt immensely unimportant as an increasing amount of my vision turned red.
Congratulations! Due to your actions, you have reached level 25. 3299 Biomass has been consumed.
Due to your special circumstances, you have the choice of retaining the previously earned Racial Growth Rate of “XN-OMEGA-02: Predictive Analytics Model” or use the Biomass to receive another randomly assigned Growth Rate. Note, retaining a Growth Rate will allow you to learn Racial skills at the typical level they are learned. Note, if a Growth Rate is retained, the Biomass will instead be converted into random chances for improvement.
Retain Growth Rate? Y/N
=....it’s probably right to keep it, correct….?
=Yes, I know, you don’t even care right now.
Congratulations! You have retained the growth rates of a “XN-OMEGA-02: Predictive Analytics Model.” 3299 Biomass has been used for 3 Greater Evolution Chances.
Processing Power +143
Timeless Perception +24
Congratulations! You have three chances for Greater Evolution! Initializing first chance…
Howling agony filled me, locking my knees and sending me sprawling. I coughed up dark phlegm and blood, struggling to right myself. But while Other Me was briefly insensible from the pain, I was left all alone to balance my body, barely able to function. In a way, it was a blessing that Immolation as on; that constant burn had conditioned me to expect pain to this level. And yet…
I screamed, pressed my eyes closed, a strange pressure building behind my brow. But as I was dealing with that pain, I felt it dislodge, sliding to the back of my skull, and then careening down my spine, smashing and eviscerating every nerve along the way. My back was a hollow and empty rod, and any coherent thought I had vanished, in that moment of agony.
Time lost meaning, and there was only the burning, the ripping pressure of the evolution moving through my body to settle on the viscous core of Immolation, the two types of pain twining together and slowly whittling away at the edges of my sanity.
Then the pain was gone, replaced by spreading relaxation and coolness.
Success! Internal synchronicity increased. You have gained the title: “Frozen Hydrogen Reactor”. Immolation has changed to “Lunar Fire Immolation.” Skill level will remain constant.
Frozen Hydrogen Reactor: You now run off of an advanced Reactor Processor Hybrid that increases Processing Power and Maximum Mana. Upon Level up, you will gain 20 Processing Power and 200 Mana per level. Maximum Mana has doubled. Mana Regeneration has dropped to 66% of original amount. This becomes 132% while under the influence of Moonlight.
Lunar Fire Immolation Lvl 5. The area of effect of Immolation has doubled. Your body now burns with Lunar fire, a strange form of energy that is simultaneously hot and extremely cold. Enemies touched by immolation will become lit with Lunar Fire, which is extremely difficult to put out.
“Fucking other me…” I muttered, barely able to stand. The flames around me were now a pale blue, and, if possible, were even more painful, as I had to resist the chills on one half of my body, and the scalding heat on the other. More than the pain, it was the fucking shifts that were getting to me. One moment I could manage it, but the next the cold and hot spots had partially switched, leaving me furious.
=Hey! At least our mana is vastly increased-
-And the regeneration is almost halved… Using immolation becomes a lot less desirable if we are slowly burning through mana constantly, instead of maintaining it.
=But in terms of burst power
Currently initializing 2nd chance at Greater Evolution!
Congratulations! You have reached 100 Fury. All stats +9 until the Fury degrades.
-And now we are going to be fucking out of commis-
The pain hit like a wave of blood, sticky and warm, and within seconds I had lost myself within it. As much as I hated to admit it, the strange hot/cold flashes of Lunar Fire Immolation were useful, as the unpredictability helped shock away the darkness encroaching at the edges of my vision.
Perhaps, even more of a blessing, was that this chance passed almost as soon as it had begun, leaving me with a sickening feeling in the back of my neck, as if my brain stem had been struck by a hammer.
Greater Evolution failed! Initializing final chance for Greater Evolution...
As my vision cleared, I raised my head due to an ominous tickling at the back of my neck, and found Jana, pointing her blood red spear directly at my throat, crossing the distance between us so fast that she was already about to rip me to pieces.
My pupils dilated, time slowing around me as I considered my options. Dodging seemed impossible, but I had scarcely thought about it when I discarded that option. Kent had made me back away, and look at where it got me.
No, the only way was forward.
My grin inched wider.
=Hey, don’t do this again. I want to survive!
But I ignored Other me, pouring almost the entirety of my newfound mana pool into the largest Floating Pond Beneath the Moon I had ever created. Larger than my next closest probably by 10x. Jana slid closer, but the ground underneath us had already shifted, becoming an endlessly rippling pool of water.
Looking down at my feet, I could see the reflection of the bright yellow moon dominating the entire area, and almost against my will, my head slowly rose to gaze at it, the sheer mass of it hanging above me. It only seemed inches away, but somehow I sensed that this was an illusion; it was an impossibly far distance away, but such was its mass that, even from afar, the pressure of it was enough to stifle my breath.
Smiling, I broke it, ignoring that insistent ticking on the back of my neck.
Congratulations! Due to your actions, your skill has improved to “Precognition Lvl 2”. Your sensitivity to incoming danger has increased. It is now possible to differentiate more obviously between different levels of danger. Precognition will now warn you of the danger a fraction of a second earlier.
Congratulations! Due to your actions, your skill has improved to “Lesser Spiritual Resistance Lvl 3”. Your resiliency against spiritual and mental attacks has increased. You can ignore most weak mental attacks. Recovery time from spiritual wounds has decreased.
Congratulations! Due to your actions, your skill has improved to “Lesser Spiritual Resistance Lvl 4”. Your resiliency against spiritual and mental attacks has increased. You can now vaguely sense the origin of mental and spiritual attacks levied against you.
=...hey, are you alright?
=Oh shit, the Greater-
“Hahahahahahahaha! Did you think… Did you think…..?”
“No… Kill… Struggle… Strife….”
Congratulations! You have reached 100 Fury. All stats +10 until the Fury degrades.
“I’ll rip it all…. I’ll kill it all… this pain…. is NOTHING.”
“THIS WORLD WILL break BEFORE I DO.”
Congratulations! Natural gifts increased! Mana and Health regen has slightly increased. All stats +10. Parallel Computations +1.
#.....? What is this….?
Congratulations! You have reached 100 Fury. All stats +11 until the Fury degrades.
#....What a bunch of fools….
One moment there was a moon so large and awe inspiring that Ashni would have sworn she was back within the Deep Lands of Tellus, the next everything was shattered and her perception went dark. The ground quaked and splintered, it was all she could do to stay latched onto her chosen patch of ground in the aftermath.
Waves of force rolled outward, and Ashni paled as she realized that some of those waves of force were not physical, but spiritual and were quickly eroding her consciousness. As she struggled to maintain her focus, Ashni sent up a brief prayer for Whipman, who had been moving desperately to help Predator.
She dearly hoped that he hadn’t gotten near enough to enter that strange zone of death beneath the moon.
Slowly, the rumbling stopped, allowing Ashni to straighten and get to her unsteady feet, gazing around.
Before this, although most of the fort had been leveled by the various fights, this area was still a raised plateau, giving a good view of the surrounding area.
Now there was a large crater in the middle, extending down below the range of Ashni’s vision, into darkness. And the far side of the plateau was apparently structurally weakened to such a decree that it was sliding down and away, slipping into the marsh.
Feeling two oppressive presences appearing, Ashni stilled as much as she could, hiding her aura. But those two, strange, warped creatures that appeared to have once been members of the challenger party, ignored her, instead peering into the crater.
“Well that was somewhat surprising,” The one in Jinka’s body said, his voice coming out surprisingly feminine. “To think little Predator had that in him. Is Morgana alright?”
Diver’s body, with its strange stubs of arms and tentacles of darkness extending outwards, was silent for several seconds. During that time, the tentacles reached downward into the crater, seemingly examining the situation.
“...Morgana lives, but she’s struggling to hold her body together.She has become quite fond of it. Surprising.” Diver’s lips barely moved as he spoke, and this voice, too, was quite feminine.
Jinka glanced over his (her?) shoulder, looking around, and then grimaced. “...Ketlia has confirmed that there have been no bites as of yet, but that our target is in an emotional and confused state. We are going to have to go in and pull him out if we want to affect her.”
Diver nodded, and the two began to walk towards the crater.
“I think not.”
Both froze, and turned slowly around. As Ashni followed their gaze, her eyes went wide. A mass of pearlescent, luminescent mist hovered there, which Ashni swiftly recognized as Predator’ lunar mist. But why….?
As the three of them watched, the lunar mist grew and grew, becoming a vast cloud bank, and then condensed, forming into a figure.
He calmly gazed at Jinka and Diver, his gaze serious, quite different from his normal attitude.
Jinka tilted her head to the side. “A form of condensed lunar energy? Did you really think that can stop us? Mosslar, you go on ahead, I’ll take care of this one here.”
Predator snorted. “Normally, you’d be right, but today I must be serious, cleaning up the mess my two fellows have left for me. So I would sink to a low that I find… distasteful, but will be more than enough to deal with you.”
“Oh?” Diver sneered, stepped forward and sending several tendrils of darkness shooting toward Predator. “Then try and stop this.”
As they shot forward, the tentacles of darkness morphed and condensed, growing vicious horns and spines, spinning towards Predator. He shook his head, seemingly extremely disappointed, and leaned forward, rummaging in the rubble for several seconds.
Then he straightened, holding within his hands a brightly glowing short sword.
“So it comes to this…while those two hog the main body, I am naught but lunar energy...” he muttered with half closed eyes.
Then his eyes, also condensed from lunar mist, snapped open, and he disappeared in a clap of thunder.
Ashni’s mind went blank. That movement…. Was just using the 1st level of Thunder Stance….?!?!!
Ashni had never even seen her father’s master move with that sort of deadly grace, but as Predator appeared in front of Diver with a clap of thunder, thrusting forward with a short sword towards Diver’s panicking face, there was no doubt in Ashni’s mind: he had reached Level 9 of Thunder stance, just a hair away from mastery.
The blow was met by a hastily constructed shield of darkness, but that shattered like brittle pottery, and the sword slashed forward, aimed to sink right between Diver’s eyes, sliding into his brain.
But the small delay was enough, allowing Diver to leap to the side, out of the way of the blow.
Predator hopped twice, letting his momentum carry him further, and then settled between the two figures and the crater. Adjusting his stance, he allowed himself a small smile. “This borrowed ‘Truth’... is more than enough to kill the likes of you.”