As we walked towards the Southern Deed, I examined Jester closely: the lackadaisical way he walked, his slight shoulder, the lack of any apparent weapon. And yet he still exuded an aura of strength that made me cautious around him. Perhaps the real reason was that huge wave of mana that he had released when he realized that our Deed was sinking.
-And yet we follow him.
-Would you prefer that we fought him?
-In a way, yes.
-First, that is inadvisable as long as we are restricted to using mana. Second, what would you be doing right now if you were captain of a team?
-...Killing, I suppose. Or training, depending how pressing the threats were.
-I know you, we are one and the same. We would have no idea what to do. In addition, if you sign as property owner, you are stuck within the Deed area. We would need someone we could trust to be the owner, or we would be forced to remain in one spot until our Deed failed.
-So at that point, we would go and-
-And what, kill another property owner and write our names again in the Deed? Think about it for a minute. We have the mental ability, we just haven’t thought about the long term implications of this game. Because eventually the game will be split up into larger groups of players underneath a few Deeds. But looming over us all will be the group who owns the Central Deed, with access to infinite mana. Assuming that we and one other captain control all the deeds outside of the central, one day a Deed that either of us are relying on will stop working.
Imagine what happens then. If our Deed sinks, we either attack the Central Deed, which results in us being ambushed by the other non-Central Deed if we come close to winning, or we attack the other Deed. Or, its theoretically possible we convince that Deed to work together to fight against the Central Deed, working out an agreement. But could we do that? How would we convince them? What would we offer? Think about trying to negotiate for a minute.
If, on the other hand, their Deed falls, they have the same options. They will likely choose to try and make a deal with us, because that limits their own losses, preserving their strength for a confrontation with us later. So they come to us, and ask for assistance on their assault. Now think about this: your Deed is still functioning. You cannot leave the area you are in. Will you be able to trust the other captain with troops under you? How will you make sure you aren’t betrayed?
I was silent for several minutes as we walked, considering Other Me’s words.
-...You’ve thought about this a lot.
-You’ve thought about this too little. I think we are good at what we have learned to do. Kill, hunt, survive. This wider game on this floor though...It’s too political. We don’t recognize any of the races aside from Humans, we have no idea what to expect from them, ability wise. Maybe Tellites using martial arts. Better to leave the pointless stuff to someone else. As long as we continue to be useful, I don’t think there is any need to worry. Who rids themselves of a useful subordinate?
Several more minutes of silence followed as we both thought about Tim.
-Well, I think he is a special case.
-Agreed. There is just something off about that guy….
-How would you know? We haven’t even met him.
-Yes well, I-
“We’re here.” Jester’s voice was grim. Up ahead, there was a clearing. My eyes widened as I saw that all of the trees in the surrounding area had been knocked to the ground. Sitting on a fallen trunk was a strange individual in a meditative sitting position. His skin was grey, and his eyes were sewn shut.
The creature smiled. “You returned. So quickly. Well then, let’s begin.”
The creature began to stride towards us.
Turning to Jester, I asked. “How does he fight?”
Jester’s shoulders were strangely tense. “...I don’t remember.”
“What is that supposed to mean?”
“Just that he is also not who he claims to be. Don’t let him touch you,” Jester added, then leapt forward.
I gathered my mana, and then hesitated. What did that mean, he didn’t remember?
-Watch for a bit, see what happens.
Jester was fast, so fast that I mentally re-evaluated my chances of emerging from a fight with him unscathed, even with the ability to fight physically. The creature just calmly walked forward, ignoring me. Apparently those sewn shut eyes still worked for something, because it raised its left arm to block the high kick that was so fast Jester’s leg seemed to bend.
The kick was completely blocked, but what was strange was what Jester did after that. He faltered, his body going limp. He sat on the ground, looking around wildly. Looking up, he caught sight of the creature leaped backwards. But it was too late, the creature was already punching.
The punch smashed Jester down into the ground, a huge crater forming in the ground from the force of the blow. Jester, seemingly reeling from the blow, stood and stumbled, shaking his head in confusion.
-Everytime that creature touches you, you forget that you were fighting it.
-Good, then let’s keep our distance.
I leapt, grabbing onto some of the larger vines that made up the bottom of the vine layer. After wrapping my legs around the vine. I formed several wind blades and shot them towards the creature. Its gaze jerked around, immediately moving from the confused Jester to me. Our gazes locked, and I felt a small sliver of fear for the first time in a long time.
Whipping through the air, the wind blades approached the creature. He raised his arms to block. I prepared more, expecting him to block the wind blades, but what happened made my eyes widen. The blades passed through his limbs like a hot knife through butter. His left forearm fell to the ground, while the entirety of his right was severed at the shoulder.
Still, as I watched the body parts fall to the ground, they withered to dust and disappeared. At the same time, the raw flesh of the wounds bubbled and bulged outward, within seconds growing back into the original body parts.
The creature leaped sideways, arriving at the fallen tree trunk. And as if it was the most natural thing in the world, that tiny, wizened body grabbed the trunk, lifted it-
And threw that huge, 100 m long and 10 m thick, trunk sideways up towards the spot where I was hanging onto the vine layer.
I hastily dropped down out of its path, but it not only completely ripped apart the vine layer, but it was thrown with such force that it smashed into the other trunk, the projectile smashed into dozens of pieces and the victim trunk’s top ¼ snapping off and tumbling down.
To avoid the falling debris, I created a platform of air and hopped sideways out of the way. Just as I did so, the creature shot underneath me, his plot to intercept me mid air incidentally foiled. It, I could no longer think of it as a he, it landed on another trunk, its leg twisted so it skittered around like a bug. And as I watched, its head twisted around for its sewn-shut eyes to lock onto me, its face twisted into a look of rage.
-That’s a bit creepy…
Blinking, I realized that it had disappeared. I raised my hands and erected a barrier of air, trying to prevent-
The thing had apparently jumped sideways to confuse them, then thrown itself directly towards me. It popped my shield of air like a bubble, rushing closer with its left arm held outwards towards my throat. I raised my hands and crossed them, perhaps in an inadvertent imitation that woman, condensing as much air as I could in the short about of time into a tightly wound ball, then shooting it towards him.
The explosion definitely slowed its momentum, but it was still coming forward. The only thing that really changed was that the explosion smashed ME backwards, his power too much to overcome. When I was slammed against the tree behind me, the jarring impact made me lose focus for enough time to the reaching hand to draw closer. It was less than a foot away now.
I didn’t bother holding anything back; I blew 80% of my mana in a split second, a huge wave of air erupting from me, slamming into the creature’s body. His mass was limited and all he could rely on right now, so this should throw him backwards.
Grinding my teeth, I watched as the creature inched closer, battering through my wave of air purely by expending momentum.
-If he STILL has momentum after all that, how the fuck strong was that initial jump…?
As I was rapidly calculating my remaining options, Jester appeared midair next to the creature, fist raised. “This is for beating me at Spud, dick.”
Punching so hard that he produced a sonic boom, Jester slammed his fist into the face of the creature. Even if he was strong, when he was midair, the force should still….
-...What was that?
The creature’s body deformed, a wave of flesh spreading from the impact. It reminded me almost of Jen’s body, absorbing outside force.
-...Did it just disperse that much force just with the elasticity of its body…?
-No, look, he’s listing to the side now.
It was true; although 99% was absorbed by his body, he was now sliding several feet to the left, past me. Jester looked around with a confused expression, having forgotten what he was doing. The creature casually reached up, grabbed Jester's head, and spiked him downwards into the ground.
My eyes glittering, I summoned as mana wind blades as I could with my remaining mana and diced the creature to pieces, his flesh parted easily for the sharp air.
Now in 100 pieces, his body made a wet slapping sound as it hit the tree to my side. Most of the body parts immediately began withering, but one started bubbling, falling to the ground. I dropped down as well, hopping backwards to create some distance.
After crashing into the ground in his confusion, Jester came over and stood next to me. “Well? What’s he like? I can’t remember a thing that has happened since we got here. Based on how shitty I feel, it hasn’t been good.”
I grinned at him. “You punched him for beating you at Spud, whatever that is.”
Jester began shaking his head wildly. “Beat me? BEAT ME?!?!? That fucking asshole! I THREW THE GAME. HOW DARE HE.”
The nearby mana began to seethe. I scratched my cheek mildly.
-Then why did he say it earlier?
-Likely as a joke. He doesn’t seem to take much seriously. But he doesn’t remember the joke, and now just thinks that undying thing made fun of him. It’s fine, it serves as good motivation.
The creature stood, brushing wood chips off of its shoulders. It seemed no worse for ware.
“So, how do we kill Qwata?” Jester put his hands on his hips.
I thought for a it, then shrugged. “Honestly… It doesn’t seem possible. But… I have an idea.”
With the small amount of mana that had regenerated, I formed a hand of air, grabbed the creature’s leg, and flipped it upside down, dangling it in the air.
At first it just stayed there, looking around. Then it touched the spot I was grabbing with air.
“Oh, that seems useful. Is it stuck like that?” Jester walked closer with his hands behind his back. “Ufufu, I will have my revenge for-”
Two things happened in a second right then: first, several notifications came up.
|Congratulations, due to your actions, your skill has evolved from Lesser Air Affinity Lvl 9 into “Air Affinity Lvl 1”. Mana usage for manipulating air has been vastly reduced. Shaping and detail of your control over air has greatly increased. Breathing clean air passively increases your mana regeneration rate.|
-Oh good, breathing has become a useful activity. All my practice has finally paid off~
The second thing that happened was that the creature began kicking his powerful legs, which caused maintaining my hold to quickly deplete my mana once more. It took an almost illogically sort time for me to burn through it.
After landing, Qwata casually kicked Jester in the chest, sending him shooting off into the distance. Those inhuman sewn-shut eyes swiveled towards me.
I bolted, ducking behind trees to slow him down. Although he was the most powerful creature I had ever encountered, It didn’t seem able to effectively control its strength. Mostly it just jumped in a straight line, often overshooting my position and slamming into a tree, smashing a hole through the trunk with brute force.
-I mean, who needs to control their strength when they are that powerful…?
Eventually, I realized that it was no longer leaping after me. I turned and saw that it was standing in the middle of the forest, its arms folded across its chest. It looked at me for a minute, then turned and walked back towards the way we had come, returning back to the base. I breathed out a sigh of relief. If it had been willing to chase me indefinitely…
-But did it turn back because it gave up, or because it was signed as the deed owner and had to?
I shook my head. After a bit of walking, I found Jester, who was sitting in a hole, rubbing his head. He glanced up at me. “What were we doing? Oh, going to attack Qwata’s Deed. Are you ready to go? I’m not really sure what to expect.
Sighing, I started back towards our base.
Jester was quiet after I explained what had happened with the creature. When we arrived back at the base, he went to the side and drew a picture of the arena for this floor. Deeds at the Northeast, Northwest, Southeast, and Southwest pressed up against the edge of the circle. Deeds at North, East, South and West more inland, closer to the central deed. Then he cross out the Southwest, Northwest, and North Deeds, the ones that had fallen. He drew a smiley face next to the West Deed. He drew a frowny face next to the South Deed.
He turned and walked towards the door. “I need more information. Stay here.”
Shrugging, I settled into the forms of Earth Stance, intent on improving, even if I couldn’t use it in battle. Humming slightly, Toddie joined me, correcting my form.
It was nightfall when Jester returned. He went to his drawing and drew a frowny face next to the East and Northeast Deeds. He drew squiggly lines next to the Southeast Deed.
“Only 4 captains remaining?” I asked.
Jester nodded. “And Qwata controls the most land area, owning 3 Deeds. Or at least controlling them. He followed me through every area I went, so he must not be a landowner. Although I’m starting to become concerned about that central Deed...I went close enough to scout. All that robed mage does is practice his skills with that infinite mana. The longer this takes, the stronger that his skills are going to be…I hadn't considered that.”
“So….what’s next?” Although I wasn’t comfortable with it, other me might have a point. I wasn’t equipped to deal with these sorts of decisions. At least not yet.
Jester tilted his head to the side. “We cross our fingers and hope our Deed doesn’t sink into the ground tomorrow. Time for bed.”
So a combination of me pondering how to time this last bit on this floor and alcohol conspired to keep this from getting done last night. But I'm going to start right away on the next chapter, so that should be out in a few hours.