Relatively short chapter. I'm so busy constantly rarararara.
Anyways, going to reply to people about PR-ing so we can get the quality up here. Probably also going to have a poll on the next chapter to find out what's more important to you, plot or release speed...
This day is broken in half because I knew how I wanted this part to go, but I'm still torn about what happens next.
Frowning, I sat up. I was not in my comfy bed, I wasn’t in the inn, or seemingly on the 5th floor at all. Instead, I was laying on a glowing white floor. A red velvet couch was the only other object in the area, and on that couch lounged a penguin.
I twisted around, and sure enough completely empty space. Whiteness stretched as far as I could see. I turned back to the penguin, and then blinked, noticing all of the notifications that sat solemnly in front of me.
|Warning. Slight error has been detected. 1% chance of corruption. Please contact an Administrator, Solicitor, or Arbiter Immediately.|
|Warning. Multiple errors detected. 14% chance of corruption. Alerting relevant authorities…|
|Warning. Cascading errors recorded. Extent of the error is no longer known. Unable to continue automated processes.|
|Warning, mental corruption is likely. System failure is imminent.|
|Warning, Tower Floor 5 has been partitioned from the rest of The Great Tower to prevent the spread of error.|
|Warning, data infection in the carrier is likely. Sequestering carrier…|
|Sequestration failed. Data limit exceeded. Waiting for Arbiter intervention…|
|Arbiter Intervention denied, by a vote of 3 to 1, with 2 abstaining. Disengaging selected individual from The Great Tower system….|
|Individual is impossible to disengage from system without violating the second precept.|
“You,” The penguin said, waddling off the couch and over towards me. Her voice was surprisingly soft and musical. “Are in, and have caused, quite a lot of trouble.”
For the first time in a long time, Kettle was very flustered. If it wasn’t impossible, she would swear that the screws on the bracelet mechanism were unscrewing themselves when she wasn’t looking!
‘Perhaps I used too soft a metal,’ She thought, leaning back in her chair. She spared a glance for Predator’s sleeping form, looked away, and then immediately looked back with a frown.
Predator was up. He usual was an early riser, but…
She checked her logs. It was currently 4:37. Based on her reports, that was earlier than Predator had ever risen, ever.
Not that it really mattered, she only had a few weeks to go on…
Predator slowly cracked his neck, then looked up at the invisible recording device. Kettle frowned. They were designed so they couldn’t be touched or detected by those within the Tower system.
As she watched, one of Predator’s eyes shifted to be completely black, the other white, as if they had been painted.
Predator smiled, not his normal crazy smile, but a mild, innocuous thing that sent shivers down Kettle’s spine.
That was not Predator.
“Evelynn is bound because of home turf, the two gods are still incapacitated, and you,” A porcelain doll whose only feature aside from its delicate body was its golden eyes looked at the Ilium, which sat with its arms folded in the corner. “Are the cause, and therefore cannot act. So now it’s time to play~”
A hulking monster of shadow and twisted wood chuckled in the corner.
“And we are in…..” He hissed.
Whipman looked out the window, scratching his head.
A cloud was hanging in the sky vertically, like a tower. Like THE tower, he supposed. Shrugging, Whipman turned and picked up his spear. He always preferred to get some practice in before the dawn. He walked down the stairs, visualizing the practice he was about to do.
As he walked out the door, he noticed that there was a house tilted at a 45 degree angle and floating 20 m off the ground. It was painted yellow and bumped against the top of the inn. The collision caused it to drift off in another direction.
Whipman wandered away, wondering if the Tower really was this strange of a place. And why was it so normal seeming yesterday…?
Shuusuke rubbed the tears from his eye and hurried back home.
“Fuck school,” He whispered furiously, curling his claws around his green backpack and doing his best to avoid the stares from foot traffic along the thoroughfare. The stares at his wet crotch. Douche bag Rickter and his crew had decided it would be hilarious to spray him down with a hose while he was walking back from the gym.
It was bad enough that his molting had come early, while the other’s skin was still glossy an smooth. But now this…
His secret hope to Sassy Whitaker to the Awakening, up in flames. Not that she would have said yes, anyway. Not that she even knew who he was.
Shuusuke was undersized for a Cloit. His parents weren’t in industry, just like everyone in this town, but they were rather freshly moved to the area, so they didn’t have any relatives among the overseers to make sure they didn’t receive the absolutely brutal shifts. Shuusuke’s parents always got the brutal shifts, and were never home as a result.
The only real interaction they had was a note saying how many credits he could put on the credit chip this week.
Shuusuke crawled down into his subterranean dwelling, retreating to his room, lit only by the surreal blue glow from his terminal monitor.
“Shu shu shu shu,” Shuusuke laughed in his typical way, molting not his skin, but his personality, wiping away the tears and drawing across his features a veil of arrogance. Shuusuke brought up several feeds, multiple monitors drifting to life around him.
Start from the top, and work my way down, Shuusuke decided, toggling most of his monitors to the channel that displayed the 50th floor of the tower. No one had challenged it recently, and there were some rumors that the Rainbow Knight would pull the trigger today.
Just in case something happened, Shuusuke left a few monitors on other important floors, 45, 35, 25, 20. And on a lark, he switched on the 5th Floor.
‘To see how the weaklings live,’ Shuusuke thought with a smile.
“Where is this…?” I asked in wonder, punching the ground. Wincing, I flexed my fingers. Definitely an extremely hard material, whatever it is.
The penguin burped strangely before answer. Belatedly, I realize it was her version of laughing. “An location so secret and valuable I considered letting your mind get wiped when two of the Arbiters intervened. But, the very fact you managed to fatally infect a whole floor of the Tower with an error… you have potential. But for what…”
Falling silent, the penguin spent a few seconds lost in thought.
I coughed. “What do you mean, error? What happened?”
She answered my question with a question. “Do you know the difference between an attribute and a statistic in The Great Tower?”
Shrugging, I walked over and sat down on the velvet couch. As I touched it, it poofed out of existence and I almost fell. I glared at the penguin in annoyance, barely registering that she answered her only question.
“Attributes can be equal to 0, and usually do, until you discover them. Statistics cannot.”
As Whipman walked back from his training, he looked with interest at the giant orbs of green energy, which seemed to have started a war against the vertical clouds, which had multiplied and filled themselves with red lighting.
‘Could this be a special event of some kind…?’
When he entered the inn’s main room, it was filled with bodies, whispering in worry with each other. He walked over to Jana, Jen, and Ashni.
Jen’s body undulated. “I don’t know what’s going on! But it definitely doesn’t seem normal…”
“Have you seen Predator? Shouldn’t we go watch some of the earlier matches to understand what happens?” Jana asked sharply.
“No,” Jen answered unhappily, “But-”
A thumping noise rocked the whole inn. Predator walked down the wooden steps at a measured pace, breaking the silent. Strangely, one of Predator’s eyes was black, the other white. Whipman shook his head. The changes that Predator went through got weirder every day.
Predator glanced around, then spotted them and walked over. When he stopped, his body jerked strangely, as if he was sore from yesterday and didn’t have the full range of motion. Which made sense, Ashni had been particularly brutal in the training yesterday.
“You… are called Jen.” Predator pointed at Jen.
She jellied her assent, confused.
“Ashni. Zindaloo. Jana.”
Whipman blinked. He hadn’t thought of himself as the owner of that name in a long time. Not since he had caved and used the forbidden skill again. Not since that dark magic, combined with Predator’s, had trapped him in a body with extremely low stats, and even lower growth rates.
Predator didn’t seem to want anything other than to say there names, and just nodded to himself, as if pleased.
‘...Maybe the blunt force trauma resulted in brain damage…?’ But Whipman didn’t think they had been THAT rough.
Ashni was perhaps sharing Whipman’s train of thought, because she shooting nervous glances at Predator. Jen just blew herself up into a giant bubble of slime. “We don’t have time for messing around! We need to head to the arena. We will just watch the first two matches, and then break for lunch. Then you all can see Predator’s path-”
Ashni leaped to her feet, knocking her chair to the ground while simultaneously coughing. Whipman tried to wrap his head around what was happening. Jen, realizing something, deflated to a puddle. Jana just looked perplexed.
The inn was silent around them.
A huge crab creature walked over, eventually putting one large claw on the table, and the other around Predator’s shoulders. “One of y’all is a path boss, huh. It’s too late, we heard. Now give the bastard up so we can kill em and get our free promotion. We won’t harm the rest of ya. If ya don’t, though…”
The creature clicked his claw ominously.
Whipman shifted his weight, ready to grab his spear at a moment’s notice. Predator just rubbed his stomach and opened and closed his jaw. His strange eyes were extremely off putting, especially in his huge frame. In addition, the way they matched his nails…
“Hungry,” He growled, piercing his hand into the crab’s chest, ripping out a heart, which he began to eat.
Almost silently, the body fell to the ground, the floor creaking from the heavy impact. The only sound was Predator chewing.
Then, the inn-goers sprung towards Predator, lusting for blood.
Jahntat, 2nd Disciple of the Thunder Medium and father-
‘No,’ he thought to himself, ‘Loving father.’
-loving father of the beautiful, talented, and extremely naive Ashni opened his terminal with his fingers crossed. He checked the list of names for today’s competitions
As he scrolled through the list of names, a knock came at the door, followed by a nasally voice.
“Sir, the captains are here to speak with you.”
“Mmm.” Jahntat barely heard the words of his disciple Anuk. But Anuk took the noise for assent, and brought the 10 captains that were in charge of their branch of the Thunder Stance into the room. They filed in, similar looking men with bald heads and thick, bushy beards. Although most of them still had full heads of hair, they took pride in emulating Jahntat, their-
“DAMNATION.” Jahntat roared, his eyes bulging as he saw Ashni’s name.
“Sir, what’s wrong?” Anuk asked, a reed thin Tellite with an extremely misleading amount of strength in his strikes.
“I...my daughter… The Great Tower…” The stress and rage drove Jahntat’s blood pressure up. The fury kept him from relaxing enough to inhale. Anuk walked around to the back of the desk, looking at the terminal screen.
“Oh? Your daughter…?” Anuk looked at the screen in surprised. “Ashni, the light of our lives is competing in The Great Tower-
“Light of our lives.” The 10 captains said in unison.
Then Anuk noticed that credit chip next to the terminal. “You are placing a bet? Excellent. How much?”
Being reminded of his promise, Jahntat became even more insensible. “She…. all….inheritance…”
“All?” Anuk said, his eyes flashing.
“All?” The captains said, cracking their knuckles.
“Urrrrrrgh….” Jahntat’s eyes rolled up into his head and he fell back, passing out in a fit of an anger stroke. Anuk annoying his master’s foaming mouth, turning around to the captains. His master was a strong man, he would survive.
“You heard him,” Anuk said grimly. He pointed to the door. “Hunt down every disciple, gather everyone! And from them, we shall take every penny, betting every credit this branch of the Thunder sect has! For Ashni, light of our lives!”
“Light of our lives!” The captains roared, rushing out of the room to track down their disciples and have them bet their money.
Pleased with himself, and sure that Jahntat would be pleased, Anuk picked up the credit chip and bet all of it on Ashni, without even looking at the amount. Then, because he was a dedicated disciple, he went into Jahntat’s pockets, finding several credit chips and betting everything on them as well.
Most people didn’t actually watch the channels offered by the tower. The displays were run by a bunch of worthless corporate cogbots, completely without creativity. The Great Tower could likely improve on that, but instead, they chose not to, instead allowing individuals like Shuusuke to splice together footage from any of the open cameras at the Tower’s disposal, acting as cameramen for The Great Tower, while not even being paid by them. Still, the Tower allowed them to profit from their edited streams, so it evened out.
A beeping made Shuusuke look up from the 45th floor with annoyance. A minor, but still interesting, plot line was being resolved, and he wanted to be sure he had the angle for the dialogue perfect.
“Shu shu shu shu shu,” He muttered to himself, calming himself. Then he looked at the source of the beeping; his tracker indicated that there was an unusual amount of betting occurring on the 5th floor.
Most individuals don’t have access to such information, but the real reason that Shuusuke was so successful as a cameraman was due to extra clues and hints he could include because of his ability to hack.
Keeping track of mana, levels, race, and skills by hacking into the system and displaying them helped a lot of viewers enjoy the situation. Additionally, pre-warnings like this one that he had rigged to betting patterns alerted him early.
The worst thing was to be a day behind what was going on in the Tower.
Setting up a few macros to automatically record the scene on the 45th floor in case he grew distracted, Shuusuke brought the 5th Floor up on his monitor.
Predator, moving in a way that Whipman had never seen him move before, killed everyone else in the inn, and then devoured them. Afterwards, he burped softly and asked if they were ready to leave.
Now, Predator typically killed and ate people. That was part of who he was.
But as far as Whipman knew, Predator did not usually disemboweled someone, and then use those intestines to hang the rest of a small small family giggling softly to himself the entire time. Cruelty was not usually Predator’s game. He was usually a creature with purpose, and didn’t take the time to torture.
Whipman had just watched Predator hack off the ankles of two humanoids and made them walk around on their nubs, laughing.
He had watched Predator grab slug creature and held it down, whispering in Jana’s ear, refusing to let her go until she used her ability to pop the creature. Jana collapsed, hyperventilating, but Predator seemed pleased.
Whipman stood by as Predator started encasing the fleeing people in ice, dragging them back with something akin to patience. He summoned a butcher’s knife and began to cut them to pieces. All the while, Ashni yawned and Jen just bobbed up and down, seemingly annoyed at the delay.
Wiping blood off his shoes as they leave, Whipman thought. ‘Predator must have been really hungry. Bad luck messing with him today.’
The group followed after Predator, who was smiling at the jagged bolts of red lightning illuminating the sky above him, reflected dully in his black and white eyes.
"What does that have to do with anything?"
Other me immediately jumped in.
-Your luck, idiot.
The penguin nodded at me, as if she had heard. "Think with me for a bit. If your Agi were 0, what would happen? Would you be able to move? How about Vit. Would you die immediately with 0 Vit? Perhaps. But more importantly, there wouldn't be an opportunity for you to get 0 on any of those stats. You wouldn't be in the tower if you had no Agi or Vit.
"And I would be remiss if I didn't point out that statistics are judged on a scale, with each adding linearly. 2 Str is double as strong as 1. 4 is 4x as much. But, the linear doesn't hold true for the void from 1 to 0, and that's why the system is designed to avoid 0s. 1 Str is infinitely stronger than 0 Str."
-A little rambly, but basically...
-Having 0 is bad.
"Having 0 luck is particularly egregious, because 0 is not "unlucky" It is simply the absence of luck. Completely neutral. Or rather completely nonexistent. 1 would be the unluckiest person possible. Now, all events that occur are slightly determined in reference to luck. Most people have low luck, so the fact that you were completely neutral on luck didn't cause many problems during the day yesterday. They needed to accumulate. From the system's point of you, you should exist, but didn't, but did. You shouldn't effect random outcomes, but do. A few errors generated in this manner can be handled, but when you continue to cause what the system expects and what occurs, it can't cope. It's just programming. Understand?"
I did my best not to yawn. "And I'm here because...?"
"Because someone else is in your body," The penguin answered smartly. "And you need to get back before they start climbing the tower with it."