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***Author's Note***
I will NEVER let a chapter get this long, ever again. Not only was it about 9 hours of writing, but transferring it to RR took about 2 hours, and I did it once only to delete my post at the last second....

Ugh...

Sorry for the long delay. Sometimes I ask myself why I write. After all, for my 12ish hours of work, how much enjoyment will a person get from it? A half hour? Maybe less? Such is the sad life of a writer.

But when I write, I've never once regretted doing it. Hope you enjoy.

PR done by Zeo.


Day 36.5
***POV Whipman***
Vibrating with a crazy intensity, Yellow Bones surged upwards out of the courtyard and smashed into the strange abomination that was attempting to crest the walls. Although the abomination was slightly smaller than Yellow Bones’ 20 m frame, it apparently had tremendous strength; although crashing into it stopped it from making it to this side of the wall, its body shuddered, but did not loosen its grip. Strange, whiplike limbs grew, lashing out at Yellow Bones. Yellow Bones’ two smaller, secondary arms flicked out shards of bone, severing the fleshy appendages just as quickly as they were created. Reaching a stalemate, the two began to grapple, smashing and cracking the walls in the surrounding area.

The nearby archers hurried away, but they weren’t out of danger yet. Where they attacked, the purple monkeys gained a foothold on the wall, pushing backwards most of the skeleton archers and crushing a few to pieces. But as Whipman watched, their fur began to lose its luster, the magic faltering. But the damage had been done.

But just as it seemed like the walls had been lost, 5 skeleton bears charged up to the walls, attempting to knock the invaders off the wall. With the small distraction, the remaining skeleton archers were able to fire again, their bone arrows finally finding purchase in the flesh of the monkeys. Still, a significant amount of monkeys used their agility to dodge past the skeleton bears and harass other parts of the wall, allowing their companions more of foothold.

Whipman could hear Ashni’s voice, her shouted commands and her half sneering challenges. Squinting, Whipman could see that while Ashni spoke and walked forward down the path towards the copper haired woman, the woman and Turnip were engaged in a high level archery battle, the woman methodically trying to wound Ashni, and Turnip frantically firing arrows to deflect her arrows and wound the opposition.

Neither appeared to have any advantage at hurting the other, but Whipman knew that as Ashni advanced towards the woman, it would become increasingly difficult for Turnip to react in time.

A harsh screech made Whipman twist around, and he saw the blue crystal bird glaring at Jerry, a fist sized hole having appeared in its side. This made Whipman grin slightly; at least that battle seemed to be going well.

“So distracted… I can’t believe I got stuck with the weak one.”

*Boom*

A huge force smashed into Whipman’s chest, throwing him backwards off the walls and into the courtyard. Luckily, he was quite a distance from where Yellow Bones and the Abomination continued to struggle, so at least he wouldn’t be crushed.

The dusky skinned individual riding a whirlwind floated closer, considering Whipman with a malicious look. “Well, I never said I didn’t enjoy torture. Come here, and let me make your life agonizing.”

From being around Predator so long, Whipman’s eyes quickly detected the characteristic sheen of wind blades being formed. They slid rapidly towards him, aiming for his knees and elbows.

Something inside Whipman snapped.

“...just hold out…?” Whipman said through gritted teeth, furious at Ashni’s dismissal of his strength. His body felt like it was on fire, his adrenaline pumping through his veins. Sure, he wasn’t as physically strong as Predator. Or as skilled with weapons as Ashni. And he didn’t have a completely overpowered ability like Jerry. He wasn’t a monster like Yellow Bones, but…

But there was one way that Whipman was different that all the rest. Although they struggled, and they fought, they were strong. They were praised, vetted, rewarded, celebrated, honored. Even in Predator’s casual arrogance, Whipman could sense that the dusky skinned individual was an individual who didn’t understand defeat, or loss.

Whipman was different. Whipman was born weak, with below average talent. He struggled and struggled, and could do nothing but remain as a student of general training ground, not even going to one of the specialized schools for the stances.

Then he finally had a master, who found in him a dedication that surpassed any of the elite. And that master had told him to just have patience.
Even now, fury boiling up within him and wind blades bearing down on him, Whipman could see his Master’s kind eyes.

“Do you know why the stances were created? Because we are weak. Never forget that. Some might see it as a mark of shame, but it is not. It is proof that understanding will always triumph over natural gifts.

“In battle, you will not fight the enemy. You will be a vessel for the stances. An opponent might be superior to you, but… are they more powerful than thunder? More resilient than earth? More vast than air? More unrelenting than water?

“In the face of natural elements, even stars may perish. Is your opponent going to be stronger than a star?”

The wind blades only a few meters away from him, Whipman closed his eyes. He could sense the sneering look of the dusky skinned individual, but he put that out of his mind. The sonic boom was the trademark of individuals who had reached a basic mastery of the thunder stance, but Whipman was most inexperienced with Thunder Stance, even though that was swiftly improving under Ashni’s tutelage.

And while he trained solely in Thunder Stance with her to learn the secrets of the that stance, since discovering his master’s inheritance, Whipman had also been studying his master’s insights whenever he could. Though he seemed rather helpless at Thunder Stance, his insights into the other stances were not small.

Since he was facing a user of air, it seemed appropriate to respond in kind. Whipman’s eyes slowly opened.

Air Stance was about segmentation, understanding how air was one large mass made up of millions and billions of smaller particles. Being able to control a large amount of air was a mark of strength among Air Stance users, but that wasn’t the trademark skill that was equivalent to the sonic boom.
Air Stance users who reached a basic level of mastery could use Void Movement.

The path to insight in the Air Stance wasn’t large area of control, it was the amount of fine control that a user could achieve. And when a user reached an incredibly fine amount of control, it became obvious that air wasn’t all air. It was mostly space. With a little practice, it was possible to exert some small amount of control over that in between space, and pass through it, avoiding most attacks entirely!

Of course, at Whipman’s level, he wouldn’t be able to dodge all attacks. At most, he could move through a space that most others didn’t have access to. Effectively, every inch was a small amount wider than it should be, allowing him more room to dodge. But against this level of opponent…

As the wind blades approached, Whipman calmly stepped forward lowering his spear. The dusky skinned individual blinked.

“How…”

But before he could complete his question, Whipman leapt forward, using a Thunder Stance move to cross the distance extremely rapidly. Hissing, the air affinity user just created a halo of air around him that exploded outward.

His earlier rage cooling even further in the face of the attacks, Whipman leapt into the air, angling his spear down for a thrust.

Roaring with laughter, the dusky skinned individual pointed at him, summoning a few more wind blades. “Fool! Try and dodge in the air!”

These wind blades were much more powerful, and the air made a sound like ripping fabric when they rushed upwards towards him. With narrowed eyes, Whipman felt the air around him, and delicately pulled it apart with his will, allowing himself to slip into the space between. His brow was furrowed, and a trickle of sweat ran down from his temple. This was a little bit more difficult to do while moving, and while the opposition had stirred up so many air currents.

But by the time the wind blades arrived, Whipman managed to squeeze between them, a small cut forming on his arm, but no worse for wear otherwise. His spear struck forwards like a snake, towards his gawking opponent. At the last second, it seemed like the reality of the situation seemed to sink in, and he lurched to the side.

Still, he had waited too long. Whipmans blow smashed against him, shattering his collarbone before glancing off. The air affinity user stumbled, reeling. But he had enough presence of mind to summon another wave of air, this one in a dome, and press outwards with it, throwing Whipman back about 10 m, and inflicting a small amount of damage. Whipman considered the bleeding individual in front of him. His face had turned pale, and he was panting and mumbling to himself.

‘Is this really all he can do? Why was he acting so cocky earlier…? Maybe my association with Predator has skewed my sense of opponent’s power.' Whipman thought wonderingly, considering the individual before him. Even wounded, his mastery over air seemed to have reached a decent level, comparable to Predator’s. But in terms of other talents, this person was far below Whipman’s pupil.

Although Predator’s ability to manipulate air was scary, it was nothing but a way to fight from a distance. At a close range, he was even scarier. Whipman supposed he shouldn’t be surprised that normal challengers on the 5th floor wouldn’t be such monsters, but due to all the hardships they had went through to get here, it was still a bit of a letdown.

“You…! You….I’ll Kill you!” The dusky skinned individual seemed to have recovered enough to yell, and raised an arm above his head. On his hand, a thin disk of air appeared, spinning extremely rapidly. With a flick of the wrist, this was thrown at Whipman.

Unlike the silent approach of the first wind blade, or the ripping of the second, this method of using wind produced a strange buzzing noise. The disk hummed closer, moving quite a bit faster than Whipman originally thought. Hastily, he used his will to open up a space in the air around him, and slipped through it.

“Gah!” Whipman stumbled forward, spitting out a small bit of blood. Disbelievingly, he looked at the nasty looking gash on his chest.

The dusky skinned individual cackled. “Hahaha! Die, you path-boss dog.”

This time, he raised both of his hands, producing two vibrating disks, and threw them both at Whipman.

In that moment, time seemed to slow. Whipman looked at the blood on his hand, blinking slowly. He could hear the furious hoots of the monkeys, the clatter of bones, the roar and smashing of Yellow Bones and the abomination behind him. The blue crystal bird was still screaming furiously, refusing to die. Turnip was shouting commands, but the battles had all dissolved into 100 small skirmishes, a strange balance emerging.

But this was just a temporary lull in the conflict; something would upset the balance soon. Once that happened, the victor would assist somewhere else, and the enemies would fall down like dominos.

Whipman gritted his teeth, picturing Ashni’s wrists, her powerful calves, the way her spear seemed to slither through the air while they spared.
‘For her…’ Whipman thought furiously, pushing down the rising pain and panic. ‘For her, I will break that balance.’

Looking up, Whipman glared at the dusky skinned individual and his disks of air. After a bit of thought, Whipman had to admit that the power of those attacks was such that they disturbed the spaces he made, injuring him regardless of his insights into the Air Stance. At his level, completely evading the attack wasn’t possible. But if combined with other movements.

With a crazy idea forming in his mind, Whipman grinned. If he had seen his own face, he would be disgusted to learn that his mouth curled strange, wild, wide grin that was born of a strange kind of madness and lust for battle. He had picked up that smile from Predator.

***POV Shuusuke***
Shuusuke was sweating, flitting wildly around the battle, attempting to capture everything for his stream. Although large scale battles weren’t uncommon in The Great Tower, this specific battle had several things going for it.

First, this battle was occurring on the 5th floor, between parties with multiple goals. There was the undead faction, the monkey faction, and the undead, all of whom had settled into their own battles.

Secondly, there were several users of powerful and fantastical abilities. And the fact that they were all fighting close together meant that Shuusuke could gather all the footage into a single stream with just one camera. Inwardly, he was delighted at this opportunity to capture all this footage. With this level of skills, there shouldn’t be a problem for any of their number making it to the 10th floor at least.

Particularly interesting was the abomination. Although it had initially struggled against the giant yellow skeleton, it soon morphed, a strange yellow carapace and pincers appearing. Then it slowly smashed away at the skeleton, effectively ignoring its attacks, pushing towards the inner part of the courtyard, where the building that housed the portal sat.

Strangely, the more the giant yellow skeleton was damaged, the more it vibrated, and the more powerful it seemed to become. The several heads that sat on its shoulders rumbled, their eyes lit with unholy fire. Although barely, it was now able to hold its ground against the abomination.

Seeing a young ice phoenix was strange, and Shuusuke wondered whether it was a runaway. There was no way that its clan would have let it out with this level of strength, or would refuse to give it some assistance. But even more fascinating was the Ice Phoenix’s opponent. That strange individual could disintegrate matter! Pillars of ice, spears of cold, snow to blind him… all of that disappeared.

Although the phoenix still struggled valiantly, it was becoming increasingly desperate; it now had a hole in its side, and the tip of its left wing was missing.

Shuusuke scanned around, then zoomed over towards the spot where the leaders were fighting. The copper haired woman was continuing to fire arrows, now at the skeleton archer with bone wings, while she adroitly managed to hang onto the back of the large black monkey. Honestly, that was an impressive feat, considering the fact that the monkey underneath her was now in pitched battle to the female spear wielder who led the undead after the path boss had run away.

*BOOOOOM*

Every strike contained an unbelievable amount of power, such that the hugely muscled monkey, almost 3 times the size of the female spear wielder, was being bullied around in terms of sheer power. It smashed its chest, roaring, but the spear wielder just used that moment to explode into motion, abruptly appearing behind the monkey. The spear slid forward, aiming for the spine.

But, as the spear approached, the copper haired woman glanced down, lowering the bottom edge of her long bow to meet the spear. With surprising gentleness, the copper haired woman rotated her bow, gathering the tip of the spear and sending it harmlessly away.

Hissing through her teeth, the spearwoman leapt backwards to create some distance.

“Turnip!” She shouted.

“Working on it…” The hurried reply came back.

After stopping for a brief second to wipe the sweat from his face, Shuusuke controlled his camera and zoomed upward, giving a better view of the archer still on the wall. A dozen skeleton archers stood around him, deterring the monkeys who were attacking the fort from interfering. Almost a dozen arrows shot forward towards the great black ape, all shot in a split second by the winged skeleton.

The copper haired woman snorted, raising her own bow. Several arrows flew to meet them. But before they could get very far, the spear woman stomped, creating a sonic boom with just that action, knocking most of the arrows out of the air. With narrowed eyes, the copper haired woman turned to regard the spear woman, but she still somehow managed to shoot off 3 arrows.

Incredibly, those 3 arrows managed to knock all but 4 arrows off target. Two the black ape was able to dodge, but the final two sunk into the flesh of the ape, eliciting a roar.

The spearwoman chuckled. “Now, slow down a bit and let me kill you, you-”

A strange grinding pulled Shuusuke’s attention away from the battle in front of him. In the distance, he could see an area of the forest had become leveled, strange vines wriggling in the air. Body parts of the purple furred monkeys fell from the sky like rain.

After a moment of inner turmoil, Shuusuke decided it wasn’t worth it to investigate what was happening over there more closely. Instead, he rushed back to the fort, taking the camera briefly over the walls.

The monkeys had managed to establish a solid foothold there now, but had taken significant losses to get it. Almost half their number had died. But once they were on the walls and within close range, only the skeleton bears could fight them. The skeleton archers could only flee, hoping for some space from which to fire arrows. But the monkeys continued to pursue, quickly bringing the numbers down closer to even.

But those spots where the skeleton bears were, it took 5-6 monkeys to hold them down, and even then, a single mistake would result in one or two monkeys missing limbs or ripped apart, and the skeleton bear slamming into monkeys that weren’t paying attention, chasing skeleton archers across the walls.

For some reason, Shuusuke’s eye landed on the male spear user, who had been fighting someone with the Air Affinity skill, and who had appeared to have raised it to decent level. Trusting his instincts, Shuusuke zoomed closer. A wild, mad grin stretched across the shriveled spearman’s face.
Shuusuke grimaced. “Going to sacrifice your life? Fine, fine…”

Glancing at the surrounding battlefield, all the great angles and fights, Shuusuke hoped he would make it quick.

***POV Whipman***

The trick would be pulling it all off at once. But if he managed it…

Slowly spreading out his will, Whipman prepared. He also took a moment to look at his mana. What he saw made him wince. As he thought… only about 40% left. He likely wouldn’t have enough to try this more than once. Whipman was not Predator, with a ridiculously sized mana pool; he had to make due with what he had.

There was 10 m between Whipman and the dusky skinned individual.

Whipman imposed his will on the air in front of him, opening a space. Then, using Thunder Stance, he stepped forward, exploding into motion. As soon as he entered the empty space he exited on the other side, and Whipman immediately marshalled his will again, forcing open a space. He stepped for a second time.

A small headache began to form behind his eyes, and the two disks were buzzing incessantly right in front of him. Diagonally, Whipman pressed with his will. For a split second, the air struggled, refusing to budge.

Then slowly, grudgingly, it opened, showing a path forward between the two buzzing disks. Whipman stepped.

The world around him began to swim, but there were still 2 m between himself and the dusky skinned individual, who was watching with wide eyes. If it was Predator, this would never work. If it was Ashni, this sort of showing off would have ended with him on his ass. But this individual in front of him did not have their strength.

With nothing but dregs left, Whipman threw his will against the air, not even waiting for the air to shift and open a space. Instead, he simply stepped.
When he arrived directly in front of the dusky skinned individual, it was all Whipman could do not to faint. He could barely see. The wooden shaft of his spear was like a lead weight. But he forced a cocky smile onto his face, and spoke.

“Ready to die?”

Whipman did his best to sound intimidating. Horror filled the dusky skinned individual’s face. Pure panic took over. He twisted around, tripping over his own feet, flailing to get farther away from this strange specter who could move through his attacks without being harmed. The individual collapsed in a heap, blubbering and crying.

Relieved, with painful slowness, Whipman lowered his spear, his hands trembling. When the individual started crawling away, Whipman stabbed as quickly as he could. The strike took him in the side, goring a large chunk of flesh out of his body.

‘He’s gonna die…’ Whipman thought, removing his spear from the whimpering body. ‘But it’s going to be slow… sorry, that’s the best I can do right now…’
But before Whipman could rejoice, several notifications popped up.


Congratulations! You have reached Level 16.
Vit +1
End +1
Str +1
Dex +2
Agi +1
Wis +1


Due to being a summoned undead of Predator, you have gained additional stats!
Vit +2
End +3
Str +2
Dex +3
Perception +4
Balance +1


Balance was a new one that Whipman didn’t recognize, but he had grown used to the extra stats he gained for being a summoned undead of Predator’s. Even more annoying was that the gains from Predator usually were greater than his own. But the notifications that came next made Whipman’s eyes widen.

Congratulations! You have combined “Air Stance Lvl 8” and “Thunder Stance Lvl 4” to form a new, unique skill. Previous skills will also be retained at their current levels. Would you like to create a name for the unique skill?


Monkeys hooted and cracked against roaring skeleton bears, but all the noise around Whipman fell away as he looked, stupefied, at the notification in front of him. Notifications in general were extremely rare. Aside from information on level up gains, people rarely ever saw them. Some would get lucky and learn a racial skill, or pick one up from a master, or somehow earn a title, but those were other people.

Whipman… Whipman was of below average talent. He was just....

But his heart was now beating powerfully. A grin crossed his mouth. This was proof, proof that his master’s theories were correct. Even the game recognized them-

Almost reflexively, Whipman vomited, spewing blood and vile on his still whimpering opponent. Feeling slightly guilty, Whipman stabbed him again, aiming for the throat, but missed, and just ripped off the bottom part of his jaw. Horrified, he stabbed again, finally putting the individual out of his misery.

Sighing, Whipman considered the spot of his victory. ‘I definitely could use some more physical conditioning… just using it 3 times…? 4…?’

Whipman stopped, frowning. How had he performed it so many times with so little mana…?

Setting that issue aside, Whipman turned to the notification and spoke. “Yes. I’d like to call it Storm Walking.”


Congratulations! The skill “Storm Walking Lvl 1” has been gained. Storm Walking: Move a short distance forward through the mysterious empty space in the air. A small shockwave is created when exciting the mysterious space.
Congratulations! Due to your actions, your skill has improved to “Storm Walking Lvl 2”. Mana costs slightly decreased. Slight electric charge released when exciting the mysterious space.
Congratulations! Due to your actions, your skill has improved to “Storm Walking Lvl 3”. Mana costs slightly decreased. The space you travel through is slightly more stable.
Congratulations! Due to your actions, your skill has improved to “Storm Walking Lvl 4”. Distance that you can travel is slightly increased. When exciting the space, the shockwave is more powerful.
Congratulations! Due to your actions, your skill has improved to “Storm Walking Lvl 5”. Mana costs greatly decreased. Resistance to damage while using the skill is slightly increased.
Congratulations! You have earned the title “The First Stormwalker”. Mana costs for Storm Walking have decreased by 10%. Experience required to level up the skill has decreased by 10%. Vit, Agi, and Wis +5. Mana + 100.
Congratulations! You have earned the title “Disciple of a Hero”. You have inherited the forgotten techniques of a powerful hero. The remnants of these Tellite arts are mysterious and profound. Should you master them, you will be one of the most powerful martial artists under the sun. Whenever you gain a level, you will receive +1 to all stats.


Whipman felt the strength from the 5 extra vitality filling his body, but still he sagged, leaning against his spear with an aggrieved expression. 

“This…” He muttered. “This many notifications… perhaps not even Predator has seen this many system notifications…?”

A lewd grin covered his face, and he giggled to himself for several seconds. But then a nearby crash brought Whipman back to the present. Twisting around, Whipman saw that the abomination had somehow swept the feet out from under Yellow Bones, and was now transforming into a giant maw that ground away at his body.

With a grimace, Whipman admitted to himself that even though he had been flooded with notifications, he couldn’t overcome this foe. But…

He turned and eyed Jerry, who was still struggling against the blue crystal bird.

***POV Shuusuke***
Shuusuke allowed himself a short break, shaking the dripping sweat off of his feathers. Panting, he realized that it had been a long time since he had been this focused on recording. It wasn’t that this was more compelling that battles higher up, and it certainly wasn’t more impressive than a battle on higher floors, but…

‘I might win my bet at this rate…’ Shuusuke thought with glittering eyes.

It was more than that though. If Shuusuke could contact the administrator in charge of the path boss, it was possible that he could obtain exclusive rights to stream their adventures in The Great Tower.

Of course, the rules of The Great Tower applied certain restrictions, like no matter the agreed time limit, he lost the exclusive contract once they failed at challenging a floor of a tower, but usually that resulted in death, so it wasn’t so important. But if their exploits continued to be this exciting....

A movement from the spear wielder instantly caused Shuusuke’s gaze to sharpen. His entire focus returned to the screen in front of him.

The spear wielder seemed hesitant, taking a few dozen short steps towards the wall where the disintegration user battled against the ice phoenix. Although the bird appeared to be falling apart, it grimly was hanging on, keeping the disintegration user from assisting the skeleton archers around him.

Shuusuke scanned the battlements. Almost 60% of the archers had been crushed by the monkeys, and the monkeys still had about 50% of their numbers who gained the wall. But only a single skeleton bear had fallen, and the remaining were slowly pinning the monkeys in, forcing them into battle directly with them.

Still, a small group of about 20 monkeys formed a wedge and moved sideways across the wall, heading for the arrow user, who had stopped helping the commander of the undead and began unleashing a rain of arrows on the purple monkeys within the fort.

The group surged closer, a strange glow once more suffusing their fur. Rushing across the battlements, they were like a living, breathing, hooting arrow aimed at the bow user. Panicking, the bow user fell back, but not before taking an action that shocked Shuusuke; the bow user stopped for several seconds to swish his wispy hair across his face, then turned tail and fled.

Still, his skeleton body wasn’t nearly as fast, with his ungainly skeletal wings, and the monkeys had swiftly reduced the distance to 10 m. The bow user spun around, raising his wings. What surprised Shuusuke was that his skeletal face was twisted into a smile.

Shuusuke didn’t even know that skulls could smile. Wasn’t it impossible?

The skull spoke, his bone teeth clattering. “Gotcha.”

Several things happened at once, so much so that Shuusuke began to sweat again, doing his best to capture it all.

A roar sounded below the wall, and suddenly a body clambered up, grinding the momentum of the group of monkeys that were heading towards the bow user to a halt. The creature held another’s body above its head with two of the powerful looking vine legs. It appeared that it was missing two vines now, ripped completely from the roots of its body, but those 6 that remained had changed. They had at least doubled in thickness, become a dull maroon, and at their ends 8 separate vines wriggled dangerously. The bones of its body had changed too. It was hard to tell through the spray of blood that soaked most of it, but underneath, the bones had distinctly yellowed.

Furious, the evolved vineling monstrosity smashed left and right, ripping through the strange magic of the monkey’s fur as if it were paper.

Simultaneously, the bow user leapt forward, his bone wings eviscerating the leading monkeys, tossing the dismembered bodies off into the moat.
At other places of the wall, where the monkeys were densest, columns of murlocs streamed up and hit them from behind, distracting them. Although the monkeys crushed the murloc skulls within a second, the distraction was more than long enough for the skeleton bears to get in position. They loomed dangerously over the monkeys, growling softly.

Still in the same moment, a spear whistled up, streaking across the sky. Shuusuke hurriedly zoomed around and followed it, tracking it as it arced up and smashed into the side of the ice phoenix, who was so focused on its opponent that he didn’t see it coming at all.

The bird let out a keening cry and fell, drifting down to land somewhere amongst the trees surrounding the fort.

Almost hobbling, the now spearless spear-wielder went up to the disintegration user, gesturing at the ongoing battle between the giant yellow skeleton and the abomination. Quickly realizing his intentions, the disintegration user rushed over, hands raised.

Waves of flesh literally melted into nothing, revealing the cracked and shattered remnants of the yellow skeleton. Howling it’s fear, the abomination shifted again, transforming into a blob, rolling away. But with gritted teeth, the disintegration user raised its hands higher. The speed visibly increased, quickly reducing the abomination’s body mass by over half.

Now completely panicked, the body shifted again, growing wings, but before a beat could pass, 8 arrows, 4 in each wing, sunk into the flesh, nailing it to the ground.

Arrogantly, the bow user stopped on the wall, swishing his hair out of his eyes and leaning on his bow, while purple haired monkeys slaughtered murlocs while being slaughtered by the vineling monstrosity around him.

Rolling his eyes, the disintegration user erased the abomination from existence.

Panting, the spear wielder collapsed. Within moments, his eyes were closed, and Shuusuke wondered if he had fallen asleep.

*BOOOM*

A shockwave spread out from the area in front of the fort, and Shuusuke zoomed out and shifted. Suddenly, he was floating outside the fort, hovering over the commander’s duel. The bow user, the disintegration user, and the spear wielder all hurry out as well, likely drawn by the noise.

A cloud of dust hung low to the ground. To the side, the giant black ape was groaning, its blood pumping out of dozens of arrow wounds to seep into the ground below. The copper-haired woman stood tall, still holding the remnants of her bow, the string of which appeared to have snapped.

Shuusuke zoomed in closer. To his surprise, it seemed like she had purposefully unstrung the bow, the string now wound around her wrist. Twirling the bow-turned-stave, the copper haired woman showed her teeth to the commander of the undead.

That woman stood tall, glaring.

The dust settled lower, revealing the undead commander’s right arm to be in tatters, shattered at both the forearm and the shoulder.

The spear wielder gasped, hurrying towards the commander. The disintegration user, on the other hand, rushed towards the copper haired woman, hands raised. She simply chuckled and watched him come.

20 m.

10 m.

5 m….

Still the woman did nothing. Although confusion flickered in his eyes, he still kept his arms raised, determined. His face scrunched up, his ability activating.

Nothing happened.

He didn’t even move as the stave blurred, hitting the side of his jaw and shattering it, knocking him unconscious. Seemingly curious, the copper haired woman poked the disintegration user’s body after he fell. Then, seemingly satisfied, she raised the stave and prepared to crush his skull.

Moving with that strange method, the spear wielder appeared in front of the blow, slapping it aside.

The copper haired woman grinned at him. “Ah, good. It appears you aren’t all pushovers. Play with me a bit.”

Two stave blows rained down on him, coming at almost the same time. Shuusuke could tell that the strength was far beyond what the spear wielder could bear, and it sent him stumbling back. But there was iron in his stance as he resettled himself, raising the spear in a different defensive stance.

There was a glimmer of recognition in the copper haired woman’s eyes, but she struck anyways.

In an outcome that shocked Shuusuke, the blows this time were deflected with ease. The sinking feeling in Shuusuke’s stomach that had started when the undead commander was injured immediately vanished. Perhaps this meant that his team would win after all! They had the strength to compete with both a path boss and challengers, and win!

But the copper haired woman simply clicked her tongue. “Tellite? But if this is the limit of your skill, it won’t be-”

She was interrupted by a shadow blotting out the sun. The copper haired woman looked up, eyes widening. The vineling monstrosity had leapt off the fort’s walls, it’s 6 remaining arms wriggling dangerously.

With narrowed eyes, the woman moved, her spear moving with at least double the speed of her previous attacks, aiming for the spear wielder’s lower leg. Even though he noticed it, the change in speed was too much for him, and he didn’t react quickly enough to dodge or block.

But he didn’t need to.

“Bitch, don’t you dare touch him. He is… mine.” The undead commander’s kick met the stave blow, knocking it off course. Even if she seemed slightly unwilling to say the last word, she still stood next to the spear wielder. For his part, he simply looked at the commander with slack-jawed wonder.
The vineling landed, its legs flailing, its bone body charging forward.

Reacting quickly, the copper haired woman leapt backwards. Her stave knocked away the vine, and her palm ripped forward, hitting the bear portion directly in the chest, sending it stumbling back.

The undead commander wasn’t the type to miss this sort of opportunity, and seemingly materialized behind the copper haired woman, and sonic boom echoing out. The copper haired woman gritted her teeth, apparently affected by the explosive force. But still, she managed to bring her guard up in time, defecting the kick aimed at her temple.

Before the commander could recover, she received a palm to the ribs, sending her sprawling, a sickening crack evidencing the serious nature of the blow. Sneering, the copper haired woman raised her stave to approach, but a new arrival interrupted her.

“Die.”

So much fury was contained in that small word that Shuusuke shivered, the camera panning around as quickly as he could manage it. There he was, the path boss he bet his fortune on, tall, a scar across the side of his face to his ear, his mismatched eyes…

Predator.

1000 wind blades materialized and swept forward, seemingly buzzing with hatred.

But when they reached a point about 10 m out from the copper haired woman they dissipated harmlessly. A vein in Predator’s temple visibly throbbed.

The copper haired woman chuckled. “Do you like it? A once in 10,000 years bloodline blessing. Absolute Control: Domain. It is my will that fights not be done with magic… so they are not. Your tricks won’t help you here, traitor.”

The throbbing vein in Predator’s temple grew worse. His jaw was clenched so tight that Shuusuke wondered if he could even speak. Predator moved to step forward, but the copper haired woman stopped him.

“Oh, no, you will stay there.” She side stepped quickly. Due to the melee, she had once more ended up next to the disintegration user’s prone body. “If you move from that spot, I’ll crush his skull. He has a useful skill, no? Surrender, and I will spare him. Just learn your lesson about wasting time and sullying the pride of a path boss. We are not here to scratch out each other’s eyes to climb the tower… we are here to act as gatekeepers!”

The copper haired woman’s eyes grew misty. “We have a duty to uphold. My mother, and her mother before here, were-”

“She-....mar…….a……..” Predator spoke, hissing through his teeth. Instantly the copper haired woman’s eyes came back into focus.

She regarded him with some curiosity. “You know me? But then why-”

Before she could finish speaking, a flurry of blows pounded her domain, ice, moonlight, and air, rushing towards her, only to dissipate harmlessly. Even the ice daggers summoned by Predator turned to nothing within her domain.

Shemara smirked, but said nothing.

Then, eyes glowing, Predator gestured, and air began to form behind Shemara, on the opposite side of the zone, a large whirlwind, stone, dirt, and dust sucked into it.

“Why struggle? If you don’t surrender, I will kill your minion. If you don’t value his life, just take another step, so I know, and we can stop wasting each other’s time. If you know not of honor, speaking with you is without merit.” Shemara said arrogantly.

Predator didn’t answer, but a small smile was tugging at the corner of his mouth. It pulled the ends up, widening the smile. Finally the smile reached the point that most stopped, but Predator’s continued, his face warping. It was as if he had seen a smile once, long in the past, and had forgotten how to form one. Instead, he continued to use his warped memory as a basis, the curled, twisted expression that transformed his face what he truly thought a smile was.

Shuusuke kept the camera completely still, trained on Predator’s face. In that moment, he was not a path boss.

He was a demon.

“How…. fast are you, Shemara?”

Shuusuke suppressed the urge to twist the camera around and check out Tamara’s reaction. Instead he kept that demonic smile in the center of his vision. When an audience member watched this, Shuusuke wanted them to feel the waves of pressure that emanated from this man’s glittering eyes. And the best way he knew to manage that was to force them to hold this eye contact.

“I guess it will be a race then,” Predator said with glittering eyes.

*BOOOOOOOM*

***POV Predator***


All essence expended! Max Essence +1.


Right before I created a small ball of air behind me and threw it into my back, I allowed the air I had been controlling behind this piece of shit to fall into place, forming the small dirt, stones, and dust into a makeshift ramp.

Then the power of essence exploded, smashing me forward, propelling me with such speed that I instantly grew dizzy. Such was the force that, for the first time in a long time, I felt a rib snap instantly from the power.

Luckily, my aim was good, so my body smashed forward into Shemara, the two of us continuing, more tumbling than flying, ricocheting off the ramp and bouncing off through the treeline. I felt blood seeping into my mouth, and could only hope that the impact had killed her.

Although it was a severely dumb idea, when she dared to stand before me, arrogantly thinking she could dictate my actions, I wanted to beat her at her own game. I would crush her where she was most confident: in the zone around her.

-Seriously though, how could that domain of hers tell the daggers were made of ice? Also, what if a magic item of some sort was taken within the area? Would it stop working too? What if she walked over some sort of barrier? What a broken skill.

Even if it could reduce all things made of magic to naught, if that magic was used to give me momentum, I had theorized that it couldn’t disperse that. It just stopped magic from functioning inside of the area.

The two of us tumbled forward, crashing into a tree, smashing it to smithereens. We had continued for at least 50 m past the road, into the treeline, but we were losing momentum now. Underbrush and trees slowed down our speed, reminding me time and time again of the aches in my neck and sides.

-Maybe it was a little foolish to risk injuring ourselves so seriously so early…

-....But it was fun.

-Well, obviously.

I felt the hot blood pumping through me as we finally rolled to a stop, finally leaning up against a mushroom, which promptly popped, spraying spores everywhere.

Although I knew I should be worried, I just felt my smile growing larger.

-Heart Murmur Shroom? We must have gone farther than I thought.

-Or the shrooms spread… either way…. Shouldn’t it be fine…? We survived it before.

My heart began to pound, seemingly compressing every drop of hot blood that was within me, driving it forward into a distilled, even hotter, essence. I groggily tried to stand, but before I could do so, something smashed into my legs, sweeping them out from under me.

“Heh, a nice trick… but did you think that would be enough to defeat me? If I disallow magic, did you think my physical strength would be weak?”
Shemara loomed over me, seemingly none the worse for wear. I grimaced, the fire inside of me burning brighter.


Fury +8
Fury +8
Congratulations! You have reached 100 Fury. All stats +8 until the Fury degrades.
Fury +9


Body trembling, I forced myself up. Even now, I could feel my vastly increased regeneration start to work, slowly burrowing into my injuries, eating away at them. But I wasn’t so far gone to think I could heal before the fight really began.

‘I’ll just have to crush her with these injuries. Feeling her skull snap in my hand will be nice.’ I thought with burning eyes, stepping forward. My heart was becoming thunderous. A small, detached part of me wondered whether steam was rising from me.

Her strange stick whipped forward, almost too quickly for me to react to. Immediately, I ripped down the mental block that was preventing me from accessing the Timeless portion of perception, and I received endless information a few tenths of a second in advance.

I had assumed that I would easily crush her once I did this, but two things got in the way; the first was the headache that immediately formed. My processing power instantly started working overtime, but even with my high amount, my mind could only do so much to keep sifting through the information. Although preventing my reliance on it was likely smart-


Fury +9


It didn’t help me in the short term, when I attempted to overpower the foe in front of me.

Her spear blow was heading for my side, in the exact spot that my rib had broken. Because I couldn’t summon any weapons of ice within her domain, I was forced to resort to a fist fight. At the same time her blow would hit my side, My jaw would strike her nondominant arm in the shoulder, hopefully shattering it just like she had done to Ashni.

Even thinking about the wounds she had inflicted my minions made my blood boil.


Fury +9
Fury +9
Fury +9
Congratulations! Due to your actions, your skill has changed to “My Heart is the Bellows, My Body the Metal Lvl 4”. Physical performance while in the heightened state slightly increased. While the pressure of your blood is raised, a small amount of impurities will be expelled from your body. Attacks will do slightly more damage.
Fury +9


Shifting slightly, I moved just enough for her blow to miss the shattered portion of my ribs. But almost as if she too had a little precognition, her stave twisted, following my small movement, hitting me in the exact spot.

Grimacing, I focused on completing my blow. My tolerance of pain was high enough that although uncomfortable, I wouldn’t be distracted.

Unfortunately, this lead to the second problem I was having with the fight with Shemara; when she attacked, she always struck me in a place that destroyed my center of gravity. My fist struck her shoulder, but through the leather, I would be lucky to even leave a bruise.

Frustrated. I leapt backwards, gaining some distance. The spore filled air made for a strange fighting area, making it seem as if we were in a dreamscape. Trees loomed like upright cadavers, more silhouettes than anything else. It was just a small dome of air with me an her. My heart was aching slightly, pumping so fast I couldn’t even count its beats.

Shemara, for her part, didn’t even appear to notice to the poison. She just considered me. “...You are stronger than I would have believed. Why resort to this deplorable behavior if you could fight this well on your own.”

Fury +9

Fury +9


Gritting my teeth, I prepared to attack, marshalling my processing power to register her dodge before she even made it.

-Perhaps the real stupid move was to change up how we were fighting, by incorporating the precognition, without any practice and expecting it to turn out well…

Fury +9


-Just shut up.


My eyes were burning, my heart was pounding, and I moved like lightning, teleporting forward. My altered physical state meant that I was unable to execute the Thunder Stance style movement with a sonic boom, but I still move with more speed than I would have believed.

Shemara simply snorted, her stave moving with unnatural precision to deflect my kick. Of course, I saw it coming, and my kick was a feint; I meant to lightly tap her stave with my foot and then yank, pulling her towards me.

But somehow she saw it, and her block turned into an aggressive deflection, knocking my leg backwards and upsetting my balance. She hurried forward, her eyes gleaming.

On one leg, shoved backwards, anyone else would have toppled over or hopped backwards. But with my core straining, blood thundering in my ears, I stilled, body held in balance by force of will.

Fury +9


She stopped short, my unexpected maintenance of balance bringing out the caution in her. But it was too late. My hand snaked forward, grabbing her stave.

‘Gotcha-’

But my thought was interrupted as I sensed her other fist heading for my head. I jerked to the side, and suddenly the realization hit me what she was about to do. I tried to right myself further, but that last bit had taken me past the limit of even my preternatural balance.

The stave, held by both me and her, rushed towards me, more a punch while holding a stick than anything else, but I couldn’t do anything to stop it. To my annoyance, she was stronger than me.

Wincing, I stumbled backwards from the blow, doing my best to ignore her as she began to speak.

“You know, your fighting style is all over the place.”

Fury +9
Fury +9
Congratulations! You have reached 100 Fury. All stats +9 until the Fury degrades.
Fury +10


My arms were up, but her blows were like getting slammed by slabs of granite. I stumbled to the side under each, my bones grinding in their joints.


Even though I could see the oncoming blows, I was close to helpless. They weren’t too fast, and they were strong, but not too strong.

She was just…

She’s just…

-She’s better than you.

My racial growth rates gave me much, but they couldn’t help me out of an immediately pinch. My skills were varied, but without magic…

I briefly considered Bile Emission, but disregarded it immediately. Notifications about fury filled my screen, but I ignored them. I couldn’t use Bile Emission.

-No, You don’t WANT to use it.

My fury rose even more quickly. Shemara’s blows knocked me to the ground. I coughed up blood, with ounce of me hot and burning, my vision narrowed to red, Shemara, and her wickedly capable stave. Struggling, I slowly stood.

Smirking she waited until I was standing, then leapt forward, her staff curling towards my head. I tried to grab it again, but the stave danced away, smashing into the side without the broken rib.

“It’s almost not even fun. Almost. I consider it a great honor to teach you about the realities of this world. The weak are naught but toys for the strong. You can do nothing. You are nothing. You do not have a name, or a fate, you are a label.”

Fury surging, I charged directly towards her, trying to bring it to a grappling match. With more speed than I would think possible, her left elbow met the side of my face, sending me backwards. I coughed up a mouthful of blood, and two stave blows so fast I couldn’t see them smashed me to the ground..
My fury was now rising by +15 each time it ticked, and it was coming more and more quickly.

I leapt to my feet, so hot that the ground was ice. I needed to be up here, in this foggy mist, fighting. I would win. I would crush her.

“You at first were ‘dishonorable’, but now you are ‘diverting’. I am amused as I play with you. And that is all you are. Those with power label you, and suddenly you are a thing, with naught but a function. So, toy...”

I ran towards her, my breathing ragged.

Her eyes were glittering “Divert me~”

The first two blows weren’t so bad, but the third hit my good side of my ribs and cracked them. I gritted my teeth at first, but then the fire in my blood rose even higher when I realized that it was in the exact same spot as the fracture on the other side.

“Even now…” I muttered, glaring at her. “Even now you dare play?!”

She chuckled, lazily spinning her stave. “You are slightly dumb, did you know?”

I leapt forward, jumping up to a tree branch above her.

With infuriating calmness, she struck out to her left, smashing the trunk of the tree to powder. With the tree toppling under me, I made no pretense of trying to use it further, and just launched myself down towards her. She hopped to the side, spinning her stave.

The blow flicked out, and I leaned forward, headbutting the blow. It sent me reeling,a dizziness suffusing my swimming vision, but my hands blindly rose and seized her staff. Honestly, my eyes were just holding me back, compared to my other perceptions, so I closed them.

I lashed out with my right fist, unwilling to give her time, but just as I did so, I detected her move. She lifted her hand to punch at my jaw. So I orchestrated it for our fists to meet.

*Boom*

My fist stuttered backwards, still overpowered by her, but my fury was rising every second, ticking upwards. Her right arm now aimed a hook at my exposed side, moving a hair more quickly than I could. I gritted my teeth, trying my best to hide a smile.

Time to play a trump card.

Instead of punching, my hand slashed out, relying on my sharp nails and aiming for her forearm. If I could land that blow and sever tendons and muscle…. Even if I was physically outmatched, I could beat a one armed foe.

Unfortunately, I sensed that she instantly twisted away, her blow flowing smoothly into an overhand smash with the stave.

Eyes slitted with fury, I once more looked at her, hating how competent she was.

She simply seemed amused. “You are likely wondering why this is happening. This, you immature child, is the product of experience. Rushing upwards leads to ending up beyond your depth. Leading to your death. Although in your case…”

Pausing, Shemara unleashed blow after blow, forcing me backwards. My arms were almost numb at this point, which through my pain tolerance was a very, very bad sign about the damage they had taken in this fight.

When I finally fell backwards on my butt, my chest heaving as I strained to manage my breath, she allowed herself a small smile.

“What you have earned is the death of your subordinates.”

I felt something very strange inside of me. “...what are you saying….?”

“You are far too amusing to kill,” Shemara continued, scratching some of my blood off the varnish of her stave. “I will let you live, so you might challenge me again. So what I will do is kill every minion here, to teach you a lesson.”

Shemara considered me, then turned away. “Well, this appears like the end of this. I will finish this myself. Come find me when you have strength, you foolish child.”

She walked away through the purple mist.

“Hey….” I struggled to my feet, fury building. I was gaining 34 a tick now. “Hey wait!”

But she ignored me, stalking off.

I set off stumbling after her, trying my best to increase my speed, but in a way, she was right; physically, I was almost out of commission. I knew that it was probably best to stay still for a short time and allow my regeneration to kick in, but….

But if I was too late….

“They are MINE.” I hissed at her departing form, barely visible in the mist. “Don’t you dare touch them. My minions belong to me!”

Following as best as I could, my fury rose ever higher. Now 40 per tick…

Now 41….

42….

But I was losing her, and it was causing my anger to subside, replaced by despair. Up ahead, I could see her, but only because something was glowing crimson in the purple mist. Roaring, I summoned a blade of air and chopped down a tree. Then a few more sharpened it into a stake.

Relying on the obscuring purple mist from the shrooms, I shot it out towards her, aiming for her back.

-Hopefully she’s a vampire, I guess.

I Ignored other me and watched my projectile's path. At the last second, she spun away, deflecting the entire tree away, sending it smashing to the side. Her body disappeared in the next instant.

Then it reappeared next to me.

“You have been a foolish child one too many times.” She whispered ominously.

My fury spike upwards, but then pain exploded in my torso as I was sent flying. Somehow she managed to land a two blows midair: on my head as I was spinning midair, derailing any thoughts of retaliation and replacing them with confusion and one on my right leg, shattering the hip.

The ground was cool on my hot body, and I spent several second breathing quietly, waiting.

I was swimming in darkness.

So tired... 

So weary... 

So...

Then my eyes snapped open. How… how long had I been laying here?!?

I had landed underneath the glowing crimson light, which turned out to be a giant mushroom. But this one seemed different than the ones I remembered. Besides the color, it also seemed more… solid. As I watched, a droplet of liquid formed on its edge and dripped down below, somewhere out of my vision.

Rolling over, I checked my status; I was still receiving 43 bonus stats from fury, so it couldn’t have been long. When I rolled, I could see that there was a pool of crimson liquid in front of me. Grunting, I tried to get up, but my right leg was practically useless, and the effort was too much for my left leg alone. No strength was in my arms, and I collapsed back downwards.

“Dammit…” I whispered, helpless.

Another drop of liquid fell, sending ripples through the pool. I stilled.

“If this is an evolved heart murmur shroom…” I spoke slowly. “Then if I absorb it…”

-Assuming it doesn’t kill you, yes, it might increase your heart rate further. Your heart rate seemed to be related to the fury acquisition rate, so your stats could rise. In theory, you might be able to move.

-You don’t seem hopeful.

-...but the alternative is waiting, and they all die. Yellow Bones, Turnip, Jerry, Ashni, Whipman…

-The cruel irony being my only remaining minion would be Tim…

Fury +44
Fury +44
Congratulations! You have reached 100 Fury. All stats +44 until the Fury degrades.
Fury +45


So betting it all on a chance, I reached for the liquid.


And came up a hands length short. The small pool was still, tranquil, as I struggled to drag myself closer. The space seemed insurmountable. There was nothing to grab, no easy purchase, and the longer I lay, the more strength left my body, everything slowly shutting down in spite of my struggle.



Although I had abundant mana, there was a weird force around the liquid, a magical deterrence that kept me from sweeping some up with air affinity. It was as if the magic of the liquid was stronger than my own. Still, I wasn’t deterred.



Then I chuckled. “So the useless skill is the difference between success and failure, huh?”



-It always is.



I consumed the rest of my mana and flickered forward a small distance, just enough for the tip of finger to dip into the crimson liquid.



The effect was immediate: my hand began vibrating.



“Ah…” Lances of pain shot up my arm, real pain, true pain, that I hadn’t experienced in anything except genetic leaps. Pain of the nerves directly. I watched, horrified, as my veins of my hand turned a luminescent crimson, the light running up my hand to my wrist, and then up towards my elbow.


My heart was not a hammer, it was a tumbling mountain.

Congratulations! Due to your actions, your skill has changed to “My Heart is the Bellows, My Body the Metal Lvl 5”. Physical performance while in the heightened state greatly increased. Physical performance in unheightened mode also increased.
Congratulations! Due to your actions, your skill has changed to “Physicality Lvl 8”. Your body has been pushed beyond its physical limits. There are no firm limits on what you can accomplish, and you may persist slightly beyond what is possible due to willpower.
Congratulations! Due to your actions, you have learned the skill “Poison Resistance Lvl 1”. Your body has been exposed to great danger, and due to that, you may resist the effects of a few lesser poisons. Addition dosages will be required to poison you.
Congratulations! Due to your actions, your skill has changed to “Poison Resistance Lvl 2”. You have become immune to the most mundane of poisons. You will resist longer against stronger poisons. Some small animals will avoid you due to remnants of poison in your system.


-...that can’t be a good sign about the poison resistance…

-But…

I flexed my fingers and then pushed myself up, my heart pounding so quickly it just seemed like a steady vibration.

“But I can move,” I spoke aloud, delighted.

With my fury increasing at 50 per tick, I surged off after Shemara.

******
By the time I caught up with her, she was laughing freely, walking towards the broken bodies of my minions, the air thick with dread. Turnip fired off a few arrows, but she deflected them with ease.

As I jogged out of the treeline, Shemara turned and regarded me with shock. But I must have looked terrible, because she burst out laughing.

I felt terrible. The poison was spreading, and I couldn’t move the arm that touched the crimson liquid. The pain was everywhere, and the edges of my vision were beginning to grow dark, I could barely put one foot in front of the other. It was only through determination and fury at the Shemara for constantly mocking me and deriding my weakness that I continued forward.

Luckily, when I reached the 10 m mark, I instantly felt the effects of the poison waning. The pain subsided and shrank, and the tremors in my body departed. But my fury only rose higher.

-We will have to consider why her aura Affected the liquid, but not the airborne particle…. Was the liquid the result of magic…? This is likely Zassa’s doing…

-Still, it’s enough for now.

I feigned weakness, stumbling forward. Without a care in the world, that cocky bitch Shemara caught me in open arms. My left hand casually landed on her shoulder.

“Hahaha, do I need to tuck you into bed, child?” Shemara teased. “A sick boy should stay at home.”

My fury was skyrocketing, partially due to her words, but mostly looking around at the bodies of my minions. Not just the named ones who would speak with me, but the other skeletons. There were cracked bones everywhere, and only a few curious heads were peaking over the walls to investigate the noise. That didn’t bode well for survivors…

82…

83…

84…

“While this is touching, I’m afraid that I must- urghk!” When my hand moved, switching from a trembling touch on her shoulder to latching onto her throat, Shemara gasped.

But she smiled wanly, raising both her arms to grip mine. Then she began to squeeze, likely attempting to break my arm.

My strength when we punched each other before, and I lost rather handily, was about 150, putting her somewhere in the 180-200 range. That was surely enough strength to accomplish almost anything on this level of the tower. There was no doubt that Shemara had a right to be confident.

97…

98…

99…

Fury +100
Congratulations! You have reached 100 Fury. All stats +100 until the Fury degrades.


Fury +100
Congratulations! You have reached 100 Fury. All stats +101 until the Fury degrades.


Fury +100
Congratulations! You have reached 100 Fury. All stats +102 until the Fury degrades.


My bones groaned under the grip of both her arms, but my hand didn’t stop squeezing her throat. She seemed confused suddenly. My smile slowly widened.

Unfortunately for her, my strength was currently 220, and growing. My endurance was even higher than that.

After a few second, she began to strike out at me, aiming for my vitals, my throat, my groin, my eyes…

But as less and less oxygen made it to her, her struggles began to grow sluggish, her strength waning.

At the last moment, as her eyelids were fluttering, I released my grip just slightly. A small wheeze evidenced her continued life, and her struggles resumed, hope flickering in her eyes.

But I simply raised my other hand and gripped her head, still grinning. Then, like I promised myself, I squeezed until I cracked her skull like an egg.

When her brain was nothing but mush in my hand and her body was limp, only then did I relax. Then, with surprising gentleness, I ripped open her chest and removed her heart, which I placed to the side.

Then I let the darkness and the fury rise up.

Over the next few hours, I slowly ripped off pieces of Shemara’s body, eating every succulent morsel, destroying every bit of the woman who caused me so much anguish.

*****
It took a surprising amount of time for the fury to fade to nothing, two hours after I finished my extended meal. Everyone else had fallen back to the castle to take stock, weary and likely disturbed by my showing of wrath. But finally, I was balanced again-

-Balanced is a strong word.

And ready to address the notifications.

Congratulations! Due to your actions, you have reached level 22. All Biomass has been consumed.
Due to your special circumstances, you have the choice of retaining the previously earned Racial Growth Rate of “CTZ-103 Hunter-Seeker 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


-Yes

-That balance stat is definitely worth it.

Congratulations! You have retained the growth rates of a “CTZ-103 Hunter-Seeker Model”.
Vit +11
End +9
Str +13
Agi +26
Dex +16
Memory +19
Timeless Perception +19
Balance +120
Mana +161


I squirmed through all the random improvements I gained, which were all mutations, even though nothing was gained from any of them. Still, with my pain tolerance at 8, it wasn’t so bad.

Pleased with my increased stats, I picked up Shemara’s heart and ate it.

After absorbing the creature’s strength, you gain some of her unique bloodline. The skill “Absolute Control: Self Lvl 1” was gained. Continue to slay stronger foes to follow the Path of the Dragon.
Due to successfully completing the 4th step on the “Path of the Dragon” You have have tapped into some of your potential. Gains based on race. Racial Growth Rate “CTZ-103 Hunter-Seeker Model” used. You have gained the title “Black Exo-skeleton with 9 Lives”. 9 blows capable of taking your life will be turned aside as long as the title persists. After all uses are consumed, the title will disappear.
Congratulations! Due to your actions, your skill “Path of the Dragon” has evolved into “Code of the Dragon”.


….Absolute Control, self?


-At least the 9 lives thing will likely be useful… but it’s probably best not to expect too much from something random like that…

-Still, the skill itself improved, so that’s a good thing….?

-Probably just going to make it more of a hassle.

I considered my status screen.

Name:PredatorLevel:22
Racial Growth Rate:CTZ-103 Hunter-Seeker ModelBiomass:149
Light of the Unlucky Star:0Essence:22/28
Health Regen:x4.6Mana:1106/2267
Fury:695
Vit:106 (+30)End:115 (+30)
Str:105 (+30)Agi:153 (+30)
Dex:163 (+30)Memory:314 (+30)
Processing Power:330 (+30)Parallel Computations:2
Wis:125 (+30)Luck:33 (+30) (#Error)
Timeless Perception:153 (+30)Balance:221
Titles
A PredatorRacelessNurturer of the UndeadSinger of the Dark Cadences
Bringer of WarMaster of Throwing KnivesWarden of Glacier and MoonOne Who Denies His Own Mortality
Gene SplicerBorn Under a Cursed StarBlack Exo-skeleton with 9 Lives
Skills
Air Affinity Lvl 4Endless StomachWeapons Mastery Lvl 2Silent Kill Lvl 1
Code of the DragonAura of the Predator Lvl 5Summon Lesser Dead Lvl 6Bile Emission Lvl 2
Unholy Bestowal Lvl 2Physicality Lvl 8Song of the Murloc People Lvl 1Thunder Stance Lvl 4
Cadence of EarthCadence of WaterWind Stance Lvl 1Wind Blade Lvl 8
Pain Tolerance Lvl 8Greater Resistance to Fire Lvl 1Sneak Attack Lvl 2My Heart is the Bellows, My Body the Metal Lvl 5
Lesser Ice Affinity Lvl 5Lunar Affinity Lvl 4Automated Air Armor Lvl 1Flicker Lvl 1
Poison Resistance Lvl 2Absolute Control: Self
Saved Growth Rates
Sable Haired LynxOgre Variant (Two Headed Albino)Carniverous Dusk Wing OwlXN-00013


*****

After some time, I returned to the fort to find the remaining skeletons hauling bodies, skeleton, murloc, and monkey.

Honestly, it appeared as if our murloc population had multiplied. They were teeming in the moat, and running everywhere inside the castle. The group of Ashni, Whipman, Turnip, Jerry, and Haeugh were by the far wall, next to a giant pile of bones.

Walking over, I instantly sensed something was amiss. Ashni had her arm in a sling, but was staring off blankly. Whipman kept casting glances at Ashni, but his heart didn’t really seem to be into it. The rest just looked at the ground.

“We won, did we not?” I asked slowly, looking at the group. “...no one slipped through?”

Jerry blinked, looking up. Then he nodded. “No we won. They will announce the results at midnight, which is customary. It’s just…”

Jerry sighed. “We lost a lot too.”

I was about to shrug, thinking I could just summon more skeletons, but then I froze. Slowly, I spun around.

“...where is yellow bones?”

Everyone turned to look at the giant pile of bones next to which we were standing. They stood, motionless and scattered, broken. The force animating them all had ceased. As I looked more closely, I could tell that they were slightly yellowed, but the bones themselves now just seemed beige, the life and strength gone from them.

“...I understand.” My voice was calm, far too calm. “Go finish up work repairing. I suppose… I’ll be departing again in the morning to the next floor. I’ll be back on the 10th. When my mana regenerates I’ll summon more undead. Oh, did you know, I can summon spirits now. Or something. That will be useful, I think…”

I stopped. Was I…. rambling….?

In my head, all I could hear was the distinctive rumbling that Yellow Bones would make when I sat on his shoulders, touching his head.

Jerry touched my shoulder, and I almost broke his arm for it. “Predator, he fought against the most powerful of the challengers. We wouldn’t have held-”

“I said go.” My voice was ice. They left.

Walking slowly, my aches catching up with me, I clambered up to the ramparts and sat above him, wincing as I settled down.

“This… this will probably heal by morning, you know?” I said to the bones, gesturing to my body. The broken bone would mend, the flesh would heal.

I considered the bones before me, a testiment to Yellow Bones vast size that as I scanned, I kept finding new bones. New types. I imagined him gathering them slowly. I remembered when he first got multiple heads. I remembered how I wouldn’t have defeated that strange creature with the essence flame inside his body without Yellow Bones throwing me.

I remembered how he would purr, even at the beginning, when I was near. It made me smile, for a brief moment, that he had never learned to speak, unlike so many of the others. He just rumbled.

Maybe he wasn’t as shocking as Jerry in his abilities, or skilled as Whipman, but he was loyal. And he held the line, just like I had asked him too, while I was away.

I looked bleakly at the ground. “This…

“This will probably heal by morning, you know?”

*****
I stayed next to his bones through the announcement that we had won, through the the visit from Jen, from Whipman, and strangely from Ashni, who just stood next to me, joining me for a short while in my vigil. She also brought me Jerry’s report on our troop numbers.

Staff Sergeant TimStaff Sergeant DrudgeLvl 24
TurnipArcher of the Blood OwlLvl 19
Vineling MonstrosityLvl 19
TicklesBlighted GhoulLvl 15
Gerard KiefhartReanimated AntphoLvl 17
HaeughMurloc ChieftainLvl 14
Skeleton Bear(x2)Lvl 14
Skeleton Archer(x6)Lvl 14
Shroom BearerLvl 13
Skeleton Archer(x22)Lvl 13
Skeleton Archer (x6)Lvl 12
Murloc Brawler (x3)Lvl 11
Murloc Trapper (x8)Lvl 10
Muloc Hunter (x49)Lvl 8
Murloc SlingerLvl 8
Murloc Hunter (x90)Lvl 6
Murloc Slinger(x43)Lvl 4
Murloc Villager (x799)Lvl 1
Total Combat Minions: 233


Of my summoned undead, only 41 remained. Although they did grow much stronger, I still couldn’t consider it a success. Almost reflexively, I looked at the bones.


The strange vibrating noise he made was like a dull ache in my heart, and I kept imagining that I could hear it.

Just as I was getting up to leave, planning on consulting with Jerry about summoning more minions, I could bear it no longer.

“Dammit!”

I leapt downward and smashed the bones to pieces. They were an eyesore. A reminder I didn’t want. A constant….

Tilting my head to the side, I realized I really COULD hear it. I smashed around, more careful now, seeking the noise. Finally, I ripped aside a huge femur, revealing one of Yellow Bones skulls. Without the fire in its eyes, it just appeared sad, a remnant of a fallen monster.

But the vibration was consistent. I smashed the skull open, my stomach in knots.

Inside was a small creature, smaller than my forearm. It was composed entirely of black bones.

Half laughing, I sputtered, “You little shit.”

After a moment, I picked him up, and said. “I guess we will call you Black Bones from now on, huh?”

He purred in contentment, his tail thing wrapping around my arm.





***2nd Author's Note***

Why are the boxes suddenly left justified...? If someone can tell me how to fix it, I would appreciate it.
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