For the following few days, I took it easy within the Sky Citadel, allowing my soul to slowly recover. At the same time, I continued my normal training of my other skills, and kept an eye on Fafnir. After leaving him to his own devices, it seemed that he hollowed out another mountain to use as his base, once again spending most of his time asleep.
Once a day, he would fly out from the mountain to hunt, attacking the larger monsters that could be found on the island. I would honestly rather he hunt sea monsters, as they were larger and would cause less damage to the locals if he hunted them, but… I didn’t want to have Tsubaki training him until she was back to her full strength.
Speaking of Tsubaki, I was rather glad to see that she was spending most of her time focusing on recovery. Although I made it a point not to log onto Vision Expanse for a little while, wanting to let the excitement about my big reveal die off a bit, I saw that she was logging on herself, on both of her accounts.
For her first account, she was using the same character that she had used to meet me, training until she had reached level eleven before stopping. Knowing that that was my level, she seemed determined not to advance any further for the time being, swapping her focus to her other character.
“Welcome back, Tsubaki.” Vivi spoke up as she stood in front of the kitsune for the second time. “Are you ready to begin your second character?”
Tsubaki took a deep breath, closing her eyes and nodding. “Before I begin, I have a couple of questions for you, to help me determine what I want to get.” When she opened her eyes, seeing that Vivi was waiting for her to continue, she asked… “Is it possible to attain the Perfect Self within Vision Expanse?”
A small smile crept over Vivi’s lips. “It is, yes. The process might be slightly different from what you know, due to a difference in energy laws, however the skills of Perfection are within the game.”
Tsubaki nodded her head sharply. “Good. Then my next question… is there a level beyond the Perfect Self? Is there a higher goal that I can reach for?”
This question seemed to momentarily stun Vivi, before a look of understanding dawned over her face. “Tsubaki… let me tell you this… there is no ‘pinnacle’ of power. No flat plateau where you stop being able to train. There is always a way to improve. Do not let the title of Perfect sway your thoughts. It is only perfection on a mortal level.”
“Thank you for your advice.” Tsubaki bowed deeply towards Vivi. “I will remember your words. For this character… please use my proper appearance and name. For my skill, please grant me ki control.”
Vivi nodded her head. “Very well, it has been done. May I offer you a word of advice before you go?”
Tsubaki didn’t seem to want to stop her, so Vivi let out a long breath. “Don’t rely too much on the specific paths you can take within this world. I can feel a thirst for strength that you didn’t have the last time, but that only makes me warn you more forcefully. If you try to replicate a path from within Vision Expanse, you may find your vision going astray. Take what you learn here as guidelines. Study the principles, and compare them with what you know. That will give you all that you need to succeed.”
Tsubaki offered another thankful nod, before she was sent down. Her starting position did not matter much to her, so she simply asked Vivi to randomize it. If she could have started in the wilderness, she would have. Instead, she sent a glance around the city that she had spawned in, noting that it was an unfamiliar location to her, before immediately leaving.
It was time for her to return to her roots. Time to once again undergo the trial of blood. As she went, she sent a harsh request towards Vivi. If I die on this character to a monster, please delete my character.
Okay… so maybe she wasn’t relaxing as much as I had initially hoped. She was playing the game, meaning that her body was resting, allowing her to properly recover all of the energies that she had spent training the army. However, what she was doing was by no means relaxing.
Aside from coming out of the game to handle meals and daily chores such as sweeping the halls of the citadel, Tsubaki spent almost all of her time within the game. And she was taking her training within the game very seriously. Using the knowledge of how to properly handle ki and her copious battle experience, she was able to take on monsters several levels above herself, offering her a degree of safety within the wilds that most other players couldn’t receive.
Yet, that alone wasn’t enough. She camped within the trees, creating crude traps and ambushes. Whether it was a player or a monster, everything that she saw was an enemy in her eyes, a challenge to fuel her growth. And sometimes… she failed that challenge.
One the third day after she began her trial, she was ambushed by a pack of hungry monsters. On their own, no big threat, and she was able to kill them. But in doing so, she attracted the attention of more powerful beasts. Before she had the chance to run, she had been afflicted with a paralyzing poison, leaving her little hope of survival.
And thus, she had her first death. The first failure of her trial. As she had requested, her character was immediately deleted after the death. Then, she started over. The same name, the same skill, in a new random location. Making sure that she didn’t have the benefit of knowing the terrain before she entered.
As I watched her, the time had come for the army to set off. It was less than an hour away before the invasion began. But I didn’t let her know. I hadn’t told her the exact time of their departure, because this training seemed to be important to her. Her determination was clear, and I didn’t want to distract her from it.
Shaking my head, I sent a request to Aurivy to transport the citadel after letting Fafnir know that I would be leaving for a little while. Thankfully, the fact that our connection was handled through installed portals meant that we could move the citadel anywhere without losing the signal, so long as we didn’t end up in an ‘isolated’ location like a locked floor of Fyor.
Once we had arrived, I walked out of the throne room, past the hanging garden and out to the cliff. Beneath the citadel, a sea of shining armor greeted me. Over twenty million individuals standing in their appointed formations. Glancing at the time remaining, I gave a gentle nod of my head.
When I spoke, I projected my voice out with mana to reach everyone below. “Thank you for answering my call, everyone. I know that this isn’t an easy decision for many of you. Some have friends, families, loves that you are leaving behind. However, I believe that what you fight for is an honorable thing.”
“You are fighting to keep them safe, to ensure that your friends can wake up without fear. The threat you choose to face is one that could destroy everything we love, if given the chance. You face monsters on a scale you’ve never known. But you do so with pride.”
“Whether you fight for the glory of battle, the desire to protect, or the simple wish to choose your own path… you have my sincere thanks. I hope that I will be able to see you all again some day. That you can truly emerge victorious in this battle.” As I finished speaking, the system window appeared in front of me.
The time has come for your invasion! The defending Keeper, Vanity, has been notified and is standing by in their world! Please select all troops which you wish to send, and describe the method in which you wish for them to be sent. Note that you will only receive a reward from your invasion if you successfully capture the opposing Keeper’s world.
Currently selected troops: 0
I closed my eyes and focused, mentally selecting the army that had been laid out before me. As for the method to send them… “Begin your march.” I gave the command, and a massive energy rose up from the ground beneath the citadel, forming into a red and black arch, a portal of swirling energy.
For their part, there was no hesitation from the troops. When they saw the portal appear, they marched towards it. One by one they vanished, and I watched the number of selected troops increasing. For a full ten minutes, I stood there and oversaw the troops departing. Only when the last one had left did the portal close, vanishing without a trace.
I knew that it was unrealistic to expect that there would be any kind of resolution to the invasion quickly. Unless they appeared directly in front of the Keeper, it was almost impossible for it to end so fast. Assuming, of course, that they didn’t get split up and divided across the entire world. I could only hope that that would not be the case.
Giving a long sigh, I turned around, walking back inside towards the throne room. How’d I do? I asked mentally, not particularly caring who it was that answered.
Well, it wasn’t terrible, at least. Aurivy spoke up in an attempt to cheer me up. Who knows… with Tubrock’s equipment, they may just have a chance.
Speaking of… Hey, Tubrock… how did you make equipment for that many people so quickly?
Ah, ye mean the armors? I’ve been workin’ on those for ages! Got ‘em on a mass production line to use up some of the ores that keep gettin’ offered up to me. For their weapons… that was a bit trickier. Had to use a fair bit of my energy crafting suitable weapons quickly, and wasn’t able to give them the special attention I would’a liked. Still, should be better than most mortal creations, I reckon.
I nodded when I heard that. With how many armors he handed out, it was clear that he couldn’t have made them all that quickly. There were simply too many of them. If he had been mass producing for a while, that made more sense. How many sets of that armor do you still have? I recalled him saying that he didn’t have any suitable armor for me when I went to hunt the scorpions… but that dragon armor should have been more than enough.
About ten thousand or so of the blessed steel. Used up almost all of my reserves for it. Bit shoddy on the work, but again, can’t give special attention to mass production.
So it was just that he didn’t consider the armor good enough, because he hadn’t given it special treatment? Still, I had to admit that he was the expert. There was the chance that my own ki-enhanced skin might be stronger than the mass produced armor he made. What are you working on now?
The others told me that ye settled on what domain ye want to pick. So, I’m makin’ you a weapon for it! His words surprised me. I didn’t expect him to get to work on something like that so quickly. Maybe after I had upgraded my divinity to the next stage, sure… but he seemed pretty enthusiastic about this.
Thinking it over, I moved back inside the citadel, walking through the halls. I made my way back towards Tsubaki’s room, and found a paper and pen on her desk. If I sent the message to her directly, I knew that she would want to come out and bid me farewell. But, looking at the screen, I could see that she was currently lying in wait for an ambush, and logging out would only ruin her chances.
So, I wrote her a note, letting her know that I would be going back ‘home’ for a little while to take care of some things. It would likely be a few weeks before I returned, and I didn’t want her to be constantly waiting for me. This trial of hers was something that seemed to be helping her, and I fully supported her efforts in it. As a last note, I wished her well on her trial, and that she would pull through just as she had the first one.
As for me… since the army had left, and everyone else seemed to be getting ready for it… it was time to start training the next step.