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Wish upon the Stars (Original Superhero cultivation sci fi litrpg)

Discussion in 'Creative Writing' started by Malcolm Tent, Mar 19, 2022.

  1. Threadmarks: chapter 315
    Malcolm Tent

    Malcolm Tent Experienced.

    Oct 16, 2020
    Likes Received:
    We didn't hear back from Alexander until the next day. Since we had one more after this before the auction I let the Beast Lord Initiates do another full five wishes to preload some more days for later. I'd have to work out some kind of arrangement for after I left. I managed to get the points in Might this time, which was nice, and put me at nine hundred nineteen points total.

    When they F-rankers arrived in the morning I left the five wishes for that day unused, ready for the emergency escape wishes my friends would need, and went to greet them with the others. I'd been curious what Alexander would manage to put together for his niece, if anything, but I was shocked to see four fresh F-rank elites waiting for us at the Pavilion when we woke up (we slept in the rooms in the back that Mel used when she worked overnight) all looking ready for a fight.

    The four people that Alexander sent were...weird. They all wore black robes and masks, and seemed pretty much indistinguishable from each other. Not just at a surface level wither, their actual conceptual weight was basically identical, and nearly everything about them made it impossible to tell which was which. Only one of them ever spoke at a time, but which one it was changed sentence to sentence, with seemingly no communication to let them know whose turn it was.

    When we arrived, all four of the figures bowed to Callie. "Young mistress." Said one. "The Nothing sends his greetings." Said another. "We are the four as one. Though only recently having reached the F-rank, we are powerful for our tier. We will be your guardians on this mission." A third spoke up, informing us of their identity. It was functionally impossible to tell their voices apart.

    Abel whistled. "Quadruplets I'm guessing. And they probably cultivate as a group. It's tricky to pull that off. Makes it much harder to accumulate individual stat points. Still, I'm betting they have some variation of the Paired Dueling Skill that works for all four of them. Sucks for them they're already F-ranked. They would have been a hell of a team in the tournament. Still, I see why they were available to take us down there. They're going to be at early F-rank for quite a while, having to share all the renown like that."

    One of the four nodded. "You are correct." Another spoke up. "Still, we do not feel displeased. We can be of use to The Nothing, this is our honor." I raised an eyebrow at that but didn't comment. I imagined training quadruplet Ascendants would be extremely taxing. Alexander must have invested a ton into their development, in time if not resources. It made sense they would be grateful.

    Mel cleared her throat. "As...nice, as this all is. We still have to discuss our resource allocation for this. We've managed to cobble together a total of three E-ranked chits for this auction, with a few F-ranked left over. That's not a small amount by any means, but some of the visiting factions will have just as much if not more. We should probably expect that we'll end up using all of our money on two or three big ticket items. We might be able to afford some smaller stuff like armor and weapons too, but we need to decide what we're aiming for, at least in general terms."

    I looked over to Callie, who nodded. "I'd been considering that actually. We know we want a blank Skill Crystal. G-ranked if possible so I can imprint a Beginner Skill on it. If we can get our hands on something that can increase soul restoration like Clockwork's belt that would be good too. Hopefully something that works on an area rather than an individual. Other than those priorities we should just pick up anything we can find that can help multiple people improve. Maybe a few useful Skills if they pop up."

    We'd been looking into faction building since we took over the Pavilion, but at our rank there really wasn't a ton you could do to improve the foundation of lots of people at once. Soul strength, as we had learned recently, was important, so having a way to replenish that for training would be huge, but other than that and buying Skills like Callie said, pills were probably the only real option, and those were of course limited by the elixir limit at each tier.

    The only bright spot there was that while there wasn't too many options right now, any results we saw would bring prestige to the Pavilion itself, and as members our people would benefit. Once people heard about the Pavilion more, wearing its symbol and being a known member would help add reputation to those who worked under us. It would turn into a feedback loop.

    That was why factions were so ubiquitous on Callus, and pretty much everywhere else. Any possible way to squeeze out a bit of extra rep was necessary. Honestly I'd been surprised by the way the cultivation worked when I'd first heard how we got stronger. I'd expected more politics and PR. But the fact was people cultivated for power, and SHOWING that power was what they did to show the results of that cultivation.

    Because of that, demonstrating power was the easiest way to cut through the bullshit. Branding and PR were important, as we saw from the Academy, but when there were people blowing up cars and hurling fireballs in the streets, it was much less impressive to HEAR about someone doing that. Stories and rumors still influenced growth of course, but not as much as getting out and showing tangible evidence of what you could do. Especially since those feats spawned stories and rumors of their own anyway.

    After Callie finished her list, Mel took a minute to think before nodding. "We might be able to get a bulk price on some pills too. Our people haven't hit their limits on elixirs for the most part. The way we used to run things, we prioritized combat strength over everything. I still think that's the way to go, but if we're pushing for active expansion a marked improvement in a large number of people in a short time would be best. With the Beast Lord Garden backing us we won't have to worry about standing out and getting smacked down."

    I hadn't considered before why the Pavilion wasn't more well known actually. Granted, Abel had been away, but Alden had trained both him and Mel, so logically he should have been able to train more powerful Ascendants. Even if they didn't reach the same level they should have been pretty strong. Instead it had been a small regional force in the Cavalcade that no one outside the circus had heard of.

    Thinking about the whole mess with the deed and the attack from Sanctuary Hall though, it was pretty dangerous to stick out in the WCP without some kind of background, even in G-district. That was easy to see when you took into account how quickly things escalated once Burning Fist and the Peace Lord became involved.

    "Alright." I said. "Agria, Nightstrike, Clockwork, I had some things I wanted to talk to you about before we left if you have a second." I'd expected to be waiting longer before we left, but if we were heading back down soon we should get the escape wishes out of the way. When they followed me over, I didn't need to say anything to them. They already knew about the escape wishes from before, so the three of them naturally didn't need to be reminded.

    Each of them made a wish to be able to escape from Doomtown if they were put in mortal danger, and I was able to grant them all. Given how much power was needed, I had to get five of each attack before I could grant the wishes. Since I was at my full ten after only two attacks from Callie and Benny and three from Jessie, we settled on a geass that they would let me store attacks as I used them up. I felt better having topped up my heal bursts and those density shifted triple strength attacks were damn useful, so it wasn't a bad deal for me.

    Once that was done Benny and Callie headed back over to join the others, but when I moved to follow them Jessie grabbed my arm. "Hey Shane, hang on a second." I turned to cock my head at my tiny blonde teammate. "I was hoping we could try a wish. Specifically I was hoping to with for a Beginner Level Beast Bonding Skill with Randall as my bonded beast. I can pay with another...let say twenty five heal bursts added onto my tab."

    Wish detected. Grant wish? I confirmed, interested to see what that kind of thing would cost. Stat points sufficient. Requirements: 36 Impact, 450 Perception, 444 Focus, 540 Fantasy. I blinked at that. Fantasy wasn't what I'd have expected for something like this, but Perception and Focus both made sense. Actually now that I considered it Fantasy did too, given the way the Fate Sense worked, Fantasy clearly had a sensory component too. Given that it didn't mention requiring compensation I supposed the payment was enough too.

    "I can do it." I said slowly. "But are you sure? Wishes scale in difficulty, and not just to grant. Beginner Skills are EXTREMELY painful to receive. I'm not saying you can't survive it or something like that, but it's going to be agonizing. You sure you don't want to wish for a lower level of this Skill and work your way up?" I knew it was unfair to Jessie to worry like that, but I couldn't help it. Callie was tough as nails, and despite that she'd been devastated by receiving her Beginner Shadow Manipulation Mastery Skill.

    Jessie just stared at me, eyes hard and stance firm. I sighed and nodded. "Alright. Go get Randall. Having him here for this will be necessary. He should be waiting outside for the trip right?" She nodded and lit up, racing off to go fetch her companion. Truth be told I didn't need him here. I could have granted the wish without him. But if he was here I was pretty sure he could take some of the pain, plus he actually did need to give permission at least, since he'd be getting a Skill too.

    It also occurred to me that this was the first time someone had wished for a paired Skill, and she'd paid for it all by herself. No wonder the damn Skill had been so expensive. I also knew that Beginner Skills from my wish power gave a better foundation for advancement. Even if Intermediate Skills weren't really viable to wish for without fucking up your advancement, it meant that my teammates could still wish got Beginner versions of new Skills they wanted to acquire later in our journey.

    When she came back with the bear I led them both off to the side where the four wouldn't see me granting this wish. A big electrified giant bear was bound to be eye catching. Once we got there Jessie explained what was going to happen, using her vital energy to convey the messages more easily. Randall didn't mind, and actually seemed excited, despite being warned of the pain.

    I briefly considered Jessie's lifeweaver ability, and how consistent infusion of life energy could alter an animal. I wondered how this bond would work out for them? Regardless I'd been paid and the excuses were out of the way. As I let the electricity build across my skin, I reached out and placed a hand on both Jessie and Randall, closing my eyes as I allowed the wish to wash over them both, infusing the Skill into their brains. As they choked back screams I winced, but forced myself to persevere. This would definitely make them both much safer in Doomtown.
  2. Threadmarks: chapter 316
    Malcolm Tent

    Malcolm Tent Experienced.

    Oct 16, 2020
    Likes Received:
    With one wish remaining for the day, I was still feeling pretty secure as we headed back down to Doomtown. "So." Said Benny as we walked. "Tell me about this place? What did you all do for the last week? I hope this wasn't some excuse for a second vacation, because if I was training my ass off while you were lounging on a beach somewhere I'm going to be pretty pissed."

    I cracked up at the beach remark, because we'd gone to the beach twice, and could have died both times. "Yes to the beach no to the lounging. We spent most of the time down here either fighting or doing crazy training exercises that would have probably killed anyone else. Still, we've gotten a lot stronger. You'll see when we take part in the tournament. Speaking of stronger, Agria, how you doing over there?" I shouted over to Jessie, who was seated on Randall's back, swaying slightly as he walked.

    She shook her head hard, noticing us seemingly for the first time. "Huh? Oh, sorry...this is...intense. I felt some level of connection with my ravens during the scavenger hunt, but this feels like...more. I feel stronger now, or at least able to draw on more strength. I think my Might will increase over time. Plus my life energy is pouring through the link. It feels like Randall is constantly being infused and growing too, though VERY slowly."

    I'd considered that possibility, but she made it sound a bit more impressive than I expected. Having a way to get stronger like that was amazing. "You think he'll get to E-rank eventually?" That would be way more impressive than I had expected from that kind of Skill. It was only at the Beginner level, and being able to make her companion rank up like that would be HUGE.

    Jessie just giggled. "Gods no. At least not anytime soon. There's a huge gap between ranks. Randall's Vitality will slowly rise over time, but unless I break through to F-rank and rank up the Bond there's no way it'll get that far. Still, the effects will get more impressive as I get stronger. This is amazing, it'll definitely cover for my specializing in healing."

    "How is it so strong? Gradual growth without training is crazy." I couldn't hide the shock and slight envy in my voice. She'd gotten insanely lucky. "I mean, I'm glad you're getting so much out of it, but still, I can't believe a beginner Skill gives so much benefit."

    She just laughed again. "It's resonance between the Bond and my ability. They're extremely compatible. I could probably synergize them at my next rank up if I wanted, but I'm staying focused on healing personally. Randall will handle the attack and defense stuff. Plus it's less impressive than it sounds. Randall will grow VERY slowly, probably slower than he would with just regular exposure to people, and my Might won't ever get higher than his, and probably won't even catch up."

    Knowing there were limits helped a bit, but still, Jessie was going to benefit from this a ton. Her lifeweaver ability really gave her a ton of utility. It was shockingly powerful for our rank. I know if her Vitality hadn't been so overwhelmingly high for her rank she never would have gotten such an overpowered ability, but it was still staggering. I was sure someone had studied what combinations of Skills and stats unlocked what, but I doubted anyone had managed to synergize Jessie's exact Skills with such a high percentage of Vitality.

    It made some sense that it would be so strong though. The combined effects of her having frightening amounts of Vitality to fuel it and the fact that the ability was almost exclusively based on that one stat harmonized to create a limited but monstrous power. With Randall to cover for her one weakness in the form of low battle potential, there was no telling how far Jessie could go, especially with me here to keep funneling Vitality points to her. If she wanted to resurrect her brother, I suspected she was definitely headed in the right direction.

    Benny, meanwhile, looked exasperated. "I should have waited before I wished for my ability. Oh well, doesn't matter. With my Inventing at Intermediate I can begin to slowly steer the basic direction I want my created objects to have. Not by much, but I can at least decide on a general vibe. I might not have Agria's overpowered ability, but my own is only limited by the fantastic items I can make. I won't let the rest of you leave me in the dust."

    Personally I was pretty sure that strengthening his soul was going to be far more important than the raw stats Jessie might be accruing, but he'd figure that out on his own eventually. I'd seen huge dividends from my soul strengthening over time, and definitely planned to get a belt like that if I could find one. It would be insanely useful for me, even if not quite as useful as it was for Benny.

    I didn't know how not integrating it like he did would alter the effects, but I suspected it would definitely do so. We kept talking like that as we walked, discussing how they might improve, how we had already improved, and where we might go as a group in the future. The Moonsong Glade was going to be a huge opportunity for all of us, especially Jessie, considering some of the animals we were bound to come across there.

    Randall being her bonded companion didn't mean she couldn't still tame beasts. Lily was still trailing behind her mistress, and Rolf was playing with Rellia and Jin as we walked. The wolves had been incredibly happy to see each other, though not as happy as they'd been to see Jessie, with her magical life force infusing ear scritches. It was sweet to see all the puppies playing together.

    In general I was just happy to have the team back together. I loved spending time alone with Callie, but being in combat and going on adventures without the whole gang just felt kind of wrong. Being down here with everyone was much more fun. Sadly we had to stop talking about the Bond pretty quickly, since Sloane came over to chat with Jessie. Honestly my Stealth Skill got a ton of work when I discussed almost anything, given how many secrets I had. I had to constantly be sure not to be overheard.

    Still, Sloane was just excited to see Jessie. The two of them trained together pretty often in the Beast Lord Garden, especially while Callie and I had been doing our months of training with Abel and Mel. They were pretty close, and Sloane was almost as excited to see our blonde teammate as we were.

    We headed back to the Blue Robin when we reached Doomtown. We hadn't actually checked out, just missed a night sleeping there, so we were able to keep our rooms easily enough, and Sydney, Megan, Wren, and Vector were all there when we arrived to say hello. Wren was the firs to notice us as we came into the main room. "Hey, they you are! Didn't see you all yesterday. Looks like you picked up some strays."

    I shrugged. "They followed us home. We were going to tell them to beat it but she has a giant bear, which is pretty cool so we figured we'd be nice." Benny rolled his eyes and smacked me upside the back of the head, not that I even felt it through my hood. I plopped down at the table with them, gesturing for the others to pull up some chairs. "So, where's Lament? She and Master Saiten getting ready for the big auction?"

    Wren snorted. "They're meeting with Falken, he finally showed up. We've been waiting for that lazy moron for months now. He's almost as strong as Lament though, so he does what he wants, which admittedly is usually sleep. As for Master Saiten, sadly he can't come. The local forces made an exception for him to come down here and guard Lament out of respect for her status as a Master Candidate, but even that won't convince them to let an E-ranker attend an auction."

    I grimaced, but nodded. I could see it. It would be impossible for that to go fairly. Granted, there would be external factors in any auction, but since everyone in the auction house would be max of low F-rank, Master Saiten could literally do whatever he wanted. Even if he was too honorable to actually do that (which I had no way of confirming) the other people at the auction would take a step back to avoid pissing him off just in case.

    Wren seemed to know what I was thinking. "Yeah, he would compromise the proceedings. Still, he's pretty pissed about having to miss it, and he would probably have forbidden the two of them to go if the others attending wouldn't be incapable of harming them. Plus neither of them listens particularly well, even to him." He snickered at the older Ascendant's misfortune. "You know how Lament is."

    I'd met Lament for like a total of three hours and yes, I knew how Lament was. I didn't even need to question if she would ignore someone because she felt like it. Jessie, who had been forced to leave Randall outside, held out a hand to Wren. "Hi there, I'm Agria, since Solomon forgot to introduce me. That's Clockword over there. We're members of his team, though not for the tournament itself."

    That startled a laugh out of the big spearman, who took her hand and shook it firmly. "You're the one with the bear? Or was that a joke? Because I would love to see a giant bear. I'm Wren by the way, that's Vector." He nodded to his traveling companion.

    "I do have a giant bear!" Jessie chirped excitedly. "His name is Randall! Do you want to meet him?" She turned her head to Vector. "Nice to meet you by the way. You two as well." The last was aimed at Megan and Sydney, and the two rabbit eared girls smiled back at her warmly.

    They'd been staying out of our banter, but after being addressed directly, Megan spoke up. "You too. And I'm with big and stabby over there, I'd love to meet a giant bear." She tapped her sister in the ribs with her elbow. "How about you Syd? You've always been a big fan of animals. Want to meet a giant teddy?"

    Sydney blushed at the obvious dig at her being childish, but she didn't say no, which got a laugh from all of us. Callie rolled her eyes at me. "See what you do? We're back ten minutes and you're introducing our secret weapons to the competition." Despite the criticism, her teasing tone made it clear she didn't really care. Jessie wasn't in the tournament anyway, so it hardly mattered.

    Chatting happily, we all got up to head outside to let the others see Randall. The Blue Robin had a stable for mounts. They weren't incredibly common, but beast tamers DID show up in the WCP from time to time and some of them rode on their beasts. Plus, they could repurpose the place for other uses when there was no one in it, so it wasn't really a waste. It turned out that the stable was actually underground, which explained why I hadn't seen it when we arrived.

    Everyone fussed over Randall, who seemed much more docile after bonding, though he still had that same imperious air to him. As we all talked about the upcoming auction, I considered again what might be coming. I still had a bad feeling about Mordaunt, who had invited us, but Callie had taken my worries seriously and we had four F-rankers who could probably fight twice their number, not to mention Abel, and probably Lament. Whatever would happen tomorrow, I was confident we could handle it. All I could do now was enjoy a day of peace with my friends.
  3. Threadmarks: chapter 317
    Malcolm Tent

    Malcolm Tent Experienced.

    Oct 16, 2020
    Likes Received:
    The rest of the day passed quickly, and at the end of the night I gave my last wish to one of the Beast Lord Initiates. I got three points of Might, bringing me to an even one hundred sixty. With that out of the way we set out to meet with the others to attend the auction. Lament was coming, along with her partner Falken, Sydney and Megan were bringing Riley and the rest of their people, and we had the four with us, along with Abel, Mel, Sloane, Beric, Croll, and the wolves. Even Randall was able to come, since apparently the auction house was fucking huge.

    While all the other buildings were small and squat, the auction house was a towering structure of black stone, even on the outside. Looking up at the massive facade of the building, with its dark stone columns and a pair of black stone lions perched out front, it was hard not to be impressed. I had to keep pushing my definition of impressive up a notch every time I saw something new down here.

    Lament met us out front, and standing next to her was a tired looking guy with messy dark hair and brown eyes with dark circles around them. He looked pale and kind of thin, but not in an unhealthy way, more in the way of someone who never goes out or does anything. He had a spear with him that he was leaning against like a staff, and his eyes were lidded like he was about to fall asleep. I could see what Wren meant about him usually being asleep, I got the impression that he was a lazy person just from being around him.

    Mordaunt appeared beside us, Rahm at her heels, so quickly I almost didn't notice that she hadn't been there all along. "You're here!" She said with a wide smile. "Oh good, I was worried my guests wouldn't show up and that I would end up looking stupid. Wasn't I Rahm?" The massive bandaged man didn't respond in any appreciable way, but Mordaunt nodded like he had. "Oh, and you brought more friends? Oh well, the more the merrier."

    That set off alarm bells. I'd been pretty sure that this was a trap before, but that made me positive. Callie had explained to me when I told her my suspicions that an easy test would be bringing more people. Mordaunt had mentioned spots for the auction, and we'd clearly gone over what she'd implied she was allotted. The fact that she didn't even blink at that made it clear the slots had just been an excuse.

    I could have gotten the others in anyway, I was pretty sure, given my ties to the WCP, but this had been a good test. Now we knew for sure she was up to something, and to be on guard. Luckily, the four came with us, and they would most likely be a huge asset in any fight. Maybe not quite as much as Abel, but then again, maybe they would be since there were four of them. Shooting Callie a look we followed Mordaunt as she led us in.

    The inside of the place was even bigger, of course, and I was impressed by how fancy it was. Wall to wall black marble, with luxurious thick rugs and several large marble counters, behind which sat people in black and gold clothing that looked way nicer than pretty much anything else in Doomtown. "So." I said as I saw the workers. "How exactly is this place not constantly robbed? Because this looks like the kind of place someone would break into and steal everything tat isn't nailed down. And then steal the nails. Especially in a lawless shithole like a dark district."

    Granted we were near the Robin, and I knew this part of town was nicer and safer, but still, this whole thing seemed to rely on a preponderance of force. Abel, of course, answered with a chuckle. "Because the WCP says not to. Don't forget where we are. This entire lawless area exists at the sufferance of the WCP leadership. If the bosses decided to clean this out they could do it in an instant. The E-rankers have enough power to raze this whole district. It's happened before. Places like this are declared neutral areas and people listen, because they don't want to die."

    That...hadn't occurred to me. I still had trouble viewing the WCP in the way that he was talking about. But it made sense. They were a powerful and terrifying organization, not just at a local level, but in general. The fact that they were strong enough to force the Unity to allow them to have a presence like this in the Conglomerate, when he was a literal god and this was his territory, was evidence enough of that.

    My mentor stopped talking as he noticed someone off to one side, and his eyes narrowed as I saw him tense up. I was shocked to see that, he wasn't the type to be worried about other people, especially not down here, but as his eyes focused on a tall, tanned man in worn clothing with a thick beard, his body seemed to shift unconsciously into a defensive stance. "Shit." He said heatedly. "Helix is here."

    Helix was an Ascendant Owen had mentioned, one of the old Titan Twenty from Abel's day who got lost in one of Mad Madigan's mazes and had gone slightly crazy. I remembered that clearly because Abel had described him as 'scary', which wasn't a description I'd heard him use for many things. Megan cleared her throat. "Slime hall is in attendance too." Said the Wave Warren ringer, with a grimace.

    One by one, powerful people were noted. Some local, some not, some we'd heard of, some we hadn't. Rayka Vale, another of Abel and Mel's old competitors, Dread's daughter, an early F-ranker named Abomina, and the child of Screaming Stevie who called himself the Wailing Win. As well as a few people we knew like Cold Snap and Macgregor. The place gradually filled with powerful Ascendants, and the combined weight of their Impact gave it a strange and worrying feel.

    One of the workers, a man in a black and gold suit, stepped out from behind a counter. "Ladies and Gentlemen. We will begin the auction in a few hours, once all the parties have arrived. Feel free to chat amongst yourselves, out here, or in the main auction room. There's also a side area where you may sell some of your less exotic wares to raise funds for the main event, should you feel it worthwhile. Please remember that the Walking Silence Auction is a peaceful affair, and any attempts to disrupt it will be met with harsh reprisals."

    No one looked even remotely interested in trying anything like that, given the people guaranteeing the safety of this place. You'd need to be a member of the five faction alliance to be willing to mess with the WCP and none of them had a reason to try. Not for something this small and out of the way. As he finished talking, he retreated behind the counter again, letting everyone mingle.

    Which is how we were approached by someone I hadn't expected to see. Fisher, who had actually rode his motorcycle into the auction house (which I guess was fair since Jessie had ridden a bear) rolled up to us. "You." He said faintly. "Members of the Academy. Wasn't expecting to see any others at this thing. We aren't exactly at the right level. Most of the Unity members here are the children of E-rankers."

    He didn't say it like an accusation, or like he even cared that much. Just like a statement of fact, like he was telling us what the weather was like. Despite being fairly scary for a G-ranker, he struck me as kind of dull in some ways. Callie, ever the politician, smiled and held out a hand. "We remember you too. I'm Nightstrike. This is Agria, Clockwork, and my boyfriend Solomon. It's nice to see a classmate here. Will you be taking place in the tournament?"

    Because he seemed a LOT stronger than he had during the scavenger hunt. It was frankly worrying how quickly he'd managed to advance. Though to be fair, he did have a hundred points of elixir potential to use, so that probably helped. He gave a single sharp nod as an answer, and I had to fight a smile, this guy was not talkative. Seeming to have gotten what he wanted, he stared at us for a few seconds, then turned around and rode off without another word.

    "Cool bike." Said Abel conversationally. "Weird kid. But cool bike. So you guys want to go and check out the market before the auction. I know we had certain things we needed to buy, but there are a few odds and ends we could probably pick up there. If nothing else, Clockwork may be able to find some more powerful items to use as materials." He sounded...guarded. In a way I hadn't ever heard from him before.

    Still, it was a good idea, so we agreed, and headed off to the side section where the suited man had pointed us all when announcing things. We could see people setting up tables and stalls. Some with furniture supplied by the auction and some they seemed to have brought with them. I saw Mordaunt slip away, and resisted the urge to follow her. It was better to stay in a group, and trailing the Darkling Institute member en masse would draw attention I didn't want or need.

    We looked around for a while, and didn't see too much. I managed to find an honest to gods space ring, but I couldn't justify buying it because it would have cost a chunk of our funds for this whole trip. Though I did manage to get a physically larger and much less spacious spatial belt pouch for the three F-ranked chits we had outside the auction funds. I suspected it would be well worth it when we got to the Moonsong Glade.

    Other than that, we mostly just looked around, taking note of who was doing the best business and how much they were making, so we could see who we would be betting against. The whole affair had a feeling of tense unease to it. Nothing overt, everyone tried to play relaxed, but there was discomfort and worry bubbling under the surface. The puppies were the only ones who seemed not to care about the tension, with Jin and Rolf playing tag around the tables.

    Surprisingly, Celine even showed up, though rather than Martin and Sarah, she had a dangerous looking elf in leather armor at her side, a female F-ranker with purple hair and intense glacial blue eyes she introduced as Shana. They joined up with the group, with Shana shooting suspicious looks at the four and at Abel, obviously competent enough to tell that they were threats.

    Finally, after a few hours, the man in the suit stepped back out, clearing his throat. "Attention! May I have your attention!" Everyone turned to look at him. "It is now time for the auction to begin. We expect everyone to take their seats in an orderly fashion. Once all the guests have been seated, we will begin the proceedings. Thank you." He turned and headed into the large room full of seats where the auction would be taking place.

    We all followed, slowly and deliberately, but trying our best to seem at ease. Despite that, I felt my stomach clench. I didn't see Mordaunt anywhere. I wasn't sure what was going on, but I suspected I wouldn't like it. At the very least I hoped we could get through the auction first. Once that was done we could worry about the rest of this. The question was, what WAS the rest of this? What could she do in a place like this? And why was I so worried, despite knowing how safe we should be?
  4. Threadmarks: chapter 318
    Malcolm Tent

    Malcolm Tent Experienced.

    Oct 16, 2020
    Likes Received:
    The man in the suit, whose name we still hadn't been told, headed up onto the stage to wait patiently while everyone got seated. Once we finished doing that, he cleared his throat, his voice somehow covering the entire room without going above a normal speaking tone. It cut through all the chatter, silencing everyone still talking. With a wide smile, the man said. "Welcome, to the Walking Silence Auction! I am your host and auctioneer, Selwyn Carridan."

    He gestured to one side, as a pair of heavy set men in black and gold carried out a chest, setting it on a pedestal that had just risen from the stage. "Tonight, you will see many items. Some will be amazing, some macabre, some simply strange. Please remember to keep your seats, as well as your wits about you. And remember that the protection the auction house affords buyers will last until you leave this district, or for three hours after the auction. Whichever comes first. Past that point, the fate of your purchases lies only on your own shoulders."

    That was actually much kinder than I had expected from the WCP. Then again, their reputation for business had always been sterling. "Now." Said Selwyn, moving on. "I will begin the auction with something enticing, but perhaps not nearly so intriguing as some of you may hope." He snapped his fingers, and the chest fell open, revealing a single, blue metal glove.

    It was easy to feel that the glove was G-ranked, and on the higher end of that scale. "This." Said the auctioneer. "Is our first item up for bid. The hand of a frost knight. A powerful but slow acting chill pervades this gauntlet. It isn't much use in combat, but is, happily enough, a perfect seal or container for powerful flame based materials. providing excellent restraint to such energies when the artifact is wrapped in the fist."

    He reached over and picked it up, slipping his hand into it, and snapped the other one. One of the heavyset men stepped up and pulled out a bag, dumping a black and red stone that looked like a hot coal into his hand. The stone, to my shock, was actually F-ranked, but when he closed his hand around it, there was only a long, low hiss as steam wafted up, before even that faded. All traces of the F-ranked stone vanished, and all I could see was a closed blue fist.

    "We begin the bidding at one F-ranked chit. Proceed." He waved a hand and a dozen people began to bid, clearly finding some use for the thing.

    To my shock, I saw Cark stand up. Sage next to him. "Five F-ranked chits!" Apparently Burning Fist was bankrolling this trip, because I knew for a fact that was already nearing the limit of Cark's savings, and he seemed at ease to keep going. With H-rank chits being the primary currency standard here, each F-rank chit was the equivalent of a hundred. For someone at Cark's level (or ours honestly) it would have taken ages to gather that up in Rajak proper.

    People started bidding in earnest, but Cark didn't back down, and eventually won the gauntlet for four E-ranked chits. I blanched a bit. I wasn't sure we were going to have enough to afford any of the things we wanted. Callie shot me a worried look. At the very least, we had a chance. It was clear Cark had some important use for that thing, but a blank Skill Crystal at G-rank should be much less pressing, though many more people would want it. We could only hope that it came later on the program when people had wasted more of their money.

    I wanted to go over and talk to Cark, but we were all stuck sitting down until the halfway point on the program. I leaned in to whisper to Callie, using my Stealth Skill to erase the sound so no one eavesdropped. "Do you know what they wanted that thing for? I assume it was some item and Inventor made, but Cark seemed pretty focused on it. Do they have some kind of artifact to suppress?"

    She just shrugged. "No idea. Probably though. Maybe something with a backlash? Anyway, the money they're spending is insane. I hope that hasn't set the standard for pricing. It's still so early." I reached out to take her hand in mine and squeeze. I felt the same. I didn't think so though. They'd bid a ton because they'd needed that for something. No one was going to overpay for an item they didn't need because someone else had bought something pricey earlier.

    I was vindicated in that assumption about twenty minutes later when the next item sold, a gourd that could apparently refine and concentrate poison. There were a fair few bids, especially from Slime Hall, but in the end the thing sold for two F-ranked chits. The starting point seemed much more important to the final price than what had gone before, and we were relieved.

    After the gourd was a pair of bracers that could create powerful shields, and an arm in a box that made me extremely wary to look at. The arm was, as far as I could tell, F-ranked, but it had some sort of additional aspect that made it scary, because I'd seen F-rankers before but never gotten that particular vibe. The bracers sold for eight F-rank chits and the arm for a whopping five E-ranked chits to someone I was positive was from a necromantic force, though possibly not the Darkling Institute.

    When the next item was brought out, it seemed to stir up quite a bit of interest. The small black box was woven of metal and densely enchanted, and when Selwyn opened it, every person in the auction hall went silent. "Now this." aid Selwyn gleefully. "Is one of the most valuable items we have available. A runic core. Made from a specially treated naturally forming ice rune. By ingesting the core, you can mutate your natural ability to contain an ice attribute. Much like that gauntlet, this was donated by our friends at Final Frost Heaven."

    Sydney and Megan both flinched at the name, and I leaned over to ask as the bidding started. None of my crew needed ice powers, besides which the bidding had started at an E-ranked chit, so we had no fucking possibility of getting it. "Who or what is Final Frost Heaven?" They sounded kind of scary, and if they had someone here we'd have to fight I wanted to know more about them.

    Megan looked around warily. "C-rank force. Not just one C-ranker either. They have six Frost Lords, all in the C-rank. They're one of the top forces in the system, and even at the cluster level they aren't pushovers. There's no way at least one of their competitors isn't a Master Candidate. I hope I don't run into them in the tournament. We don't have any counters for things like that."

    I tried to imagine how powerful someone would have to be for that kind of reaction, but couldn't really place it. They were clearly on a level I couldn't even hope to see on Callus. Still, people were excited about the runic core. I could understand why too. If I had a normal ability I might have been tempted. I doubted 'ice wishes' would be useful though. And even if they were I didn't want to risk losing my three times modifier by changing my power.

    Callie probably could have benefited a lot from the core, but I didn't have nearly enough to compete for it. Which was why I couldn't fight back a grin as one of the four placidly big eight E-ranked chits for the thing. Apparently Alexander was looking out for his niece even when he wasn't around. He must have given them a decent nest egg.

    The bidding kept increasing, but despite passing ten E-ranked chits they didn't jump to D-ranked. Abel had mentioned D-ranked chits were qualitatively different, much like D-ranked people, and said there probably wasn't even one on the whole planet. I was curious if it was closer to a one hundred or even one thousand to one ratio for those, and resolved to ask.

    The core didn't go to the four, sadly, they ran out of money. It sold for eighty E-ranked chits, an absolutely monstrous amount of money, to someone from the Twilight Order. "Alright my friends." Said Selwyn. "This last lot marks the halfway point of the auction, and its conclusion will see us enter a brief intermission where you might move around and speak to other participants."

    Everyone seemed pretty happy about that, but Selwyn paid them no mind. "Now." He said, raising his voice. "May I introduce our next item for bid. A summoning whistle, capable of calling an F-ranked Nether Butterfly that can be ridden by the summoner!" He flipped open the box to reveal an intricate purple crystal whistle, sitting delicately on a black silk bed and nearly glowing in the soft light of the auction hall.

    A hush fell across the crowd because of the item, and I couldn't help but stare myself. This thing was definitely F-ranked, and high in the F-ranks too. I wondered how the hell it even worked. Was there a spatial enchantment on it that brought the mount from somewhere else? Did it create the thing through Fantasy? Did they somehow store it inside the whistle? However it functioned it was apparently just as interesting to everyone else as it was to me, because not a single person could take their eyes off of it.

    Not that it mattered. "We begin the auction." He said quietly. "At a dozen E-ranked chits." Before he even finished talking there was an offer for fifteen, then another for twenty. The number passed a hundred quickly enough, and to my shock became D-ranked chits. I guess that answered that question. I could only assume chits at the Master level had some other requirement making them harder to make since they were a hundred to one instead of ten.

    Sure enough, just like Abel said, none of the local forces were able to place a bet once it passed that point. Slime Hall, Spear Legion, the Twilight Order, they all offered multiple D-ranked chits before the thing finally sold at a price of twelve. Which was more money than I had ever seen in my entire life so far. Considering how much effort it took us to scrape together a single E-ranked chit, I could only hope a blank Skill Crystal would be too small potatoes for these monsters to bid on or we might not get anything.

    At least the four were still here and willing to bid for Callie. It seemed like Alexander had given them a tidy sum. As the winner of the whistle, Final Frost Heaven, sent a low F-ranker up to retrieve the whistle, we got up and rushed over to talk to Cark. He saw us coming and grinned, waving us over. "Hey guys." He said as we got within range. "Fancy meeting you here. Didn't realize you were coming to this thing."

    "Yeah." I said guiltily. "Guess we didn't actually check in during our little trip. We could have co-ordinated or something. Seems like you're doing ok though. Congrats on your...cold glove." I said that last bit with a slightly teasing tone, and he just rolled his eyes.

    "Oh bite me. I have my uses for it. It's good to see you guys though. Cass has been missing you like crazy, especially Agria and the wolves. She spends time with Zeke, but he isn't exactly the most social person." We joked around for a minute, and I let myself relax a bit as I considered that I might have been silly about this whole thing. There was nothing to worry about. This auction had gone perfectly fine...until I realized something. The Darkling Institute hadn't placed a single bid. Not even on the arm. Where the hell were they? They were supposed to be heavily involved in this auction. Which was, of course, when the lights went out. And the screaming started.
    Last edited: Mar 18, 2023
  5. Threadmarks: chapter 319
    Malcolm Tent

    Malcolm Tent Experienced.

    Oct 16, 2020
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    The first thing that went through my head as I tried to catch sight of ANYTHING in the darkness around us was 'why are there no WINDOWS in this building?' It was pitch black in the auction house, and not even my Perception was helping. Which...on second thought, seemed wrong. How was it possible nothing in here was giving off the slightest bit of light? Considering how much random Ascendant shit tended to glow, there was no feasible way someone managed to shut off ALL the lights through normal means.

    Which meant someone had used abnormal means. Probably some kind of darkness artifact or ability. "Everybody SHUT UP!" Bellowed a powerful voice. Specifically, a powerful voice nearby. Abel. Shockingly, everyone did. "Alright, now, I am almost positive we are currently under attack. So why doesn't whatever wise-ass did this speak up and turn the damn lights back on, since you probably have us all surrounded at this point anyway."

    There was a soft click, which took me a second to place as someone clicking their tongue, before the lights came back on to reveal...corpses. Kind of. Some of them were pure meat, some had metal parts, and interspersed in between them were figures in dark clothes holding wicked looking weapons. From among the corpses stepped, of course, Mordaunt. "Did you have to ruin my fun?" She pouted. "I was enjoying the panic. Oh well, pleasure is over, time for business I suppose. Oh, Solomon?" She singsonged, eyes scanning over the crowd. "Where are you?"

    Apparently she'd momentarily lost track of me when I moved to talk to Cark. I don't know why that made me feel better, but it really did. When her eyes landed on me her smug grin got even wider. "There you are!" Without looking away, she turned her head slightly and called out. "I found him your excellency." As she spoke, she stepped obsequiously to the side, sweeping it a wide bow as literally the smarmiest looking human being I had ever seen stepped out of the crowd.

    I'd seen people with faces I'd wanted to punch before. In fact, it was becoming increasingly common as I got higher up the ranks. This guy though, this guy took obnoxious to an almost conceptual level. Just standing there I wanted to punch him. I wouldn't have been shocked if he was a Master Candidate in the Pissing People Off Skill. When his amethyst eyes stopped on me, his thin lips quirked into a sneer and I realized that somehow, the effect got WORSE.

    The pale, almost emaciated teenager with the greasy black hair strode out among the corpses with the air of someone who was positive he was better than everyone in the room. When he got clear of the crowd completely, he stopped about halfway to me. "Well." He said in oily voice. "If it isn't the little pissant who killed one of my heartrippers."

    I froze. That was...actually not bad. If he was here about that, he didn't know about my mom. Apparently Aiden really had died before reporting in. Still, he said MY heartrippers, which meant not only was this guy from the Black Sorrow Cult, he was high up in their pecking order. I wasn't sure if the cult had some kind of royal family, but I suspected there were descendants of Black Sorrow herself among the upper echelons, with an inherited ability every bit as broken as mine. I just really hoped this guy wasn't one of those.

    On the upside, if he had been I doubted he would be here. As far as I knew the Cult wasn't like the WCP, which dispersed its upper echelon kids to grind up their power on their own. The five factions were much more insular, and chances were good any real descendant of Black Sorrow with the corresponding power wouldn't touch a shitty backwater like Callus with a ten million foot pole.

    Still, judging by how cocky this guy was he was probably someone important, and I wasn't thrilled at having to deal with him. Which didn't affect how I responded at all. "Nah, that guy isn't here. I heard he went home to hide in his shower because he heard you were coming. I assume based on how greasy your hair is that you don't know what one of those looks like?"

    The smarmy dick's mouth fell open, and his teeth clicked shut as he growled. "Peasant, what did you just say to me?" He was thankfully only G-ranked, so I wasn't too worried about him crushing me, but then again, I'd already seen proof that there were many different levels of G-ranker. It was probably better to shut up at this point.

    My mouth, unfortunately, did not get that memo. "Oh, I'm sorry, are your ears clogged with grease? I said you look like an oily dirtball who never bathes. Is your ability some kind of filth embodiment? Maybe you wrap yourself in a protective layer of grime? Or are you just trying to make yourself so disgusting your enemies won't hit you?"

    Smarmy started laughing, but based on his eyes he wasn't amused, he was so fucking furious he didn't know how to process it. "Wow, so some jumped up little space peasant thinks he talk down to me? Do you know who I am boy?" I could see his hands clenching and unclenching, but he didn't actually attack. He probably suspected I was baiting him into launching an attack on me so I could counted. Joke was on him, I didn't have a plan. I just really didn't like him and wanted to piss him off.

    On the upside, I was now ninety percent sure he wasn't a descendant of a god. There was no way anyone with a power on the level of mine that wasn't support based would have hesitated to attack me. Still, that left plenty of room for other inherited powers. There was no way a force on the level of the Black Sorrow Cult didn't have more than a few S-rankers, and probably not just those that were descended from their goddess.

    "Let me guess." I said scathingly. "Your mommy or daddy told you that you were a very special boy, way more special than all the other kids." I wasn't scared of anyone who wasn't another member of a god clan, or possibly one of those freaks able to reach mastery at G-rank. Considering I'd have been swatted like a fly if that had been the case there was no reason to worry, army or not.

    The sneer got more pronounced. "My name." He said with derision. "Is Pietro Verralan. My father is Sellfren Verralan, a High Priest of the Black Sorrow Cult."I blinked. That actually was kind of impressive. If the Cult used the same Job rankings as the church that meant his dad was a D-ranker, and had already accomplished Mastery, possibly even Grandmastery.

    I still shrugged. My parents was A-rankers, and my Uncle was at B-rank. Not to mention my S-ranked Grandpa, and my ancestor the god. If we were having a 'whose family members are scariest' competition I was going to win. It also made me aware that this guy definitely didn't know who I was, or he wouldn't have bothered with the flex. "So, what, you found out I killed Aiden and decided to come to this backwater to kill me?"

    Pietro laughed derisively (I'm not entirely sure he could do things any other way, he seemed just be naturally dickish). "Fool. I came for the tournament. I'm simply taking care of some business while I'm here. If you're waiting for reinforcements by the way, don't. My own entourage of E-rankers are holding back the others, and all these corpses are G-ranked, just to prevent the detection enchantments from picking them up."

    "You...you're doing all this because I killed some random ass cult member? That's insane. You're declaring war on the WCP, literally invading sovereign territory. You'll drag the whole Cult into it." There was no way anyone was actually this petty.

    "Hardly." He said with a snort. "As long as things don't escalate beyond the level of this planet the Unity and the Wish Curse Palace won't make trouble. These kinds of squabbles on a D-ranked planet are far beneath the notice of the true powers of the universe. At worst the Unity will demand I kill some of the E-rankers who participated, and they're expendable anyway."

    I suspected he was underestimating how much he was biting off, but I had zero hope of convincing him of that. At least he hadn't brought any F-rankers. Or many of them. I could only assume whatever means the WCP had of detecting them was too nebulous for him to be sure he wouldn't trip the security. Oh well, I slid out my cane, spinning up between my fingers as I imbued it with poisonfire.

    "I'll teach you that the Black Sorrow Cult's prestige is not to be challenged." Pietro grinned, his eyes beginning to fill with black mist. The others got into place. I was annoyed. This asshole just stumbled on me by accident, and I was probably going to end up having to kill him. If the Cult wasn't after me hard before they would be this time, and all because some smarmy stuck up prick wanted to get bragging rights while he was out on a trip.

    Despite his old man only being D-rank, he might still have an inherited ability from an S-rank grandpa or something. No one would be this cocky based on nothing but rep. Still, D-ranker or not, I had the protection of the WCP when it came to anyone E-rank or above. At G-rank I was confident not even these weird science experiments could stop Callie and I so what was there to be afraid of.

    It was weird that I was so easily considering killing this guy though. I'd killed people before of course, but it had been a hard thing to come to terms with. I wasn't some bloodthirsty psycho who just murdered anyone who pissed me off. It took me a bit to pin down why the idea didn't bother me, but I finally landed on the fact that this guy was an embodiment of the Black Sorrow Cult itself to me. I'd seen them do terrible things to people for no reason. Sacrifice innocents for power just because, and I'd subconsciously started to hate them for it.

    You could tell me that cultivation was brutal, that people trying to gain power was normal, that recursion was partly to blame, but I didnt care about any of that. I didn't even care that I was trying to be more heroic. I just hated them. Maybe not all of them, there were trillions of people in the Cult. But this guy personified the worst traits of that place, and thinking back to poor little Cass, who was still recovering from the things they did to her head, I wanted him to die.

    I looked over at Callie. "I want to kill him." I didn't mince words or beat around the Bush. I just came out and said it. She would agree or not, and if she didn't I'd let it go. She was the leader, and her morality was more developed than mine anyway. I wasn't willing to fuck up my relationship for this idiot no matter how much of an asshole he was.

    To my surprise though, she just grinned. "Better get to work then." She looked at Abel and Lament. "He has a pair of early F-rank guards with him. Can the two of you take them on?" That wasn't a shock. Since his old man doted on him enough to arrange for him to cross to another star cluster to fight for a chance to get into this dungeon he was probably under serious protection. Not just F-rankers, the E-rankers he mentioned were probably his guards too. Luckily we didn't have to deal with them. Sure enough, two guys stepped out from behind him, emerging from the crowd. F-rank. Callie had noticed then before I had. Her Perception was better. Scary or not, I had to admit. This was definitely going to be an exciting fight.
  6. Threadmarks: chapter 320
    Malcolm Tent

    Malcolm Tent Experienced.

    Oct 16, 2020
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    I'd expected anger when I announced that I wanted to kill Pietro, but oddly, he just seemed...shocked. "You...you dare?" It was like the idea that I was willing to kill him was some kind of alien concept to him. I was suddenly really glad my old man had sent me off to grow up a normal person instead of raising me in the clan. This was obviously what happened when you gave someone an unlimited amount of leeway and protection.

    "Yeah." I said bluntly. "I literally just said that." I looked around at all the people attending the auction. "Anyone else down for a battle? I somehow doubt that Petey here is going to let everyone spectate from the side. Might as well join up with our side so you can get some support."

    This was mostly aimed at Macgregor and the other outsiders, they were the ones who would most likely make the most difference. Sydney and Megan both looked ready to fight, as did the Spear Legion group, so that was hardly an issue. The four wouldn't let Callie be hurt, but if we could get support from the other factions like Slime Hall and the Twilight Order we could ensure we could come out of this ahead, even if we had to bleed for it.

    Looking closer there were several F-rankers among the enemy. Not corpses, since they had to bring those in all at once and didn't want trip the restrictions, but a few people who had most likely come as guests to hide themselves among the attendees and wait for this exact moment.

    Glaring around at the others Pietro snapped. "Trash, can your forces even withstand the anger of the Black Sorrow Cult? Don't get involved beyond your means. I could see all of your factions razed to the ground, so just shut up and sit there while I deal with this peasant."

    Mordaunt was looking almost embarrassed to be working with someone this stupid, which was fair because I would be too. The others didn't seem to notice how dumb he was though, because they actually looked worried. Callie spoke up to reassure them. "Friends, there's no need to worry. This is an isolated attack by a moron. If the Black Sorrow Cult could just charge into other peoples territory and slaughter whoever they wanted, they would own the whole universe."

    I nodded. "Honestly I doubt this is going to be ignored as completely as he thinks it is. I wouldn't be shocked if Petey's daddy ends up having to pay off some kind of price on his head to keep the Unity from hiring professional killers to take him out." Of course, the fact that the Cult were the ones people usually paid for that would probably help. Still Pietro looked flabbergasted at the idea.

    "You all should die!" He roared. "This is unacceptable! To think I would be forced to endure such disrespect. Kill them all!" Well, that solved the whole 'convincing everyone to help' dilemma. Revenant, keeping this idiot alive must be a full time job.

    Regardless, he WAS in charge of the enemy forces, as evidenced by the tide of the bastards that rushed toward us at his howl. Guess the battle was on. Callie appeared at my side without either of us needing to say anything, and we both swept forward to meet the oncoming tide. Despite his arrogance and stupidity, Pietro DID attack himself, though I didn't get to fight him directly as soon as I'd have liked because he wasn't very fast and one of the corpses got there first.

    I decided to test out their defenses, and see what the Darkling Institute could do, so Callie and I engaged with a pair of the things directly. I kind of expected the four to stop us, but they just fanned out nearby, taking care to keep any F-rankers off us as we fought. Probably instruction not to hinder our growth too much.

    The first of the monsters we came up against were strange, but very different from each other. One was short and fat, with orange flesh shot through with lots of metal. The metal bits had spikes on them, and each spike gleamed with a toxic looking green substance. I took that one because my armor had more coverage, while Callie took the tall pale blue one with the beefy frame and the glowing sharp fingernails.

    I noticed as I engaged orangey that these things weren't EXACTLY a combination of science and necromancy. More like zombies with scientific parts added in. Some of them looked more integrated than others, but they struck me as being something more like Benny than anything else. That didn't stop them from being dangerous, and as my poison fire enhanced cane landed on the orange thing, I grimaced at the lack of obvious effect.

    My first blow smashed into the zombie's side, driving it back a few steps, but not actually damaging the orange flesh much. It triggered a berserk charge from the monster, who planted his hands and kicked up his feet in a sort of failed handstand that let him back flop on the ground in my direction. I activated double trouble, appearing behind him and attacking his exposed face as his body passed through my illusionary double.

    Which didn't have as much effect as I'd have liked. I used Mercy Kill on the strike, and even dumped in a triple strength density shifted blow, and while I felt a crack as the facial bones shattered and saw the poison fire seep into the broken flesh, it didn't do much to actually slow the thing down.

    Unfortunately I didn't have time to worry about that as I got a sense of impending danger and rolled to the side as laser nails flashed forward to try and carve me up. As he did orangey rolled to the side in a whirling spin that was much more graceful than I'd expected him to manage and attacked Callie, the two of them seamlessly switching targets...or trying to at least.

    Sadly for them, they were showing off in front of an expert. Callie took the short reprieve as an opportunity to create a few clones, and I grinned under my mask as I felt her slip away as the orange one attacked a clone, only to crash right through it as Callie appeared behind laser nails, condensing a drill of shadows aimed right at its spine as I triggered the triple stack density shift attack combined with a spider leg attack to intercept the things claws.

    The pair of golden spider legs smashed into the wrists of the monster as Callie speared it through the back of the neck, where the brainstem would be. Heart blows weren't much good on undead, so she aimed for the spot where the spine met the brain to do the most damage.

    Laser nails dropped like a rock and we both turned in time for Callie to intercept orangey, who wasn't doing great as his head was slowly consumed by venomous flame. The damage from the initial strike hadn't been much, but over time it was seeping in and seemed to be driving the thing crazy. As it bounced off I triggered a Sucking Mud and a shadow attack, creating the mud tentacles that snagged the rabid monster and started to drag it under.

    With that out of the way, I turned to look for the next target, only to get a feeling of danger just in time to dive out of the way of a bandaged fist that would have easily crushed my skull if it had landed.

    Looking up, I saw Rahm staring down at me coldly, the silent behemoth positioned right next to his mistress. Mordaunt looked annoyed. "Damn. I thought that would get you. You're much more annoying than a G-ranker from a backwater like this should be. Your freak of a teammate I get, he's a Master Candidate, but can you just hurry up and die already so I can get paid?"

    Looking back I saw that fully six of the damn F-rankers had engaged the four, drawing them off and away from us to free us up to attack. The only saving grace was that Pietro appeared to have been waylaid by Megan and Sydney, with Riley playing support as Lament and Abel took on the guards. Mel was showering the corpses with fire, to minimal success, so we were on our own here.

    That was fine. I didn't believe we couldn't beat the Darkling Institute monster maker. She wasn't Lament or Abel. Just a crafter with a scary bodyguard. I climbed to my feet, taking up a spot next to Callie. "Well." I said pleasantly. "That answers the why question. Thanks, that saves me an annoying conversation. Also a lot of wondering after we crush you both."

    Mordaunt snickered. "Confident aren't you. No idea why. Rahm could take you both alone. With me here you have no chance." With a snap of her fingers she materialized a pair of wicked looking black daggers. The metallic potion was straight and thin like a needle, and the hilts were clear glass, full of a sickly glowing green liquid. Along the length of them I could see lines denoting measurements, like they were a pair of really dramatic syringes.

    In the distance, I heard a roar, and then a crash, as Randall the bear came plowing through a wall of corpses and slapped Rahm out of the way like a wrecking ball. Jessie was sitting on his back, with Benny following behind her and carrying a huge hammer that I was pretty sure he had just randomly stolen from one of the auction lots. There was a lot of sickly green blood on the head though, showing that he'd been crushing corpses with it.

    Mordaunt glared as she walked over to kick at Rahm. "Oh get up!" She hissed. "You'll be fine." The man groaned, rising to his feet as some of the bandages fell away from his face, revealing a pale blue visage covered in stitches and traceries of circuits. She reached up to check him over, not in concern, but more like someone checking their car engine to make sure it still works.

    Jessie cheered. "Whoo!" She bellowed. "Did you see that? He just went flying. Bear to the face! Hey clockwork, did you see what Randall just did? You can only crush their heads with that stupid hammer, my big buddy is a corpse killing machine!" I grinned at her. Jessie was a sweet girl, but she could be scary when she considered you an enemy. Zombies and kidnappers weren't people she would worry too much about. Especially zombies. We'd killed tons of undead.

    Benny sighed loudly. "Yes Agria, I know. Still, the thing is pretty useful. F-ranked Mass Impact Hammer. I wonder if they'll let me keep this when we're done? Probably not I guess. Shame. No wonder Beat and Sever were so overpowered. Seriously, using an F-ranked weapon is like playing on easy mode." Despite his cheerful tone, I could see that he seemed to be talking softer than usual. I was guessing the soul weight of an item like that wasn't light, though the belt was probably helping. He was most likely using his triple strength density shifted attack pretty often.

    Mordaunt glared up at them. "Oh what fresh hell is this? Can't a girl commit murder in peace anymore? You know what, FINE." She whistled, and another five or six corpses surrounded us, as well as a single F-ranker who had come from opposite of where the four were holding down the fort. "No more messing around. Every single one of you is going to die if that's what it takes. I'm GETTING paid." Rahm began to unwind his bandages, and as he did, I could feel his power spiking. Not just his power. His conceptual weight. As we watched, the big zombie officially broke through to F-rank. Huh. Well that's one way to hide from detection. I hadn't considered that. This...could be a problem.
  7. Threadmarks: chapter 321
    Malcolm Tent

    Malcolm Tent Experienced.

    Oct 16, 2020
    Likes Received:
    It was hard not to panic as the pair of F-rankers rushed us. Rahm was only newly ranked up but he was already clearly powerful. I doubted he could now counter Randall, who was a veteran F-ranked beast, but the other one would probably end up doing the heavy lifting there. Which left engaging with the new F-ranker to me and Callie. There was no way we could leave him to Benny, even with that hammer on hand. He could probably help us out a ton as support, but my best friend was still early in the G-ranks, and there was no way I'd let him engage someone like Rahm head on.

    I didn't even need to gesture to get Callie onboard, our bond made it much easier for us to communicate mid battle. As the other F-ranker, a tall, thin man with blue skin and three red eyes, was attacked by Randall, the two of us flashed forward to launch simultaneous attacks at Rahm. Having just advanced, the big man was still unsteady. I knew how much rank ups took out of you from experience, but he hadn't made a sound during the process.

    Still, as I flicked out a blow at his exposed face, Callie spun out and attacked his ankles with a pair of bladed snowflakes large enough to slide her fingers into the gaps like handholds. Despite not being able to make anything near strong enough to hurt and F-ranker with her shadows, Callie wasn't a rookie. She's honed the edge of those things so sharp that they could cut through G-ranked steel.

    As my blow landed on Rahm's head, hers hit his ankles and shattered, though I saw a small hint of greenish blood ooze from the wound. With that attack opening his defenses we switched, out Paired Dueling and Balam Skills both allowing us to move flawlessly as I swung at the same ankle while she attacked his face. My poison fire had done a bit of damage but nothing spectacular, having barely moved past the single point of impact due to his new found conceptual weight.

    Poison fire was meant to be a debuff that I stacked until it whittled away at a person. I could overpower it for a quick drop, but against an F-ranker it would barely even stick...normally. As Rahm snarled, reaching up to bat away the black snowflake blades reforming in Callie's hands before they could cut his face, I drove my cane's head into the ankle Callie had cut.

    The open wound let me drive the poison flame into the wound deeper than I could have managed, and the stacking of Mercy Kill and the triple strength density shifting attack, despite a bit of strain, let me land the blow hard enough to stagger the big bastard. There was a sharp crack, not a particularly large one, but I knew I'd at least cracked the bone, which meant the poison fire would be seeping into it.

    Which was enough to put him off balance as Benny smashed that giant fucking hammer into the back of his skull layered with a triple stacked density shifted attack. There was a loud bang as Rahm stumbled forward, his damaged ankle rolling and his skull cracking under the impact of the hammer as he was thrown sprawling. I would have celebrated, but this whole exchange had taken several seconds and Mordaunt had circled around to try to backstab Callie, not even noting her companions troubles as she waited for the moment to attack.

    Unfortunately for her, trying to sneak attack someone with a Stealth Skill like Callie's wouldn't work easily, especially not when we were in proximity and could alert each other to the danger. I lashed out quickly with my own cane to counter the daggers, Callie moving seamlessly from the path of the strike without me needing to actually warn her it was coming. The pair of daggers sparked a sickly green light as I deflected, and I saw flares of power as whatever was in them burned up in contact with my poison fire.

    These things would be dangerous. I wasn't worried though. Callie and I were perfectly in sync, and despite Mordaunt easily dodging the heavy swing from Benny, she was forced to back off as the two of us sent a flurry of attacks at her. I could feel my bond with Callie becoming stronger, our experience in live battle helping us hone this Skill in a way training never could have.

    We had the foundation. Every exercise, every bit of training, all to prepare us for this. It was why we'd done everything as we had. Not just to let us unlock the Skill fast, but to prepare us to rush it up to Lesser more quickly. I could feel things clicking into place, little aspects of our training becoming more understandable. It wasn't enough to break through yet, but it would be. We could get there.

    Sadly, we didn't have the luxury of time. Rahm was rising now, unsteady but clearly enraged. I wasn't sure what the fuck that hammer was but I absolutely did not ever want to get hit by it. Scrambling the brain of an F-ranked abomination made from undead flesh and science with one blow, augmented or not, wasn't the kind of thing a normal person could shrug off. I didn't think my armor would even protect me, though my mask might do the job.

    We rushed at the big undead, not wanted to give him time to recover, and I activated Double Trouble, appearing behind him and doubling up Mercy Kill and another triple density stack on the back of his cracked skull, the poison fire seeping through into his head. He roared and whirled on me, but luckily Impact makes you tougher and not faster, so I was able to dodge the attack.

    I cursed as I looked around. We had no help incoming, Mordaunt was waiting to pounce and cut us down, and we were probably going to lose this if I kept going as I was. I had a skill that would help me bridge the gap, but I couldn't use it. Afterburner wasn't a smart choice in a battle this size. I'd need to stack my magma leg and hope it would be enough, because I couldn't be weakened with this many enemies still coming for us.

    Slipping back I readied my cane, letting Callie clash with Rahm as I acted as a deterrent against Mordaunt. Seeing me waiting she didn't seem willing to put herself in danger, opting to hang back and wait for the right time to strike. I pressed my foot to the ground, the contact enough for me to trigger Stone Limb after all the training I'd been doing. My soul strength could handle pushing the skill that much, allowing me to use the touch of my boots instead of bare skin.

    I felt my leg begin to toughen, my boot and armor doing the same with a bit of soul strain, then I triggered my other skills in succession. Mercy Kill, Touch of Tears, triple stack density shift, I even shoved a fire attack into the limb to enhance the magma's power, and almost fell over from all the pain. Almost. I was able to force my way past it after a second of clearing my head.

    Once I had my head cleared I waited, and before the other two could react, I activated Double Trouble. I'd had Callie position Rahm so he was blocking my new location from Mordaunt as I appeared, and since Double Trouble left an illusion, it gave me time to use Balam to its fullest and strike out with a brutal spinning kick to the back of his head, the most damaged area on his body.

    The F-ranked hammer had seriously hurt him, cracking his skull and tearing open flesh, and since it was the same rank as he was he wasn't healing very quickly. Keeping my leg close to my body as I spun, I let it whip out along the axis of my rotation as it came around, putting every ounce of Might and Precision behind the blow as I smashed it into the injured back of Rahm's head.

    At the peak of G-rank, and with every possible stacked modifier on my leg to boost it, combined with his injured state, the blow drove an explosion of poison flames directly into his head like a fucking mortar shell. Adding the fire attack had allowed it to burst out on contact, and the combined power of every bit of extra energy I had lit Rahm's head up like a fucking green torch, the flames penetrating his head through the wound and bursting out inside.

    F-rank or not, the brain is the most delicate part of the body, and having a toxic frag grenade go off inside your skull after something cracks it open was enough for even a fresh F-ranker to be overwhelmed. Rahm threw his head back and ROARED, his F-rank body so strong that even that hadn't been enough to finish him instantly. I saw the metal from the chains climbing up his limbs under the damaged bandages, his ability activating, but too late.

    Rahm's eyes and mouth poured out green fire as he screamed, his body shaking before he fell over with a crashing sound. Fucking miraculously, he STILL wasn't dead. Which I honestly wasn't super upset about. Rahm hadn't been as actively malicious as Mordaunt. I grimaced at how terrifying Abel was. Granted my stats were all pretty low because they were so diffuse, but the difference was pretty clear.

    Turning from the not dead, but definitely unconscious for a while (his brain was currently poisoned and on fire for the gods sake) I spun on Mordaunt, whose eyes were wide and gaping. Sadly, the shock wasn't enough to distract her from Callie's attack from behind her, and she dodged to the side, lashing out with her daggers at my shadow covered girlfriend, who looked just like the clone she'd left to keep the monster maker's attention.

    The daggers were scary, but Callie was no amateur, and we were wearing F-ranked armor. I suspected my sneak attack on Rahm had partly worked because of that. I couldn't manage another attack on that level, and actually needed to let even the magma leg go so I could let my pounding head recover, the soul weight I'd used so far too much for me to bear and still be mobile.

    To my shock, I felt a hand on my shoulder, and then a wash of soothing coolness flooded my head. I turned to see Benny, eyes closed in concentration, somehow managing to push the energy from his spiritual calming belt into me to help me recover. Considering it was a part of him after integration and he'd learned to spread his other abilities around his body it was feasible, but I could tell from the grunt of pain as he steadied himself it wasn't easy.

    I let the coolness flood me and calm down as I watched Callie kick the living shit out of Mordaunt. While the other woman had clearly been trained and possibly even augmented herself based on the battle, Callie had nearly two hundred MIght, and Mordaunt was a crafter. Focus had to be her main stat, so she wasn't really equipped for frontal confrontation.

    She tried to escape, eyes wide with terror as she glanced down at her bodyguard, who was obviously still out of commission, even as his vitality and undead nature battle the poison fire. Even after that faded I was betting it would take a while to recover from THAT. Sadly for her there was no escape, and Callie beat her into submission with brutal efficiency, smashing every limb to make sure she didn't escape.

    Once that was done, she created a braided rope of shadows and tied the woman up, turning to come check on me. My soul was WAY overstressed, and I wouldn't be able to modify any Skills or anything, but Benny's calming belt had helped my head clear enough that normal attacks and movements were fine. I gave him a grateful nod and stepped forward to meet her. She shot me a smile and as Randall and the other F-ranker battled in the background we turned to meet Pietro as he finally made it to us.
  8. Threadmarks: chapter 322
    Malcolm Tent

    Malcolm Tent Experienced.

    Oct 16, 2020
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    Pietro's face still REALLY pissed me off. Sadly, I was still incredibly drained, and without access to my soul strength my options for dealing with him were limited. Still, I'd just beated my first F-ranker, having successfully fought up ranks like a true elite, and I was kind of riding high on the confidence.

    Glancing dismissively down at the tied up Mordaunt and the still form of Rahm, Pietro sneered. "Trash. Oh, well, I suppose this means I don't have to pay them." He looked around for the four, who were still occupied, and Randall, who was fighting his own F-ranker, and chuckled. "Seems like you don't have anyone to save you this time. It was impressive taking down the zombie, I'll give you that, but there's no way you have much in you after a battle like that."

    I stared at him for a second. "How are you not dead?" He looked at me in surprise. "No, seriously, I've known you for all of five minutes and I want to kill you, granted I have a bias against the Black sorrow Cult, but still. Do you have a Skill for pissing people off? I'm not sure how whoever guards you managed to keep you alive, but they're a fucking miracle worker, because I have a hard time believing no one has tried to push you down a flight of stairs. Or into a volcano."

    To my shock, rather than get offended, Pietro laughed. "Do they dare? My father is the strongest D-ranker on Ranton. A genuine High Priest of the Black Sorrow Cult. I hold the life and death of everyone I meet in my hands. Killing me would result in the complete extermination of everyone they know and love." He grinned at Callie. "How about you, boy. Are you willing to see everyone you love killed? Not just the girl, either. Even if you manage to successfully kill me, your whole family will die."

    I couldn't help it, I laughed. He looked confused, and I choked down the giggles. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, that was rude. You're doing this whole spoiled brat villain monologue and I'm interrupting. I shouldn't be so insensitive. It's just...you have no clue how stupid you sound." Honestly I could have interrupted him, but Benny had posted up behind me and placed a subtle hand on my back, letting the spiritual calming flow into me again.

    This wouldn't fix the soul strain, not enough to let me use my soul more, but it WOULD let me partially recover and clear my head, which would help. So I wanted to draw the asshole in babbling more and delay the fight so I could get back into fighting shape. Callie and I could take him, I was sure, and just in case I was getting ready to use my Afterburner Skill for this fight to make sure I could keep up with her and put my best foot forward.

    Without stacking stored attacks or altering techniques I would be way less deadly, but Afterburner should make up for that somewhat. I also still had a full charge of stored force in the cane, and I could use Mercy Kill, even if I couldn't stack anything on it. Sadly, Pietro, while stupid, wasn't THAT stupid, and didn't have any interest in monologueing for ten minutes in the middle of a pitched battle.

    As he concentrated dark power onto his hands, I had a sudden and very unfortunate realization. I'd been thinking about what ability he had, and how to counter it. But I'd forgotten that fucking Black Sorrow Cultists didn't USE the ability system. He'd have one for sure, but it would be treated like a Skill. They used the job system, or something like it, and this asshole would have a whole host of weird powers like Aiden had, though not exactly the same since Aiden had been using a job from the Red Revenant Church somehow.

    That meant it didn't matter if he wasn't a descendant of Black Sorrow, he'd have crazy overpowered bullshit tricks anyway. Annoying but still manageable. I spun my cane up, stepping away from Benny's hand begrudgingly, because if he was about to attack I didn't want my friend dragged into it. I gestured for him to back off and go help Jessie and Randall with their fight. The bear was having trouble, and a sucker punch with that hammer would help.

    He left without complaint, most likely planning to slip in a shot on Pietro when he had the chance to hit him without being noticed. Pietro, for his part, didn't seem to care about my best friend as he slowly advanced, gathering dark power into his palms. "You seemed so impressive earlier." He said gleefully. "That'll make putting you down so much sweeter. I'll show you that the Black Sorrow Cult aren't people you can easily offend." Without a second of hesitation he hurled his hands forward, unleashing a wave of darkness at us.

    Or rather, darkness might have been the wrong word. Rot, corruption, desolation. None of these was right exactly. Rot affected living things, as did corruption, desolation was closer, but still wrong. This wasn't a destructive force exactly. Destruction unmade things, this just changed them. It was like some conceptual blight on the world, altering things to more effectively suit its vision. Sorrow.

    As if the world itself was grieving, as if all hope had been lost. Hope of continuance ceased to exist within the wave of darkness. It was, in a word, terrifying. Callie snarled and flicked a hand, and a wall of shadows flashed out to block the progress of the wave. To my surprise, it actually stopped. You couldn't steal the hope of continuance from darkness, because it was already the absence of light.

    Pietro cursed. "Shadow touched. I hate dealing with you. No one told me you had a shadow touched." I got the feeling even if they had he'd have ignored it. I was pretty sure he just did whatever he wanted and let the consequences sort themselves out later.

    "Thanks." I said to Callie emphatically as I stood. I shivered at the though of that...stuff, touching me. "I doubt that would have been pleasant." We'd gotten insanely lucky that she could block that stuff. It was only a G-rank attack, so I doubted it would instakill us, and it might not even get through my armor, but the idea of letting it touch me made me want to gag. No wonder the Cult were so unpleasant, if that was the force their jobs game them access to.

    Still, it did make some sense that even powerful jobs would have counters. Callie's shadows didn't do so well against the Red Revenant Church's light abilities, but she had a natural advantage against the Cult. That was useful to know. Of course, she wasn't some kind of perfect counter or something, just at an advantage. That wave had been fairly spread out, and being able to block it was more a factor of Pietro making stupid ass decisions in battle than some kind of perfect immunity.

    I wasn't letting this chance go either way though. I activated Double Trouble, appearing behind him as I triggered Mercy Kill on my weapon and unleashed the force stored in my cane at the base of his skull, hoping to put him down like I had Stricture all those months ago.

    That wasn't to be, there was a dark burst of smoke and a shield appeared behind him, clearly the activation of some defensive item. My blow smashed into the thing hard, but sadly wasn't enough to even crack the shield. I activated Leaf on the Wind and danced away from the retaliation. His dark fist swept harmlessly through the space I'd just been in. That wide range attack had taken time to charge up and I wasn't giving him more.

    Neither was Callie, as evidenced by the field of dark blades springing up under his feet. The attacks drove him in exactly the right direction to open him up to another blow from my cane at full extension, Balam allowing me to build up a truly frightening amount of momentum for the attack.

    His robes, which I had just realized were robes and not some sort of coat, took the blow easily, and I cursed as I realized they were F-rank defensive items. Rich asshole. I conveniently overlooked that I also had those, because now wasn't the time for rational introspection.

    With a grimace I triggered Afterburner. Technically using my normal skills did use soul strength, but unmodified and without stacking they were only mildly annoying. Unfortunately when spamming multiple skills one after another that still added up. I was glad Benny had helped me recover because I wasn't sure I could have managed this in the state I'd been in after beating Rahm.

    I had enough in me to use a few normal skills though, and triggered healing burst after a slight delay, followed by Mercy Kill, and then painfully, Flurry of Blows. My head was screaming again, but it was enough to make me a serious threat as I lashed out with my still poison fire imbued cane at the vulnerable face of the wildly dodging Pietro, trying to score a hit with the speed Flurry of Blows granted me. I got a glancing blow on his jaw and temple, which since the armor wasn't there, meant the poison fire started to spread.

    He got his arms up in front of his face to block the other attacks, not paying enough attention to his surroundings and completely missing that Benny had already sneak attacked the F-ranker and provided an opening for Randall to start really laying into the man. The hammer smashed hard into the back of the Pietro's robes, which while clearly heavily enchanted for defense, weren't up to a hit from a weapon at the same rank enhanced with extra density and triple strength, even driven by the power of a G-ranker early in his Ascension.

    Pietro stumbled, face slashed open by the shadow blades, and his eyes widened in panic. "Malachai, help!" He shrieked at the top of his lungs. Throwing his arms over his head in fear to try to mitigate the damage. Unfortunately that was more than enough as every single person in the auction hall was smashed to the ground by the forcefully exerted Impact of an E-rank Ascendant bearing down on us.

    I cursed. "I thought you said your E-rankers were holding off the others." I gritted out through the pressure. I was not at all qualified to fight this asshole, considering he wasn't a cloud of red mist right now, pressuring me with his aura didn't count as an attack either. If he made a move on Callie or Benny or Jessie I'd have to throw myself in front of the attack or something.

    Snarling in rage, Pietro pointed at me mockingly. "Fool! As if I would ever walk about unguarded. While the others were detained, Malachai is my personal guard. He was specially trained to be able to conceal himself even from those of his own rank! Now that you've forced me to make him reveal himself, I'll have to take it out of your hide." He began charging his power again, getting ready.

    My eyes widened in alarm. I wasn't sure this counted exactly. Holding me down like this while his boss killed me. This had to be an attack right? Before I could question further the field suddenly vanished, the aura completely cut off. A man appeared behind Pietro in a white half mask and a hooded black robe. He was looking at me intently, as if curious what had just happened, but he didn't do anything else. Pietro turned angrily on the man. "Why did you do that? I was about to kill him! Pin him down again!" Despite his ranting though, Malachai just stared at me. Seemed like Zeke was already on the move. Something told me I wasn't out of the woods quite yet though.
  9. Threadmarks: Chapter 323
    Malcolm Tent

    Malcolm Tent Experienced.

    Oct 16, 2020
    Likes Received:
    Malachai had me pinned with his gaze, but he looked wary. He also ignored Pietro's whining completely, stepping around the guy to block my line of sight of him. "Might I ask your name?" He said cautiously. His tone confirmed what I'd suspected. Someone had forcibly stopped that pressure earlier. He probably thought it was one of the other E-rankers, but he had to know whoever it was, they were stronger than him.

    Of course it could have been a D-ranker who retired here or something, but regardless, he was pretty sure I had some power in my corner. I just shrugged. "Solomon." I said shortly. I wasn't going to say anything. My mother and the Cult were bitter enemies, and if he found out I was a candidate he might figure that out. The less I said the better. Worst case he flipped and tried to murder me, and Zeke turned him into meat paste.

    He seemed frustrated by the answer, which was valid. It wasn't a great one. He also seemed torn. Pietro came here to kill me for killing Aiden. This whole fucking farce was a power trip of his own making. There was no easy out. No option to say 'hey man, bygones ok?' because the whole purpose of coming here was for me to die. So if I didn't then he failed, and Pietro didn't strike me as the kind of person who handled being told no particularly well.

    So without the option to bail, it was clear that Malachai wanted a new angle. After thinking it over he took in my condition, which wasn't fucking great because this asshole had me pinned down and I was stuck in my Afterburner state. I'd managed to finally get this one altered, a big step in my path to upgrading DS Mastery, and it now multiplied my attacks by only three times instead of five, but worked for ten attacks instead of one. I'd used up one blow just not trying to crush him with Mercy Kill, but I still had nine. Staying in this state wasn't comfortable at all.

    The E-ranker gave a mischievous humph, as if just figuring something out, and my stomach sank. "Since we seniors are so much more powerful it's naturally wrong for us to get involved with your fights. I'm simply worried that Pietro is being ganged up on. That bear and the boy with the hammer, not to mention the girl with the shadow abilities, this is clearly a lopsided fight. Since it's come to a battle to the death, naturally we need to make sure it's fair. One on one is how battles between warriors should be handled."

    Shit. He'd noticed that Zeke hadn't attacked when he backed off. Figuring out the conditions for my Uncle's intervention wasn't hard, but it WAS annoying. I was impressed he was enough of a brazen asshole to make it sound like I'd been cheating in a fair challenge when his dickhead charge had jumped us with a crowd of fucking zombies. Everyone had stopped fighting now, and were all watching as the guy basically strongarmed me into a one on one fight.

    I didn't actually mind that. I didn't like this guy, and Zeke's protection was supposed to ensure I had to fight my own battles without being overwhelmed anyway. This was within the bounds of that. "Fine." I said shortly. "A one on one match, Pietro and I with no interference. But if I win, will you really just let things play out?" Pietro sneered at the question, and even Malachai looked smug.

    "Of course." Said the bodyguard in the least convincing voice I'd ever heard. He was clearly convinced I was at the end of my rope and wouldn't be able to win, which wasn't far from true, but I still had tricks. I was buzzing with a healing burst still, and I had nine power attacks with Afterburner. As a finisher, Afterburner worked on the complete move, stacks and powerups included, which granted, wasn't useful to me right now, but was definitely an important trump card.

    Benny's triple strength powerups for density shifting and tranq blows worked on those aspects of the attacks rather than the whole attack and all its components. In fact, Afterburner would even triple the power output of one of those triple strength attacks, resulting in a massive boost on stacked blows like my magma leg. Sadly I was incapable of using any of those right now, but I was sure I could manage something.

    Everyone backed off as the two of us faced each other, and Pietro was grinning from ear to ear. He clearly had an idea of how he'd beat me, and was sure it would work. Malachai looked at me mockingly. "Well, are you two both ready for this battle?" He clearly thought Zeke didn't care about what happened to me as long as he didn't attack personally. He'd blatantly bullied me into this fight with no reaction, so he figured he was safe.

    Which he was, because of the geass, but still, I was annoyed about it. I just nodded, and he gave the signal to begin. My soul had slightly recovered under Bennys spiritual calming earlier. Not enough to use my attacks as I'd like, but enough that I could probably trigger one or two stored attacks if I pushed it. I would need to be VERY careful though. I couldn't stack or modify them or I might damage my soul too much for it to heal. Which would be bad. Like, really bad.

    Pietro was casually gathering his power again, giving me a cocky smirk. "Well. Now you're alone. You don't look so good. Little unsteady on your feet. Taking down that corpse take it out of you?" His mocking tone was sugary sweet, as if he was concerned, making it all the more obnoxious. I didn't think his face could get more punchable, but it definitely had. Like...three times more punchable at least.

    I started to move, circled around. His attack was wide range, but it did have a radius. I just needed to dodge it. But he didn't release the damn thing. Just saved it up, waiting for me to slip. It was more patience than I'd have credited him with. I didn't really want to give this asshole any credit for anything actually, so I decided to just chalk the waiting up to sadism and consider it a bad thing.

    After a minute or two (good for me since it let my head clear a bit more) I figured that too much of a good thing wouldn't help and decided to lure him into using up his attack. I wanted to use double trouble, but I knew he'd seen it before. If I used it now he'd just expect me to pop up behind him. I didn't know if he could deploy that attack close to himself, but I didn't want to find out by feeling it go off in my damn face.

    So, to hurry it along, I tripped. Not really tripped, I rolled my ankle on purpose and started to fall, letting out a pained cry, and he, of course, pounced like the asshole he was. He hurled the vortex of dark energy right at the spot where I was going to land once I finished tripping, clearly planning to detonate it right in my face and kill me outright, at least if that stuff could get through my armor.

    Or he would have done that. If I'd been there. It was kind of interesting to see the blast consume the illusion of me as I triggered double trouble right before the blast arrived. He clearly couldn't control or turn the thing, and had assumed that since I was vulnerable I'd be easy pickings. See. Sadism and not patience. As I appeared behind him, I considered briefly what to do, and then decided I needed a way to deliver fast brutal attacks. I used the spider legs, feeling them sprout from my back.

    My head swam, but it was only one attack without alteration or stacking so I could handle it. I attacked immediately, using my cane and both spider legs to slash out at the assholes head with enough force to do serious damage. The black shield appeared again, but as my cane hit it the thing lit up and as the two spider legs struck it began to crack. The Afterburner enhanced blows were much less effective without my stacking, but they were also completely free of soul weight and could be used multiple times. Six left.

    I struck twice more before the shield shattered and it left his head open as I swung the cane at his temple. I triggered Mercy Kill, still able to use regular skills easily enough. Pietro shrieked again, pulling his arms in front of him to shield himself. "Stop!" I heard a voice roar, as Malachai dashed out to grab me, making sure that I wasn't actually hurt but restraining me.

    Cursing, I glared at him. "You really gonna do this? You know what happens if you interfere right?" I was fucking incensed. I'd been about to end this, my head was killing me, and I wanted this whole mess to be over. This assholes cheating bullshit was keeping me from making me friends and girlfriend safer, and I was pretty much fucking done with it. "Do you want to die, asshole? Because if you don't let me go and let me finish this fight you're going to die. It won't be quick either."

    That was a lie. I had no clue if it would be quick, but I wanted to scare him. I was too angry to be rightfully afraid of being in the hands of a powerful E-ranker who could squish me like a bug. Malachai snorted in disdain. "If you could do that you would. I don't think your protector cares what I do as long as I don't interfere too directly. But I don't need to hold you down for Pietro to kill you, after all, you just threatened me. I'm sure your guardian won't mind if I teach you a little lesson. I wonder how you'll protect yourself with both arms broken?"

    I wasn't sure if that was legit. Like, I doubted I could just attack any E-ranker an expect Zeke to kill them when they defended themselves. Was threatening him enough to allow him to injure but not kill me? I didn't no. Zeke never talked about the terms of my protection, probably to keep me from abusing them. As Malachai reached for me slowly, a malicious gleam in his eye, I started to worry that I might have really fucked up.

    Which is when my mask jumped off my face and fucking ate him. Not like...in one bite either. It streaked over and latched onto his head, the wood expanding to encase his entire skull. "What the fuck?" He screamed. "What is this? Boy get this off of me. I'll kill you!" He reached up to try to tear it off and his hands sunk into the wood, submerging in the grain and being swallowed. His screams grew louder as his arms were pulled in deeper, then the wood expanded over his shoulders, his body being swallowed and compacted at the same time.

    We all watched in horrified fascination as his whole body was consumed by the wood, which then fell to the ground with a thunk. By the time it hit the floor, it was back in its normal shape, just a simple wooden mask with no adornments or eyeholes. There was no sound as we all stared at the spot where a fucking E-ranked Ascendant had just died within seconds.

    I'd...been wearing that on my face. For months. And apparently it could murder people who tried to hurt me. Which on the one hand was reassuring, since it meant I was safe without Zeke having to interfere directly and would probably help keep my identity from being blown, but on the other hand...creepy. I shook that thought off, turning to Pietro, who suddenly looked very afraid. I shot him a grin. "So...Petey. Where were we? I believe we were in the middle of a duel to the death." I should probably be worried about my face being exposed, but I didn't really have a secret identity anyway and the mask was freaking me out right now. Besides, I wanted him to see how smug I was. This was going to be fun.
  10. Verdthandi

    Verdthandi Getting some practice in, huh?

    May 29, 2018
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    Of all of the ways I expected the fight to go, that wasn’t one of them. Bravo on the surprise!
  11. Revanandfriends

    Revanandfriends Making the rounds.

    Apr 25, 2019
    Likes Received:
    So...that happened. I don't think I'd ever be able to wear that mask again.

    Sticks really well, looks like a normal object when unmoving, and eats people...Zeke makes mask mimics XD
  12. Threadmarks: chapter 324
    Malcolm Tent

    Malcolm Tent Experienced.

    Oct 16, 2020
    Likes Received:
    Pietro didn't appear to have any idea how to handle watching his E-rank bodyguard get eaten by a mask. Which...I mean, that was fair. I wasn't really sure how to process that either. It had been horrifying. Still, I was much more interested in putting down this arrogant little pissant who had brought a whole crew of zombies to wipe out me and my friends just because I put down his child stealing psycho of an underling.

    "Y-you...what do you want to do?" He said shakily as he saw me approach. I admit I was pretty gratified seeing him pale and back up. "I'm here for the tournament!" He said desperately. "You can't kill a member of a five faction alliance team, the Black Sorrow Cult won't let you off!" His words had the ring of something he desperately wanted to believe. An old truth that had turned against him and that he was trying hard to hold onto.

    I got the feeling he was the kind of person who did this sort of thing often. He was used to throwing his weight around, as if that wasn't obvious, but more than that he was used to his background saving him when he fucked it up. Now his bodyguard was dead, seemingly killed by someone at the same level as him, and the only people he had close enough to help were being obstructed by our forces.

    It had taken me a minute to understand how he could possibly be dumb enough to do this. To bring these people down here to try to kill us in a place as dangerous as this one, but then I considered it from another angle. Considering how strong someone pathetic like Pietro could be with a good job, that E-ranker was probably substantially more dangerous than any random fighter from a backwater like Callus. He might have even had some gear at D-rank of something as an emergency measure.

    In the face of a mask created by a B-ranker it had all been for nothing, and that itself showed how easily deeper foundations could let someone do whatever they wanted. Without backing from Zeke I'd have been fucked, and Pietro really could have gotten away with this without even a slap on the wrist. Unfortunately for him, he'd run into someone even more connected than him.

    Clicking my tongue, I shook my head. "Sorry to tell you this." I said stopping about five or ten feet from him. "But no one cares. This is the WCP, and more importantly a dark district. Where you came from doesn't matter here. Fuck around and find out is the only rule in this place." I gestured around to all the now uncertain looking zombies, of which there were far fewer than there had been to start. "You got that first part down, now it's time to find out. Tell me, what do you think that's going to be like?"

    Pietro was shaking as he stared at me, eyes desperately scanning around for an escape. He was actually strong enough that if he went all out he might be able to beat me in my current condition, but he was so paralyzed by fear he couldn't seem to even conceptualize fighting back. He wanted to run, but there was nowhere to go. The forces arrayed against his own army of corpses were keeping him penned in. I was about to mockingly comment on that when I was interrupted by a loud explosion of flames and lightning off to one side. I was preparing to be attacked when a muffled voice I didn't recognize called out. "Sorry."

    Another voice, this one easily identifiable as Cark bellowed. "Gods damn it, which one of your dipshits let Quentin use the Thunderfire Cannon?" I turned to glare at him and he cleared his throat. "Sorry Sol!" I heard him muttering to Sage in the background. "When I said to give one of them the Thunderfire Cannon I obviously didn't mean Quentin. He has absolutely no ability to aim at all." He paused, obviously listening to a response I somehow couldn't hear. "I don't know, Lyle? Brent? Allison? Fucking WENDELL? Literally anyone else."

    Turning forcefully and ignoring my friend, I took a deep breath and focused back on Pietro. "Sorry about that." I said with a blank expression. "Ignore them. You were about to beg for your life. Probably offer me tons of money or some treasures that would be useful for my growth?" I gestured leadingly, letting him pick up where I was going, and I saw his eyes widen with hopeful excitement.

    "Y-yes! Of course." His old arrogance started to come back. "Naturally any conditions can be talked about. You're in the better position, so getting some benefits is natural. What kind of resources were you hoping for? Gems? Elixirs? I could just pay you in chits? I'm sure I can find something to satisfy you."

    I listened to him chatter on for about ten minutes, listing off all the valuable things he could take out and getting more and more agitated by my seeming ambivalence. Honestly some of the stuff sounded pretty good, but I didn't make a sound, didn't even smile, I just waited, and let him go on and on until finally, he couldn't take it anymore. "WHAT?" He screamed frantically. "What do you want? I can get you anything. I'll call my father right away, I'll have him find whatever you need. Just TELL ME!"

    I finally smiled at him, but it wasn't reassuring or pleasant. It was cold and brutal. I didn't even need to see myself in a mirror to know how terrible it was. I didn't think I had that kind of expression in me. His face went even paler and he started to back up. "What do I want?" I asked calmly. "I want lots of things Pietro. I want those kids to have their childhoods back. I want the headless bodies of the 'puppets' Aiden killed resurrected. I want my friend's sister to be able to sleep without a nightlight on because she's so scared someone will sneak into her room at night and take her away again. Can your father give me any of those things?"

    This wasn't a game. This wasn't even cultivation. I enjoyed struggling for resources, fighting, I didn't even take being screwed over to heart most of the time. That was just business. That was life as an Ascendant. But this? The Heartrippers, Cass, the other kids? That was wrong. It was disgusting, and I'd forced myself to ignore how angry it made me for far too long. If he'd stayed away I might have kept on burying it. Kept on living in denial. But Pietro had to come out and poke the bear, to pardon a slightly on the nose metaphor.

    Based on the expression on his face that was when he finally figured out I was going to kill him. There was nothing he could possibly do to stop it. He turned and tried to run then, not even looking for a way out, just trying to force his way past everyone, throwing out his hands to release an explosion of dark power to drive back anyone in his way. He slammed headfirst into a pitch black wall of shadow courtesy of Callie.

    It would have been sad watching him scratching uselessly at it, trying to get away, if I didn't hate him so damn much. As it was it I just found it pathetic. I walked up to him calmly, and I marveled at the way I felt right now. I'd been pissed before. I'd even been enraged. But this wasn't like that. I was murderous. Literally. I wondered how much of this was recursion, because I was sure this would have terrified me a few months ago. Now it just left me cold.

    I raised my cane, still with multiple blows left in Afterburner. I focused, and with soul strength I didn't even know I had, bolstered by the cold fury burning in my gut, I forced the skill to condense. I layered all those blows together forcing them into a single strike, I used Mercy Kill, I used another of my triple strength density shifted attacks, and I WANTED to use a gravity burst too, but I knew it would be too much.

    It was fine though. I had enough power. I whirled the cane around between my fingers, using Balam to build up speed, and then brought it smashing down on the back of Pietro's head like a hammer with every ounce of Might in my body. The dark shield flared, but the blaze of my poison fire and the strength of the attack cracked and then shattered it, the blow continuing down to crash into his head.

    Much like my own armor the robe was F-ranked, but also like my won armor it was specialized in dispersing cutting and energy attacks. Cloth, even super durable cloth, doesn't do a ton to stop blunt force. I felt his head cave in under the blow and he slumped to the ground. Maybe not dead yet, but getting there.

    The last time I'd killed someone like this I'd been in battle, and the time before I'd blacked out right after. I'd never just...murdered someone. Not even someone who deserved it. I felt strange. Empty. Callie sidled up next to me, slipping under my arm and pulling me against her. I heard the sound of the corpses being forced to surrender. The Darkling Institute members who were controlling them weren't idiots. They had no backing and no support. Continuing the fight would just be asking to get got.

    As for me, I was just...tired. My head hurt, I felt cold and empty. I just wanted this to be over. I'd had enough of Doomtown. I wanted to go back up the the Pavilion and spend the next week with my friends. Granting them wishes and doing stupid shit at the circus and spending time with my girlfriend and going on dates and checking on Cass and literally anything except be HERE for even another minute.

    Sadly that wasn't an option. We were here for the auction and I wanted to make sure we got something out of it. We kept Mordaunt and Rahm, I was planning to ransom them for something good. They'd tried to kill us for money so it was only fair we got paid for kicking their ass. Unfortunately we did NOT get to keep the hammer, and we couldn't justify buying the damn thing considering it was only useful to one person at a time, so Benny got all sulky about it.

    We did manage to get our hands on a blank G-rank Skill Crystal, which was what we'd come here for. I suspect some of the other bidders might have cut us a break as thanks for dealing with Pietro, or we might not have even gotten that, but it pretty much cleaned us out. Once we got it we unanimously decided to leave. No one was really in the mood for the auction anymore. Even Abel and Lament were unhappy, since their opponents had surrendered along with the corpses.

    The walk back up to G-district was silent as we mulled over everything that had happened in Doomtown. It had been...a lot. We'd fought, bled, thankfully none of us had died, but despite the fact that we had an overwhelming victory it didn't feel like a win. I forced myself to snap out of it. We hadn't lost anything. Had gained plenty. We'd made friends, formed alliances, got stronger. We were ready. We would win the tournament, get to the Moonsong Glade, get stronger and leave Callus to explore the rest of the system, then the cluster, then the whole damn galaxy. Nothing was over. This was only the beginning, and it could have gone a lot worse. So why did I still have this gnawing sensation of dread in my stomach?
  13. chrnno

    chrnno Time Traveller

    Jun 15, 2013
    Likes Received:
    Probably because his father is not going to let this go, even if he doesn't really care about his son losing him alongside all the excessive protection he had in a public way is a slap on the face he will react to out of pride. And for that same reason do so overwhelmingly.

    Also it occurs to me that Zeke's reaction might have been intentional, if he couldn't just kill this E-Rank outright he instead did the bare minimum so the E-Rank would feel like that was the case and feel confident in pushing it. Then either that was enough to allow for summary execution or, I think more likely, the mask is set to react to certain things on its own with greater freedom than Zeke has.
  14. Threadmarks: chapter 325
    Malcolm Tent

    Malcolm Tent Experienced.

    Oct 16, 2020
    Likes Received:
    Getting back to the Pavilion was different this time than the last. Before it had been a quick stop. The night we spent waiting for the four and arranging everything had passed in a flash. Now though, now we were home. Our home. our place, that we actually owned. Not like the house Zeke bought. And speaking of my uncle, he was waiting for us when we got into the Pavilion.

    "Hey, you're back." He said casually from his spot on the bench. To my shock, every other pavilion membed was clear on the other side of the tent, not training, but trying to press themselves into the wall in the tightest possible configuration. When he saw where my eyes went he chuckled wryly. "Ah, sorry. I felt the trouble and figured I'd wait here for you to get out just in case. When that E-ranker picked his fight and I warned him off I might have been a little annoyed. My aura leaked a bit."

    That certainly explained the looks of existential terror plastered across the faces of some of the most hardened battle maniacs I'd ever seen. I grimaced at him. "Yeah, about that." I held up the mask. "What the actual fuck? I've been wearing this thing on my face and it eats people? That's pretty messed up." I was still uncomfortable putting the mask back on, and had used my old scarf to cover my face on the way back up here.

    Zeke cracked up. "I can't believe he actually triggered it. What a dumbass. I did warn him. I guess I was a bit too gentle with the aura. I didn't want to go full blast and fry a bunch of randoms." He shrugged. "As for the mask...it did its job. It was supposed to protect you. I can make you a new one if you want. A weaker one. But I have to warn you that including the defenses let me skirt the edges of what I'd normally be able to put into something like that. If I make a new one it won't be a thousandth as good."

    I climbed up on the stands to drop down next to him bonelessly, letting the mask clatter to the ground. I wasn't worried it would break. He looked amused but didn't mention it. Callie followed me in, sitting next to me quietly and not saying anything. She'd been hovering since I killed Pietro. I'd been worried she would be horrified, but all I felt through our bond was a sense of worry. The others all headed in, giving us space as they went to check on the traumatized pavilion members.

    "You know...I always figured this mask was too weird to be low level. How can I even use it? I assumed it was impossible to use gear too many ranks above you. This thing has to be at least E-rank to have killed that guy so easily. How come it didn't crush my soul?" Trying to leverage an item with that much Impact would probably do something dramatic like that. Either way, I knew it should be impossible.

    He shrugged. "Because I cheated. There's an Impact seal on it. My Voltomancy can manipulate masks I make in ways that wouldn't normally be possible. It slowly releases portions of that power as you rank up. Still, that material has the toughness of a B-ranked wood. The emergency defenses I put on it are well within the tolerance level of something that durable."

    Now that he mentioned it the thing HAD jumped right off my face before it ate the guy. Presumably so it could channel that Impact without crushing me. That was..."Zeke, what exactly can your ability DO? That sounds more like an AI than an Enchantment. Is this mask AWARE? Because I don't care how strong it is, I'm not wearing a living being trapped in a hunk of wood on my face."

    He chuckled. "Don't freak out. It's not aware. That was a preprogrammed response, to use your computer jargon. A conditional enchantment. There are countless tiny runes on that thing you can't see, and they make some pretty complex instruction, but they aren't anything close to an actual entity. It's like a personal alarm. Someone too strong tried to hurt you so it went off."

    I wasn't sure why that made me feel so much better, but it absolutely did. "Alright..." I said slowly. "What about Pietro, did you see when I..." I didn't know what his senses could do, but he'd been able to see Malachai well enough to scare him off. I cleared my throat. "Is that going to be a problem? Will the cult start trouble because he died here?" I'd been pretty confident when I said that wouldn't happen, but 'pretty confident' isn't 'sure.

    My uncle actually sneered at me for the question. "Honestly. No. The Cult isn't going to attack a psuedo D-ranked planet. Nothing here is worth starting even a minor skirmish over." He paused. "Maybe you. At least to some of them, but the kid didn't know who you were. He was just some typical spoiled little elite who was far too confident in daddy. They're a credit a dozen back at the clan, and pretty much everywhere else. Regardless, no. They won't declare a war."

    Callie cleared her throat. "What about the others?" I looked at her in confusion. "The rest of the team. They're four people right? Were they all down there? Or are we going to be meeting a team from the Cult with an alternate thrown in. That seems like something it would be good to know."

    Shit, I hadn't even bothered to check that. I should have asked to make sure the rest of their team was around. Zeke didn't seem bothered, but then, I doubted the sun exploding and swallowing the planet would bother Zeke overly much. Being at B-rank couldn't possibly be good for your scale measuring problems in relation to normal people. Speaking of ranks, I'd gotten my wishes in on the way back, putting me that much closer to F-rank.

    Yesterday's wishes were all used up on escape prep, though shockingly none of my teammates has actually triggered them. The spells had been keyed to potential lethal danger, which they'd all thankfully avoided, so they each had one in the pocket. Benny hadn't really engaged so much as stuck to the edges smashing things with a hammer, Jessie had let Randall do the fighting, and Callie had been working with me and our teamwork kept her from being exposed too much.

    Sadly in order to afford a full on teleport all the way to the Pavilion they'd had to keep things specific, which meant limiting the time covered by the escape, but I didn't consider the wishes a waste even if they never triggered. Better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it. Still, between that last available wish and the other five I had on hand that put me at eighteen points added to my total, that much closer to rank up. My stats were looking pretty good actually. I'd added the eighteen points to my Creation, bringing it up to an even one hundred and sixty. I'd also gotten topped up with some of the reserved attacks from my teammates.

    Wishmaster candidate status. G-rank. Ability: Beginner Wish- Five times a day grant a Beginner wish in return for proper compensation. Wish must be feasibly achievable by the candidate's own efforts within a three day period with current statistics.


    Progress to next rank:940/1000

    Stored:10 shadow attacks(two in reserve waiting to be granted), 9 fire attacks, 10 triple strenth tranq blows, 8 triple strength density shifted attacks. 8 spider leg attacks, 10 heal bursts (26 reserve waiting to be granted), 10 gravity attacks, 10 shadow clone, 27 scan heals (I-rank ability so Shane can hold more)
    Pet- Wolf named Jin

    Skills:Beginner Doom Sovereign Mastery,Beginner Enchanting Mastery (four charges per point of Impact), Lesser Cooking Mastery,Lesser Inventing Mastery, Lesser Stealth, Lesser Paired Dueling, Minor Piano Mastery, Minor Gymnastics Mastery, Minor Swimming Mastery, Minor Guitar Mastery, Minor Singing Mastery,Minor Poker Mastery, Minor Archery Mastery, Minor Boxing Mastery, Lesser Balam Mastery, Minor First Aid Mastery, Minor Herbalism Mastery

    I'd gotten sick of not being able to tell how close I was without doing math, I'd tinkered around with trying to change the way I envisioned the stats themselves to surprisingly good results. As I checked my sheet though, I noticed something much more interesting. I'd been so caught up in Pietro dying and the fallout that I hadn't even noticed the change in my bond with Callie. My eyes snapped to hers. "Holy shit, Cal did your Paired Dueling Skill rank up to Lesser too?"

    As I listed off my stats to her, I also explained how I did the whole progress bar tweak. It was mainly an exercise in Fantasy. The representation of our stats was itself part of the same system that gave us abilities, so it could be affected by stats. Not much, and not to any real use, but little alterations were more than possible. Once I finished she checked her own stats and shared them, confirming her rank up.

    Calliope Reynolds: Beginner Shadow Embodiment- The ability to control and shape shadows either molding them into constructs of imbuing them into specially prepared objects to enable enhancement and control.


    Progress to next rank:840/1000

    Pet-Wolf named Rellia

    Skills: Minor Tracking, Beginner Stealth, Beginner Trap Mastery, Beginner Disguise, Lesser Balam Mastery, Lesser Paired Dueling Beginner Shadow Manipulation Mastery.

    Aside from the rank up, I was even more shocked to discover something else. "Wait...I'm closer to F-rank than you?" I stared at her in dumbfounded astonishment. Callie had always been stronger than me. I mean, granted, she still was. My stats were far too spread out, while hers were much more concentrated in her main specialties. Not to the extent of someone like Jessie of course, but she had nearly forty more Might than me, just to name one stat. Still, my total was actually higher now.

    She sighed, giving me a fond smile. "Yes, idiot. For a while now. It's not a surprise. You've been working hard, and doing more than a bit of extra work with the Beast Lord Garden. I admit though, I didn't expect you to be a full hundred points more advanced. I guess I wasn't keeping track of your overall stats." It wasn't hard to notice, with the bond and my own knowledge of her, that her smile was a bit strained.

    "Hey." I said reaching out to take her hand. "I get that it's weird, but don't forget we have the same end point. We're both stopping right before F-rank for the tourney, and we have a whole week to get you there. That'll be a hundred and five points." I paused. "Shit, that means we're going to be short. I have some of my elixir total left I can use to make up the difference for me, but we'll have to rush yours during the tournament itself."

    She laughed sweetly and leaned up to kiss my cheek. "I know. I don't begrudge you the advancement. It's just weird. We met only a few months ago and you're already stronger than me. But I know we're a team and I'll catch up. The tournament should be a week or two long, so getting us both to the peak of G-rank in time shouldn't be a problem, don't worry so much."

    Zeke rolled his eyes. "Well, this is getting uncomfortable for everyone who isn't you two. I'm going to go check on the minions I traumatized. Anything is better than watching you stare soulfully into each others eyes. Seriosuly, you two even make ME sick, and with my Vitality that shouldn't be possible." I laughed along with Callie as Zeke walked away. Things were scary in some ways, but I was also pretty lucky. I decided to focus more on that. The rest of it I could figure out as it came.
  15. Threadmarks: chapter 326
    Malcolm Tent

    Malcolm Tent Experienced.

    Oct 16, 2020
    Likes Received:
    By the time we rejoined the others, Mel and Abel had mostly managed to talk down the terrified members of the Pavilion, though most of them were still shooting fearful looks at my uncle. Zeke ignored them, of course, and was sitting with Alden, who had offered him a beer and was having a grand old time talking to the younger man. Although...I wasn't sure how true that was. Alden looked older, but Zeke was a B-ranker. For all I knew my uncle and parents could be thousands of years old.

    Once they calmed them a bit though, Abel and Mel had distracted the others with the Skill Crystal, and they were in talks about using it to teach martial arts to all of them. I'd assumed Callie would be the one to imprint on it, but Abel made the very valid point that he was an Intermediate rank Master Candidate in Ragam, and would be able to help instruct the others even after they awakened the Skill and honed it with the crystal.

    Callie joined in the discussion, and as she did I walked over to slump down next to Alden and Zeke. "You two look thick as thieves." I said wryly. "I should have expected the two drunkest people I know would have some things in common." I pointed at Zeke. "Him I get Alden, but aren't you worried about the tournament? Your disciples are going to be in it. Even if you aren't concerned for the two of us, there are other Master Candidates coming. Hell, might be more than a few, who knows how strong the other forces in the Gloryfire System are."

    Zeke rolled his eyes. "Please. I'm surprised even a pair of Master Candidates popped up near here. Maybe if it was in the Unity Hub I could see a reason to worry, but the Gloryfire System is a wasteland. You might see more impressive people in the Glade Itself. This particular tournament is for the System as a whole, and all hundred of the Systems in the Axiom Cluster are going to be sending their best."

    That brought up something important I'd been putting off asking. "Ok, so what the hell is up with all that? Clusters, Systems, Planets, how is all that related?" I'd heard plenty of that kind of talk in passing. All I knew at the moment was that we were in the Gloryfire System right now, and on a D-rank planet. "Actually." I cut in before he could answer. "Why is it happening here anyway? Wouldn't a higher ranked planet be better?"

    That got a chuckle from my uncle. "No. Weaker planets work better, means the locals are less likely to try to assassinate the visitors. As for why it's happening here...well, let's just say that the WCP doesn't want anything going wrong and arranged for it to be in the territory of someone inclined to ensure that. The Gloryfire System is right on the edge of Cult space, as you may have noticed from their bullshit theatrics around here."

    Huh...so they had set this up because Zeke was around? I assumed that was what he meant. I didn't bring that up in front of Alden though. He might know Zeke was powerful, but that didn't mean he knew everything. Zeke nodded approvingly at my silence when the bearded man wasn't looking, then continued. "You're right though. You should know the layout of the local area at least. The planets thing isn't necessarily important, every system has multiple planets, depending on their size."

    He looked genuinely interested in the topic, and I listened with rapt attention as he informed me more about how the universe worked. "The Gloryfire System is a three star system, and every star has multiple terraformed planets surrounding it. There are several D and even C-ranked planets among that number. As I mentioned earlier, Gloryfire is one of a hundred or so Systems in the Axiom Star Cluster, and among those Systems there are other three star, four star, or even five or six star systems. The stars can, of course, be spread out and have multiple planets in their orbits that never intersect, though they all orbit a central star in the system, even if that star isn't easily visible from each planet."

    Ok, that made some sense. So we were orbiting one of the outer stars, which were orbiting the interior star of the System. "So the Axiom Star Cluster is the territory controlled by the Unity? Star Clusters are the same thing as Galaxies right?" I'd looked that up when I heard the term System, though information about the actual political formations of Systems was obviously not available, the structure of the physical phenomena was common enough."

    Zeke shook his head. "No. Not even close. A Cluster is a agglomeration of Systems, and a Galaxy is an agglomeration of Clusters. The Unity's territory is the smallest of the five factions, with only a single Galaxy to their name. This is because the Unity himself is the youngest god. Older and more powerful factions have several to even dozens in the case of the Empire and the Fairyland. Technically speaking the entire five faction alliance occupies a single Galactic Cluster, but we mostly just use the Universe as shorthand because there are no known civilizations outside the cluster."

    "So the Gloryfire System is one of hundreds of Systems in the Axiom Cluster, which is in the single Unity Galaxy?" My head was hurting at the concept of how fucking big the world was, and how many planets that would have to be. He mentioned multiple planets around each star, which could mean into the double digits, and the scale as that went up was mindboggling. I knew farming renown was important, but still, to expand to that scale...

    Seeming to see my shock, Zeke smiled. "Yeah. The Chiron Galaxy. Most people just call it the the Unity Hub. The Conglomerate is the managing government of the Axiom Cluster, to put things in perspective. Anyway, like I said, the 'geniuses' in this System won't be worth much. It's the ass end of nowhere and there are less than a dozen planets. Being able to spawn a pair of Master Candidates is already decent. You might see a few freaks with rare abilities or weird racial traits, but probably not many people on the level of Abel or the spear wielder. Maybe one or two more tops, since there are a few C-rank planets in the System." He said that like it was irrelevant.

    "So you said that the Black Sorrow Cult's Galaxy is near here?" I focused on another relevant issue. The Cult were enemies of mine and especially of my mom who was a Saintess of the Red Revenant Church. From what I knew Black Sorrow and the Red Revenant were old enemies from before they ascended, and this had carried over to their factions. Being able to kill the son of a Saintess would be a huge coup for the Cult.

    "One of them." Zeke said with a shrug. "They have like a dozen. As I mentioned, the Unity is the youngest of the gods by a large margin. Black Sorrow and the Red Revanent each control about twelve, counting their central and original territories, the Night Demon Abyss and the Holy Dominion respectively. Those are nicknames, like the Unity Hub. Most Galaxy names are pretty nondescript. Anyway the closest to us is the Extreme Void. The Gloryfire System is right at the edge of Extreme Void. Probably how the Darkling Institute made contact with the Cult in the first place."

    Yet another reason to get off Callus. Zeke wouldn't be protecting me forever. Once I hit D-rank I'd be a Master ranked Ascendant and officially recognized as being able to take care of myself. Forgetting the fact that I couldn't even reach D-rank on Callus, even if I could I wouldn't dare to do it so close to the Cult's territory. I decided once we finished our adventure in the Moonsong Glade we'd go out on our own. Maybe visit the central Cluster of the Unity Hub, or even take a look around the Empire or Faerieland. The latter was pretty insular, but even they maintained decent relations with the Wish Curse Palace. Not having our own territory made it possible to be uniquely entwined with the entire five faction alliance. Though now that I knew how big the Universe (or Galactic Cluster I guess) was, I doubted 'no territory was exactly literal. We probably had a home planet or even a system. Just no Galaxies to our name. I really did know so little about the world as a whole.

    Alden looked mildly fascinated by hearing about things at this level, but not as much as I'd expected. Sure enough he probably came from a larger force originally. Maybe not at the Galactic level like the factions, but still. Though that brought up an interesting question. "I've heard there are a lot of powerful clans. Are they all part of the factions? What about the WCP? We have a lot of branches don't we?" I knew anyone who reached S-rank like my grandfather was eligible to start a branch. Theoretically they could even start a new clan, though I was told that didn't really happen.

    "They're all part of the factions. Or they live among their territory anyway." Said Zeke. "Most of the Galaxies outside the main Galaxy of a faction are controlled by an S-rank clan. They're top officers of faction. The Kings of the Empire are all S-rankers who serve the Emperor directly for instance. Not every S-rank clan runs a Galaxy of course, but they mostly have their own territory. Our branches usually operate at a Galactic level, working alongside S-rankers in that specific Galaxy. Sort of like how the Deacon of the Rajak WCP operates alongside the local Unity leader. Being spread out like that keeps us from being too big a threat and let's us get along with the other factions, though of course the Wish power certainly doesn't hurt our PR at all."

    I decided that was enough learning for the day. My brain was already exploding with new information and if I kept going I wouldn't be able to focus on anything. I knew Zeke tried to ration the amount of this stuff that I learned to keep me from being overwhelmed and discouraged by the size of the Universe. I had a feeling you could take a century long class on global politics and force distribution and not even scratch the surface of the full picture.

    Seeming to sense my train of thought he laughed and clapped a hand on my shoulder. "It's not good to get too caught up in that stuff. You only really need to worry about the here and now, kid. This planet, this system. Soon the Cluster maybe, but nothing past that. Galactic matters need Galactic power, and you aren't even close." He said this kindly, not meaning it as an insult, and I took it that way too. I didn't want to go swimming in deep water until I was a shark.

    With a solemn nod I exhaled. "You're right. I just need to win the tournament and get that Moonglow Dew. Having the extra Impact will make me that much stronger compared to others my rank. Even if I run into some crazy monster with Master rank Skills at F-rank it's useless if they can't hurt me." Not that I was confident the Moonglow Dew could even DO that. That was a big gap to close. But it would definitely at least help. In the end, this all seemed complicated and scary, but it came down to the same thing Ascendant stuff always did. Want to be left alone? Get stronger. If I wanted to adventure and see the Universe with my friends I needed to have the muscle to back it up. I'd better get to work.
  16. Threadmarks: chapter 327
    Malcolm Tent

    Malcolm Tent Experienced.

    Oct 16, 2020
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    In the end, Abel was the one to use the Skill crystal. Despite Callie's interest in trying it and passing on her Balam techniques to others more easily, Abel was a Master Candidate in Ragam. The martial art was extremely powerful and dangerous based on what we'd seen from him, and if we wanted the best possible results from the crystal our best bet was to let him do it.

    Sadly, since it had been prepared for Callie, the crystal was only G-rank, and couldn't contain an Intermediate Skill. Abel was able to imprint only the Beginner rank insights from his martial arts easily enough though. The more important factor was that Abel would be around to actually TEACH them Ragam. With his high standards he was able to help them advance much faster than Callie could.

    "Actually, I always wondered about that." I couldn't help but interject. "Where did you learn Ragam? It's not the same style that Mel and Alden use. I'd have figured if you used a martial art it would be the one your teacher uses. Alden mostly uses a grappling style that complements his gravity ability, but Ragam seems to be a striking art based on how you use it. Did you create it yourself?" I didn't think he had. I remembered Cicero's lackey telling me he used a powerful art and I was pretty sure he alluded to it being old.

    Abel just laughed. We were all lounging on the steps drinking soda from Alden's cooler (except Zeke and Alden who were still drinking beer). "Not even a little." He said in amusement. "I found it in an old book. It was mostly just exercises and some insights. Only enough to get me to Beginner, but past that point you really need to make your own way in any case. Not that some guidance wouldn't have helped but...what are you gonna do, right? I picked the thing up for a few chits as a kid and became obsessed with learning it. Alden actually tried to talk me out of it more than once, but I was a stubborn little bastard."

    "Was?" Muttered the red bearded man. But aloud he said. "I admit I underestimated you, boy. Even so, you got lucky. That book was a treasure. Still not sure how it ended up there. Probably some Fate sense malarkey. That doesn't mean it'll hold up against other geniuses though. That Spear Legion girl sounds like a legitimate threat to you, don't go assuming you're unbeatable because you're the biggest bully in a small playground."

    Abel's grin was so feral even the wolves looked disturbed. "Oh don't you worry old man. Complacency is the last thing on my mind. I'm so excited for this fight I can't even sleep. There are so many things I need to test and confirm that no one close to my level can help me verify. Too strong, too weak, all the same problem. The chance to pit my Ragam against a true warrior on an equal footing..." He looked over to Callie. "How early can I face her? I know the layout of this thing will be team then single elimination but do we know anything about the lineup?"

    Callie snickered at his childlike enthusiasm. "I've been asking around. As far as I can tell there will be eight rounds in the team battles, with ten thousand contestants spanning twenty five hundred teams. Final count with bys and everything will be forty teams making it to single elimination. Five rounds of that to pick the top ten. That'll be the main tournament that will have all the spectators. The thirteen rounds prior will be split up all over the city and happening all at once mostly, otherwise there would be no way to get it all done in any reasonable timeframe."

    "Thirteen rounds, and then a top ten elimination tournament." I said excitedly. "We're working as a team for the first eight at least, so that should help our chances. personally I can't wait for the five solo rounds. What are the chances we'll fight each other early into that?" I sucked at math, so it was more convenient to just as one of the others. Focus made your brain work better, but mostly at stuff you already used it for.

    Benny surprised me by answering. "Gets higher the longer it goes on, but in the first round, not that high. Single digit percentages. If you add in all the other people we know and assume that they'll make it far enough to be an issue we start seeing much higher chances of running into someone that could pose a problem. How far you get is a matter of luck as much as anything. If you run into a Master Candidate first round you'll be pretty much fucked."

    I nodded grimly, but that reminded me. "Speaking of Master Candidates can't we start looking into the other teams more? The ones not in Doomtown will be around in Rajak to feel out right? Cal, do you have a way we could bump into them? I'm not really a social person but they have like...gala's and stuff to celebrate big events right? No way they miss the chance to wine and dine the bigwigs from the more powerful planets in the System right?"

    Callie's face lit up. "Oh! That's a great point! I got so used to thinking about things from a martial point of view I completely overlooked that we can go to parties!" Everyone looked at her and she blushed. "I...I like parties. Big fancy galas were kind of a family thing for my mom and I when I was younger. They're good memories."

    "I'm glad to hear it." I said with a smile. "Because I know jack and shit about formal galas. I'll need plenty of help from you, Benny, and anyone else who we can rope in to be presentable." I looked at my best friend. "Speaking of being comfortable with formality, is your girlfriend available for etiquette lessons?"

    If there was one person we knew who would definitely be able to help with political maneuvering, it was Celine. Callie had learned some of that stuff by necessity growing up, but Celine was raised for it. From what Benny had told us, her mother was a high ranking elven official, and even though Celine wasn't her only child, or even one of the more important ones, she'd been brought up to be chess piece in that kind of environment.

    It actually bothered Benny a lot. As someone who essentially blew off every attempt his mother made to force him to play the good little rich boy, knowing Celine did everything her mother said frustrated him. He'd confided in me that he wished he could just help her see that it was all bullshit because she deserved to be happy, but in the end it wasn't his choice to make. She did what she did, and he cared about her so he was along for the ride.

    As such, my suggestion that we embroil her in a bunch of political intrigue was met with annoyance, but not outright rejection. He knew Celine would most likely want to take part, he just didn't particularly like that I was getting her involved in the first place. Eventually he sighed. "Fine." He spat. "I'll bring it up and let you know what she says. But you need to try not get her sucked into an asssassination plot or something."

    "Hey." I said in protest. "I'm not some kind of magnet for assassins..." I paused. "Actually, now that I think about it that's fair. I'll make sure we keep an eye out. Damn, I am a magnet for assassins, when did that happen? Other Ascendants get into cool fights and punch monsters and I have to worry about getting backstabbed by crazy cultists. That's unfair as hell." I complained.

    Callie snickered, patting my shoulder. "Just the price you pay for being awesome. Who told you to be so good looking and talented." He tone was solemn and sympathetic, but there was a sparkle of amusement in her eye. "You've attracted the envy of the universe." I glared at her for a second before her twitching smirk broke down into peals of laughter. My expression made it worse and she almost fell off her seat cackling.

    "I never mock you for your pain." I grumbled. But I was smiling too. I was glad to have friends who would make light of this kind of shit. Otherwise I'd turn into some angsty edgelord who spent all his time whining. I had fun being an Ascendant for the most part, and I wanted to keep that going. It was why I had a team in the first place. Everything was more fun when you did it with a bunch of friends.

    Jessie rolled her eyes at our antics. "I can help too. My brother took me to a few galas during our visit here, and when we were younger I got plenty of lessons on etiquette from Harvest. She's surprisingly socially conscious for a hermit that lives in the woods and plays with dirt all day."

    I laughed at that harder than I should have probably. Turning to Callie, I waited for her verdict. As team leader she would be making these calls, even more so since I knew nothing at all about politics. She was in a better position to decide who would be allowed to help out. Even my question about Celine was just a suggestion, though the two of us were in sync enough that I doubted she would shut it down.

    She seemed to mull it over for a bit before nodding. "Jessie and Celine helping should be fine. We're going to be in Rajak proper, not some dark district. Rajak has laws and rules. Even if villains sometimes break them, none of them will be stupid enough to attack a high ranking Ascendant gala with most of the Unity leadership there." She grimaced at that last part, and I knew why, but she forced herself to move on. "Anyway, the WCP should be sending a delegation too. They're one of the major organizations on this planet, so they won't miss the fun."

    Which meant Alexander would be there to act as support when she had to deal with her dad. I hadn't met Midknight yet, and honestly wasn't looking forward to the experience. My own issues with his behavior aside Callie wasn't going to have an easy time seeing him after so long. I reached out to grab her hand. "You can always skip this you know. You don't have to deal with him."

    She shook her head. "No. I'm sick of letting him control me. Not just directly, but by avoiding him I'm just giving him more power. I may not be up to his level in terms of ranking but I'm already strong enough to stand on my own. I'm part of a team and I'm not afraid of him anymore." She squeezed back, and I felt her fear and resolve through the bond.

    "Alright." I said. "But if things get too heavy let me know and we can bail. There's no reason to torture yourself if it's too much. You can always face him again later. Whatever you need to do." Midknight shouldn't be willing to throw away his rep by trying anything overt, and even if he did Alexander could stop him. If he attacked me it would go even worse. Callie deserved the chance to say her peace in a safe environment and I knew if she didn't get it she would be bothered by it for a long time.

    Knowing this had gotten too serious, we changed the subject, chatting about all the potential events and which to go to once we found out when and where everything would be. We still had a week of relaxing to do, and plenty of wishing, but nothing said we couldn't be productive and relax. Who knew what this next week would bring, and then after that...the tournament would finally begin.
  17. Threadmarks: chapter 328
    Malcolm Tent

    Malcolm Tent Experienced.

    Oct 16, 2020
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    The next week flew by in a blur. We did end up talking to Celine, but on consulting her we decided to wait to attend a gala. According to her none of the really impressive forces would bother going to the pre-party because they hadn't shown off their strength yet. Without proving what they could do it would be harder to operate from a position of social superiority. Celine estimated that ninety percent of the important guests would wait until the end of the first round to make an appearance, so they could pressure the others with their performance.

    The biggest change that happened was obviously that I managed to max out my G-rank cultivation, reaching exactly one thousand points. I needed sixty points to do this, and at three points per wish that ended up being twenty wishes from the Beast Lord Initiates. It brought me up to a nice round one hundred and ninety in Vitality. Since I had thirty five wishes to burn over the week, that left me with fifteen, which I of course used to bring Callie up another forty five points before the tournament.

    Callie decided that her Perception had been slipping, and since she was going to be synergizing a new ability on rank up, she wanted to stack her highest stat as high as possible to see if she could stumble into some amazing ability like Jessie. The forty five points brought her Perception up to a full two hundred and twenty, with plans to take it even higher as she went. Perception was one of the main components of her build, even with the addition of her Shadow Manipulation Skill. You had to be able to keep track of fine details to manipulate and adjust them.

    Paying them off was an issue, of course, but we managed to come up with a pretty solid compensation. Callie often used her powerful Stealth Skill to hide us, but since it was more powerful than mine and I found it useful she was able to use stored Stealth charges to pay off her debt, giving me ten and promising another five. In fact, I was over the moon about the discovery, because having used two of those charges (leaving me with three left on top of the base ten I could hold) I realized something amazing.

    Experiencing a higher level of a Skill I already had at a decent point let me increase my understanding of it. Not to the level of ranking up immediately, but I was pretty sure if I kept using these I could get my Stealth Skill to Beginner and even to a high level of Beginner like Callie's extremely quickly.

    It opened up an entirely new way of training for me. Granted, the circumstances were pretty specific, since I was positive it wouldn't work with Skills I'd granted myself, but I was sure I could find some Skills my friends had that I did too and experience them so we could learn faster. Hell, we could probably do it with Paired Dueling if I granted some wishes to Abel and Mel, at least if I hadn't used up all my wishes for the day already. I was going to focus on Stealth for now though, at least until Callie hit her cap. We needed her there by the end of the tournament after all.

    Regardless, we were in our best condition, and that was why we were all extra excited to find ourselves standing in the Varia Coliseum in Rajak, waiting for the announcement of the beginning of the tournament, as well as the selection for everyone's first round battle. It wasn't just us and our team either. Aside from our two fellow fighters, Benny, Jessie, Alexander, Sloane, Cark, Melinda, Baric, Croll, Lament, Wren, Sydney, and several other friends from Doomtown were all crowded together in the stands of the massive white marble structure, staring down at the circular stage in the center.

    "So." Benny asked curiously. "What is the point of this huge extravagant ceremony? Because I feel like they could have just picked the lineups out of a hat and send us all a text."

    Celine snorted out a laugh at that from next to her boyfriend, getting shocked looks from everyone who actually knew her. She gracefully ignored them before clearing her throat. "It's a sign of status. A show of the resources and manpower that the Unity can bring to bear as hosts. It's-"

    "It's dick measuring." Cut in Callie, the only one of us who didn't seem happy to be here. I knew she was expecting to see her dad, so I didn't blame her. "They want to show everyone how impressive and grandiose they are. It's a petty attempt to save face preemptively because they know their teams are going to get crushed." Some of our Doomtown acquaintances who didn't know Callie's story seemed surprised by the venom, but the rest of us weren't.

    Alexander nodded under his darkened cloth wraps. "Midknight has always been very concerned with appearances. In some ways it makes him a better Ascendant, and in some ways it limits him. While reputation is certainly important to us, you can only make so much of an impression with a carefully curated image. To truly inspire awe or even terror, one must step outside the conventional and do things the masses wouldn't ever expect."

    That drew a snort from where my uncle sat behind us. "Shock and Awe vs. PR is an age old debate among Ascendants. I personally hold to that school of thought myself though. A real legend grows in the telling, trying to prune every branch of your story to perfection just slows it down. Only cowards who are afraid of recursion bother with that much image management. It's a sign of subpar willpower."

    Cass, who was here with the group, turned to glare at him. "Hush uncle Zeke it's starting!" Despite yelling at a literal force of nature, Cass seemed completely unworried and turned back to watch the stage as a dark figure climbed it. Callie tensed up as Zeke shot Cass a fond smile. I stared down at the black armored form that I was pretty sure had to be Midknight, as he strolled to the center of the stage.

    The man had presence, I'd give him that. Granted, so did every E-ranker I'd ever met. You needed to be something special to make it to the peak of cultivation for a planet, even when that peak was as low as it was here. Midknight strode across the white marble stage, swept along on a carpet of rolling shadows that spilled from his pauldrons, tumbling to his feet like a cape only to buoy him aloft like some sort of ghostly warrior general.

    I took Callie's hand, letting her grip my fingers so tightly I lost feeling in them as she glared down at the man attracting all of the attention from the now silent crowd. Midknight stopped in the center of the stage, glancing around slowly as if choosing his targets, both in terms of words and who he would address. Finally, he spoke. "Conflict." He intoned. "War, by another name."

    His voice was deep and resonant, almost hypnotic. I'd expected him to sound weasely. Guess I had been making assumptions. He continued speaking. "Some would say this sentiment belies our purpose here today. To gather in celebration and pit ourselves against allies. They would speak of peace. Of togetherness. Of...Unity."

    That got a bit of a chuckle, though it was diffuse. People were too wrapped up in what he was saying to laugh. It wasn't really going in an obvious direction. "Fools!" He barked, making everyone jump. "War does not make a mockery of alliance. It lends it strength. It does not contradict peace, for even in the tamest peace must we do battle with our inner selves. War is our nature. Our purpose. Our core."

    "Is he serious right now?" I whispered to Callie, making sure to use Stealth to prevent my voice from being overheard. Apparently my Stealth Skill wasn't good enough to hide my words from someone at Midknight's level, because the blue eyes in the helmet, the ones that looked so much like Callie's, snapped to my face.

    Far from being agitated, my girlfriend...well, smiled would be a generous description, but she bared her teeth in something approximating the gesture. SHE didn't bother to use Stealth when she responded. Or keep her voice down. "Unfortunately. The old man has always loved to hear himself talk. Shame he's too self involved to notice no one else likes hearing his voice as much as he does."

    You could have heard a fucking pin drop. Every single eye in the whole arena swiveled to fix on Callie, who was still baring her teeth at Midknight in that same not-smile. The man sighed. "So many years Calliope. Yet you remain so disrespectful. Your mother's influence I assume. Amelia never did know how to keep her mouth shut. Silence yourself girl, I'll deal with you when this is over."

    "The FUCK you will." I snarled. I'd like to claim that I was trying to lure him into attacking so Zeke could smash him like a bug, but honestly I hadn't even known I was speaking until I said that. I also hadn't noticed myself standing up. "You come near her and I'll fucking kill you. I might not be able to fight you in a head on conflict, but I bet you'd have some real trouble surviving an E-ranked spike of metal through the eye while you sleep."

    I admit. That wasn't the most...diplomatic thing to say. But I could feel Callie's rage and hate through our connection, not to mention my own because I LIKED Amelia, and fuck this guy for blaming her when he'd been the one who humiliated and left her. I expected him to get angry, to try to lash out at me, but fortunately for my anonymity, someone else had something to say too.

    "Enough, Paul." Said a quiet murmur from our side. "This is enough. Have you really become so pathetic and pompous that you need to poke at your own daughter's wounds for all to see?" I noticed he used Midknight's real name this time, and realized it was because Midknight had done the same to Callie. Alexander was letting his brother know that anything he did to her The Nothing would pay back in kind. He was offering her protection.

    Not to be outdone, Melinda snorted from the other side. "Please, like there's anyone on the planet who doesn't know Midknight is a brownnosing rat bastard who sucks up to the public and treats everyone around him like shit when no one is looking. If there's a Hypocrisy Skill his is probably at Master rank." Her mocking sneer was so unlike her I had trouble even processing it for a second.

    On second thought though the Unity and the WCP were public enemies. Not to mention Melinda was allied with our Pavilion and I was a guest elder of her Garden. She was making her stance clear, probably because if Midknight chose to make an issue of this he would be effectively challenging THREE E-rankers, Melinda, her companion Travis, and Alexander himself.

    The man's blue eyes bored into our group, icy with rage, but to my surprise, he just chuckled. "Criminals and trash will always show their true nature. By all means, put on your show, clowns. I'll accommodate you. I imagine our guests would love to see such a comedic performance." Melinda looked livid, but Alexander made a gesture. With a bedgrudging nod she sat back down, and they all stared at each other for a minute before returning to the matter at hand.

    I winced. Midknight was good. Any further provocation would vindicate him and make the other two look like children. It was the same thing the triplets had done back in Valen. He'd diffused that way too easily. Still, I wasn't stupid enough to think this was over. His cold blue eyes had locked on Callie and I as he resumed his speech. We'd challenged his authority, and he wasn't going to let it pass. That was fine. I might not be able to fight him, but I had ways of making his life harder. He could bring it the fuck on.
  18. Revanandfriends

    Revanandfriends Making the rounds.

    Apr 25, 2019
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    Always love airing family laundry to a massive crowd of people XD.
  19. Wickian

    Wickian Know what you're doing yet?

    Feb 2, 2017
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    After looking at the post history I can see this author has made almost daily updates for over a year. Is he really a flesh and blood man like the rest of us?
  20. RainwithPromise

    RainwithPromise He Who Walks, Reads and Yearns

    Mar 12, 2020
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    What chapter was this again? theres a bit too many to find the specific chapter.

    such a shame this ain't a NSFW work would've gotten a lot more attention and you make good smut :V oh well still enjoyed this one tho.
  21. Malcolm Tent

    Malcolm Tent Experienced.

    Oct 16, 2020
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    I post two chapters a day except on Saturdays, where I technically post one but I tend to write it the day before and take the day off lol. One on this and one on one of my two YJ stories, or my ultimate marvel OC on Sundays.
  22. Threadmarks: chapter 329
    Malcolm Tent

    Malcolm Tent Experienced.

    Oct 16, 2020
    Likes Received:
    I vaguely considered throwing fruit or something at Midknight as he returned to talk, but that was clearly beneath my dignity, and also I didn't have any fruit. Instead I just held Callie's hand as the armored bastard returned to his obnoxious soliloquy. "Now." He rumbled. "As I'm sure you know, today we will be selecting your primary opponents. In the spirit of fairness there will be a random selection rather than a structured match schedule."

    Callie's snort told me she agreed with my assessment that Midknight wasn't the type to care about fairness. My guess would be that he didn't want to get assassinated by some overzealous E-ranker from a higher rank planet because he fucked up their chances by putting them against a ringer.

    "If you will all look under your seats!" Boomed Midknight. "There should be an envelope. If you have more than one per team simply leave them be and they will randomly switch places until all contestants receive their assignments." Huh, considering we picked our own seats that actually did seem random. However, we were on a marble stadium style bench seat. There was no under to check.

    Looking down though, I could clearly see a stone tablet set snug into the bench. Levering my fingers into the seat I lifted it up and let Callie grab our envelope. The other groups nearby grabbed their own and began to open them. Our envelope was opened in a moment, and Callie checked the stiff white card inside. "Halls of the Nether." She announced. She flipped over the card. "Team captain: Selariam. Team members: Sennec, Vile, and, Runk." She stared at me blankly. "I...have no idea what any of these words mean."

    I was about to respond when Megan's voice cut in. "Wait, you guys are up against the Nether? From the sound of it you got the Screaming Specters too." She paused. "Huh, could have sworn those guys were dead."
    "They are." Said Sydney in puzzlement. "They're ghosts."

    Megan just glared at her sister. "That's not what I meant you smartass. Anyway, the Nether isn't from our planet, but it is from one of the others orbiting our star. We've had some dealing with nearby worlds a time or two. Selariam and his brothers all managed to find a spectral catalyst and synergize a ghostly racial trait. Energy attacks work better than physical damage for that group."

    "Noted." Said Callie with a smile. "Who did you guys end up drawing? It's not anyone we know is it? It would really suck for you all to end up fighting Lament's team in the first round of something."

    That got a snort from Megan. "Please, we're luck manipulators. Granted with all the Impact behind this tournament it's unlikely we'll be able to do much for the overall situation later, but with this many people involved things are pretty damn in flux. Tweaking our odds with all this still colliding fate to work with is just child's play."

    It was interesting to hear more about their ability, sadly, I didn't get to hear too much, because a booming voice cut us off. "Now." Said Midknight. "Since you all have received your battle assignments, we can discuss the rules of the tournament." Everyone settled down, even us, because as much fun as it would be to fuck with him at the moment, we needed to know the rules so we didn't get disqualified over something stupid.

    "First." Said the Unity Guild Master for the Rajak branch. "The rank limit. If, under any circumstances, anyone breaks through to F-rank during the course of the tournament, their entire team will be immediately ousted. Most of you are at the edge of F-rank, due to the requirements for entry into the Moonsong Glade. However, in order to make sure the contestants don't vary too wildly in strength, you've been required to put your breakthroughs on hold."

    We'd known that already, but it was nice to know what the consequences were if someone tried to actually break through. Not that I'd refuse to do it if needed, I'd keep my friends safe no matter what, but still, forewarned is forearmed. "Second." Continued Midknight. "The use of offensive F-rank artifacts is considered forbidden during the tournament. As the matches aren't designed to be fatal, defensive gear is permitted."

    That was a relief actually. Out armor was a huge benefit to keeping us safe during all this. "And finally." The armored man intoned. "Intentional killing will be cause for dismissal from the tournament."

    Where the other rules had been a net benefit to us, this one wasn't. Not because we were murder hungry lunatics, but because he'd said INTENTIONAL. Which meant it would be possible for someone to kill us and then claim after the fact that it was an accident. While Midknight couldn't do anything to me because of Zeke, that didn't mean none of the Unity could. Based on his petty personality as mentioned by Callie, I wouldn't be surprised if the Unity teams closest to him had orders to try to kill me.

    That might have been a bit paranoid, but he looked right fucking at me when he said it, so I was thinking not. Callie looked just as upset by the implication as I did, or moreso possibly. Where I was just cautious and annoyed, my girlfriend was so livid I was worried she'd literally burst into flames from anger.

    Pulling my hand out of hers and flexing my sore fingers, I put an arm around her and pulled her close. "Hey, don't let him get to you. He can't do shit to us directly, and I refuse to believe he has a team of G-rankers that'll be a threat." After all, we had Abel on our side, and I didn't think any of those assholes were Master Candidates. Our team would crush any of his people.

    "That's only helpful in the first eight rounds." She insisted. "The five single elimination rounds will give him plenty of chances to try something. I know you're plenty strong Shane, but the Unity is a big organization. Some of the fighters on this planet ARE dangerous, despite how low ranked it is. I bet you at least a decent chunk of the Titan Twenty make it to the single elimination rounds, and some of them are from the Unity."

    I pulled her into a hug. "Hey, I'll be fine. I'm a scary bastard. Plus don't we have a few more days at least before that? Maybe a week or two. That's plenty of time to get even stronger. Although I admit I'm a bit surprised. Like, this is a three star system right? Even if every star has a bunch of planets around it, lets say ten, that's still only thirty planets. How the hell are there twenty five hundred teams competing?"

    "Oh, that." Said Megan. "C-rank planets are much bigger than D-rank planets. Gralter is the weakest C-ranked planet orbiting our star, and like I said, we barely got an invite. We're really only psuedo C-rank, like this planet is psuedo D-rank. The real C-rank planets have much scarier forces, and plenty more of them. The strongest person on a psuedo C-rank planet is still D-rank, even if there are a lot of them. Real C-rank planets have ACTUAL C-rankers. Every force from places like that is able to send multiple teams to an event like this."

    That made sense in a way. I was guessing the true C-rank planets were the top of the food chain in a small star system like this one. Once we got into the wider cluster I imagined they would be much more common, with psuedo B-rank planets maybe even showing up. Regardless, Megan and Sydney's reveal about the Wave Warren and Slime Hall being the only contestants from their planet and Zeke's explanation of the star system had massively thrown off my estimate for how many people we'd be fighting.

    Granted, a large chunk of the contestants were probably from local forces. I imagine the bar was much lower for locals, especially since we hadn't had to take any tests or anything. Listening to Midknight go on about things though, most of the local forces were clearly just there to fill out numbers and make the main matches more exciting. Higher end teams like the ones from the Unity and the WCP factions would be the real competition from Callus, and the system forces probably didn't even care too much about them.

    Abel cleared his throat. "Stop getting in your own heads idiots. We aren't here to play patty cake, though to be fair I would absolutely crush at a patty cack tournament." I saw him pause, hands twitching, and I scooted away from him as I imagined massive hand images descending from the sky to crush his enemies in rapid succession. He shoot it off quick with an elbow from Mel though. "Oh, sorry. Point is we don't need to worry so much about this kind of thing. Our options have only ever been to win or lose. The strength of the enemy doesn't change that. Win or lose, just fight as hard for the former as you can."

    A bark of laughter sounded from behind us, and I turned to see Zeke grinning down at Abel. "I like this kid. He gets it. So many Ascendants get too caught up in nonsense. Move forward, don't hesitate, if something stops you then you were never going to make it all the way to begin with, but you gave it your all." It had been a long time since I saw Zeke so enthusiastic about anything. I think Abel reminded him quite a bit of himself, which looking back I could kind of see.

    Alexander nodded his agreement with my uncle's sentiments. "Exactly." He said to his own team. We'd met them all when he showed up, but they weren't really friendly or talkative, so they'd mostly been standing in the background watching silently. "Abigail, are you prepared for this fight? To put it all on the line even if your opponents are stronger than you are?"

    The tiny, tanned girl with blue streaked black hair and aqua eyes nodded gravely. "I am, my lord." Her tone was overly polite and formal. "For the moment however, I suggest we retreat from this place to strategize and talk amongst ourselves. So long as none of our number are pitted against each other, such a confluence should be quite advantageous, and as you can clearly see, the water darkness slowly swallows the skies."

    At all of our confused looks, Alexander just sighed. "She means it's going to rain." He paused, looking up. "Which actually is a good point. No roof on this place. Good call Abigail." He stood up, gesturing for us to follow. "If you'd all accompany me, I can pay for a meal while we talk. I assume we all have things to share about our enemies, or at least some of us do, and if any of us actually did get matched up we can simply decline to discuss such topics."

    Callie shrugged happily. "Works for me. I'm hungry anyway. Plus if you're treating uncle Alex I bet the place will be great. Can we bring the wolves?"

    Alex just chuckled. "I'm an E-ranker. You could bring a whole damn forest if I decided you should. The wolves will be fine. Though I don't think the bear will fit. Where is it by the way? I thought the two of them were bonded?" He gestured to Jessie.

    Our blonde teammate looked sullen. "I had to leave him home. They wouldn't let him into the meeting." Her scowl turned quickly into a sunny smile. "It's fine though, I can just bring him some food to go. I'm sure you wouldn't mind me getting some carryout." Alexander agreed easily, but it was my turn to chuckle. Poor bastard had never seen how much an F-ranked bear could eat clearly. Oh well, better him than me.
  23. Threadmarks: chapter 330
    Malcolm Tent

    Malcolm Tent Experienced.

    Oct 16, 2020
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    The place Alexander took us was HUGE. I was expecting something like one of the pubs we had been to before. Something with a bar and wooden tables and a seedy backroom feel. This new place though...it was really upscale. It reminded me a bit of Rantano's back in Valen, but not as obviously geared at mortals.

    The new place, Deva, was a much larger building for one. Where Rantano's was the size of a normal restaurant, Deva was, at least on the inside, almost as big as a sports field. I expected given the size they would need columns, but there were none. It was all a single uninterrupted space except the tables, which were only about a foot tall and surround by plush pillows with intricate designs of a dozen types.

    The ceiling was arched, but Despite it being so high up, it was easy to see the pictures painted on the surface of the domed structure. Gods and monsters battled among the clouds, hiding behind still images as they threw bolts of lightning and fire literally out of the painted surface and across the gap to the other side of the dome. The thing deities and demons would sometimes die, only to fade into a normal still image upon their demise, while one of the still images would awaken, some seeming to heal from fatal damage to begin their tiny war.

    Though the place was far from empty, the sheer size made it feel much more private than it was. Which was good because we had a HUGE party of people, and everyone needing to crowd around one huge table was already taxing to the space without trying to work around strangers. The wolves flopped down on the cushions nearest the door when we got to the table and the rest of us set up wherever we could get a spot with someone we wanted to sit with.

    "So." I said as I sat down. "That was bracing." I looked at Callie. "Sorry to say babe but your dad is every bit as big an asshole as I was expecting. Sucks you had to put up with him all those years."

    Alexander sighed. "Yes. Paul has gotten much worse. I truly wonder how much of that was early recursion before he built his reputation as a hero. Powers like ours are perceived a certain way. It's more than likely he was unduly influenced before he built his current image." He held up his hands quickly as if to forestall comment. "Not that it excuses him. Just...be careful about growing too fast. Recursion can become overwhelming if you get too much of it at once. Faster growth can make it harder to withstand."

    I hadnt known that actually, but it made plenty of sense. I suspected we wouldn't have that problem, however. Most of our points came from wishes which should dilute the effect quite a bit. We would still have plenty of recursion, but it should be easier to resist for us at least. Stats were the building blocks of an ability and a legend, them being the carriers for recursion was so simple in hindsight I felt like an absolute moron.

    Callie held up a hand. "I appreciate the support, guys, but let's just eat. I don't want to spend any more time thinking about that bastard than I have to." She grabbed for a menu on the table I hadn't even seen there. "So what does this place have. Anything good?"

    I smiled as I grabbed another menu, realizing they were stashing in small compartments just under the table. Scanning over it I noted dozens of dishes. "It would be more accurate to ask what they DON'T have. And the answer is not much. I'm in the mood for gumbo today I think. How about you guys?" The gumbo looked fantastic, and I was sure based on the pricing it would be made with high ranking ingredients.

    Our whole party went about ordering. Benny, Jessie, Abel, Zeke, Alexander, Abigail and her team, Lament and her team, Sydney, Megan, Cark, Melina. I was wincing internally for Alexander by the time we got to the wolves because this was going to cost him a fortune. The puppies got steaks, and Jessie ordered a HUGE to-go box of meat to be prepared right before we left for Randall. Alexander didn't even make a sound about the expenditure though, presumably he was much richer than the rest of us anyway.

    Once the food was coming, we turned to Sydney and Megan. "So, you mentioned knowing something about our opponents for the first round? I admit I've never fought ghosts before. If it's a racial trait did they give up their abilities when they made the shift?" I'd never been clear on that one. Some of the nonhumans I'd met were able to use jobs or abilities fine, and some seemed to have switched over to an ability based on their new species. Then again, there was nothing to say they didn't already have an ability like that which led to them picking it in the first place.

    "They have both." Said Megan flatly. "Though there are obviously some common powers between them as well. Things like intangibility. Other than that they have different tricks. Cold, sound, each one of them developed as a ghost uniquely, at least from what I heard. I don't know too much about them. As a D-rank force we never had much interaction with the Hall of Nether. I just know about them because all of them synergizing the same trait is considered odd."

    Callie cursed. "Damn. We'll need to do some research on them before the fight. But it's fine, that's more than we knew before. Now who did you guys end up with? I don't believe that with a group this big we won't be able to find answers to help out everyone here. This is a huge pool of potential information. So, who does everybody have to go up against?"

    I knew that Callie had two reasons for doing this, one was definitely to help our friends, but she could also gather valuable information on people we might have to fight in the future. Statistically not all of the teams here would win most likely. Some of them were shoe ins like the Spear Legion team, but some of them like Silent Dagger's team were local and not particularly strong. I was sure Alexander had taught them well, but with so many D-rank forces sending out fighters who wouldn't be well trained?

    Lament held up her card. "I got the Cave Spider Cult." She paused. "Actually saying that out loud it's kind of a weird coincidence, but there are so many forces in the Gloryfire System it's not surprising some of their names would be relevant. Anyway, they're a D-rank force who mainly use variations on spider transformation. Not a racial trait, but more like your Beast Lord Garden."

    MacGregor, who was with us for this little powwow (we'd been friendlier with him after he helped out in the auction fight) nodded. "Truth. The cultists are swift and dangerous, but should you avoid their projectiles they are no threat to one such as you. Do not allow them to bleed on you, however. Their blood is highly toxic and corrosive."

    Lament look unmoved by the information, but Wren nodded in appreciation. "Thanks." He turned to glare at his captain. "SOME of us worry about things like that. We appreciate the heads up." Lestri and Vector both nodded in appreciation, while Falken, who was sleeping on the table from all appearances, held out a lazy thumbs up without actually sitting up at all.

    That got a snicker from Megan. "We got matched up with the Dead Iron Brotherhood. No one I've heard of before, so they probably aren't from any of the planets near our star. Or they are and they're just super weak. I'm hoping for the latter, given the work we put in to tweak the drawing in our favor."

    Wren nodded at that. "Bit of column A bit of column B. The Dead Iron Brotherhood are only a D-rank force, and they're mainly defensive. They use a body transformation art to shift their bodies into metal. The TYPE of metal varies depending on the person, synergizing different abilities can change that kind of thing. They're a pain in the ass to wear down, but you two are fast enough that they shouldn't be a threat. Just a long annoying battle."

    I noticed that Megan didn't seem pleased with the news, and I had to hold back a snicker. Looked like her luck had come through in the most irritating way. Sloane spoke up next. "Sky Wolf Temple. Never heard of them before either. Not that I was expecting anything different. Anyone know what they can do?"

    Sadly it seemed no one did, but then, with twenty five hundred teams we were bound to see some unknowns, and our little alliance mainly spanned three or four planets. A few of the others spoke up, and some of them likewise had opponents we didn't know about. Despite the size of our current group, twenty five hundred teams was far too many, especially given how many planets were probably involved.

    Of course, some of them we were able to dig up more information on. The Burning Heaven Abyss was a well known D-rank force that both Lament and MacGregor had heard of. Cark was up against them, and upon finding out they used some kind of cold fire immediately started making countermeasures. After that we all kind of broke off into our individual groups to converse and try to come up with ideas.

    We discussed all the possible details. As we tried to figure out a countermeasure to the ghosts though, Jessie perked up. "Oh hey, what about that dagger?" We all looked at her blankly. "You know? The ghost stabbing one we got in the Necropolis. That thing was G-rank wasn't it? Whatever happened to that?" I blinked as I remembered it, then turned to look at Callie, who had handled the loot.

    "We still have it." She said with a shrug. "Zeke made it sound impressive, so I kept it when I sold off most of the other stuff. That's a great idea though Agria. They won't be expecting that I bet. I'll dig it up and bring it along." She cocked her head in thought. "Although, maybe we should give it to Apollyon." She glanced at Abel. "Think it would be helpful?"

    To my complete lack of surprise my teacher just shook his head. "Ragam isn't a weapon based art. I CAN use a dagger, but it won't be as effective as my fists. Besides I don't think my manifestations even count as physical attacks. I should be able to slap ghosts around just fine."

    Callie nodded. "Fair enough. We can do some training tonight. The first round is tomorrow, so we obviously need to warm up. The next one will probably be a few days later. They need time to hold all the matches. Twelve hundred and fifty fights isn't going to be quick."

    I groaned aloud at the idea of more training, but it was good natured. After some downtime I was up for some combat. Plus I really did want to be in peak form for this fight. Once we managed to win we would be going to one of the local parties, and as much as I didn't look forward to formal attire, I figured we'd have more chances to try some good food.

    As my gumbo arrived, I dug in, enjoying the delicious stew. I reached down to pet Jin as I ate, enjoying the sights and sounds of Deva with my friends as we talked over our next moves. Tomorrow would be the first fight of the tournament, and I was betting those ghosts had some interesting tricks up their sleeves. We would be ready either way. For now, things were pretty good.
  24. Verdthandi

    Verdthandi Getting some practice in, huh?

    May 29, 2018
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    Nice Chekhov’s gun! As always, looking forward to the upcoming shenanigans.
  25. BJJPanda

    BJJPanda I trust you know where the happy button is?

    Aug 18, 2020
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    Damn, it took a while to read everything start to finish, anyways a few comments and complaints.
    One, Shane bought a spatial ring in the early chapters and it is never mentioned again, this is even worse because in the auction he talked about spatial items.
    Two, the dialogue can sometimes feel like it written by a bot, in terms of unrealistic conversation, especially when it is slice of life dialogue or romantic that is a bit cliche, for example the "we kept a serious face but then burst laughing", people don't really do that and definitely so often, tbf the newer chapters have much better dialogue.
    Thirdly, Shane should start mixing skills, he has way too many useless one, maybe he could mix them and then sell them.
    Lasly, Shanes team should also learn Ragam, while it isn't his main style learning another martial art won't hurt, especially when has such a talented teacher right there to teach him

    Forgot to say this but I think when you have the time or motivation another story in this universe/setting would be cool. It doesn't need any interaction with this story, it could be a standalone, I just think exploring the universe you created and seeing other perspectives/how other ascendents who have nothing to do with mc grow would be cool, presumably they would be in one of the other factions like the Empire or Fairy kingdom
    Last edited: Apr 5, 2023
  26. Malcolm Tent

    Malcolm Tent Experienced.

    Oct 16, 2020
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    One, Common misconception, Shane bought a half-assed barebones copy of a spatial ring that only ever holds one designated item and can't be used for anything else. It holds the contract that his dad sent to awaken his Wishmaster abilities early, which he no longer needs to access but still keeps safe by stashing it away. It was kind of a tease for future spatial items without giving access to them early on.

    Two...The dialogue being a bit stilted early on is fair, though it should be noted that my friends and I often do the whole "say something completely bullshit like its a legit thing and try to keep a straight face for as long as possible" thing. The romantic dialogue is supposed to be slightly cringy in places, mostly because Shane and Callie's relationship archetype is "that one couple that were sickeningly into each other freshman year of HS" lol, though they're growing out of that. Third, they're a bit busy atm, it's not out of the question but is unlikely.
    Verdthandi and BJJPanda like this.
  27. Threadmarks: chapter 331
    Malcolm Tent

    Malcolm Tent Experienced.

    Oct 16, 2020
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    The next day found us reporting to one of the WAY too many arenas in Rajak. "Seriously." I complained. "Why are there like three hundred of these places in town? Do people not DO anything else?" I knew they did, actually, because tons of Ascendants spent most of their day hunting monsters for various bounties or Academy points. There was zero reason for them to be so bored as to run off to a random Arena to mess around.

    Callie giggled at my annoyed tone. "Arenas are a time honored tradition among Ascendants. They give us an excuse to show off in front of a bunch of people, and they make money at the same time. Granted, places like this are way more regulated than arenas down in the WCP, but the Unity is still an organization for cultivators, and they'd be stupid not to take advantage. You need to make a name for yourself to get stronger, and for people outside of the major organizations this is the easiest way."

    "She's right." Chimed in Abel. "This is pretty much universal. Arenas are a valued commodity on almost every planet. They give poor and underexposed Ascendants a method of showing off and getting attention. More than one of the current E-rankers were arena-born. Hell, most of them scout their best talent from places like this. By that logic, do you honestly think in a city this size that three hundred arenas is a lot?"

    Now that he said it like that..."Huh. Now I'm wondering why there aren't more of them." Before either of them could speak I held up my hands. "It's just a figure of speech, I understand the concept of diminishing returns. Anyway, with twelve hundred and fifty fights spread over three hundred arenas the first round should only be four fights. If that's the case why the gap between the fight days?"

    Callie gestured around. "Buzz. This whole thing might be for selecting slots, but every one of these contestants is a possible recipient of a ton of renown. Most of the factions here are live streaming this back to their own planets and territories. Burning out the viewers with constant repetitive fights would be a waste. By have only one fight a day or so they can keep people excited and milk the most our of the attention."

    That actually made a lot of sense. I could understand why they would agree to it to. Under the assumption the others would do the same they could reap a ton of benefits. Sadly I couldn't learn more about how this would work because the announcer for the arena called our names. "Alright." Said Callie. "Everyone remember your roles. We practiced this last night." She drew the dagger we'd looted from the necropolis.

    We had practiced, and as we made our way down the tunnel leading to the arena proper, I went over the various strategies in my head, trying to make sure I could react with a moments notice. As we walked, I triggered Touch of Tears and Consecration of Flames as usual. If nothing else they would theoretically allow my cane to actually make contact with the ghosts.

    Once we stepped out onto the sand, the previously roaring crowd cut off completely. Looking up, I could see them still yelling in the stands, but their mouths weren't producing any sounds. Some kind of barrier maybe? It seemed to only cover the actual arena pit. Interesting. My eyes, which had been scanning the arena, finally fell onto the group of four beings standing across from us, clearly waiting for us to arrive.

    The one in the lead, who I assumed was Selariam, didn't look like much. Just a super pale guy with silver hair and delicate features. He was short, maybe five foot six, and his icy blue eyes were calm and analytical. "Hello." He said as we approached. "You must be our opponents. We represent the Halls of the Nether, a D-ranked force located on the planet Vakram. My name is Selariam, and these are my brothers, Sennec, Vile, and Runk. Might I have the honor of knowing what your faction is called?"

    I opened my mouth to answer, and quickly had to break off the response as my senses screamed at me that I was about to be attacked. It took me almost too long to realize I wasn't the one being targeted. I spun on my heel, lashing out at the air behind Callie with a Flurry of Blows enhanced smash of my cane. There was a crash as the head of my weapon met the blades of a huge double headed axe, and another figure faded into view.

    As he did, the largest of the four enemy combatants dissolved into silvery mist. I bared my teeth at him and triggered one of my fire attacks through my cane, releasing a giant burst of slightly corrosive flame. Granted, it wasn't as effective as actually using the skills synergized with the attack, but it was faster and much less of a strain. The massive bearded ghost warrior's eyes widened and he flickered backwards unnaturally as the wave of light green fire swallowed the space he'd been occupying.

    While I was distracted, the other three had attacked, but Selariam himself and the one I was pretty sure was Vile had both been intercepted by Abel, while Mel had snagged Sennec in a flame cage. That left Callie and I to do what we did best. I dashed forward, annoyed that our plans had been spoiled, but we'd made contingencies for a surprise attack (what kind of moron doesn't expect to be jump scared by a ghost?). I brought my cane down overhand at Runk's head, imbuing it with a triple stacked density shifted attack.

    As he backpedaled, a wall of darkness about a foot high sprouted behind his feet, and he tripped for a second before seeming to remember he didn't need to obey the laws of gravity and just...stopping, midair. A massive stockade of shadow jumped off the ground, clamping down around his hands and neck, and apparently shadow constructs counted as energy because he had to plant his feet to get the leverage to tear free.

    The second he did I triggered Sucking Mud, along with a shadow attack. Runk managed to tear free of the stockades within seconds, but by that time my tendrils had already caught his legs. The shadow imbued earth held him where I knew regular earth wouldn't, and Callie took advantage to split off into half a dozen clones and surround him, her armor making her own form just as deceptive to the eye as the shadow simulacra.

    Planting a foot, I spun out off front toe, letting my cane ride the axis of the spin the build up enough momentum as I synergized Balam and triggered another triple stack density shifted blow. Sadly, the brief period of confusion from our barrage had worn off and Runk was ready for me, catching the blow on his double headed axe with a grunt and using the force to catapult him out of the shadow mud.

    I saw his grip tighten as the blade of the axe cracked slightly under the force. Then he lunged forward to swing his axe at me, and I pulled up my cane to block, only to get bodied by one of Callie's clones before a swing from behind could take off my head. The ghostly form I'd been looking at faded into smoke as Runk appeared behind where I'd been standing, grinning nastily.

    Damn. This one was tougher than expected. I looked over to check on the others, and saw Selarium manifesting some kind of huge ghastly face that screamed at Abel, only for the thing to get belted in the mouth with a fist manifestation. I was pretty sure Selarium's was an ability, not a high Intermediate Skill. I climbed to my feet, groaning slightly as I glared at Runk.

    "Ok." I said testily. "That was uncalled for." I mean sure, that wouldn't have killed me with my armor, but still. I considered using my magma leg to finish things, but I knew it would mess me up. My head was twinging a bit already from the shadow swamp. Besides, I needed to stop relying so much on big finishing moves. I wouldn't be able to hold my own against stronger opponents if I let things turn into a competition of trump cards.

    I noted, interestingly, that Runk had avoided getting too close to Callie. i wondered if he could feel the spectral severer, because she'd put the thing away temporarily to avoid letting him see it, presumably waiting for a shot. Since that was our best bet against him I rushed forward to play distraction again, hurling myself up into a forward flip to smash an axe kick down on the bastard, imbuing it with yet another triple stacked density shift.

    As my foot slammed down on the axe, I had a second to think while I was in the air. Despite the numbed of exchanges, due to our speed and Perception, we had only been fighting for a short while. I considered trying to stall him and letting Abel take care of this, but dismissed the thought almost immediately. I'd be fighting solo soon enough, which meant it was imperative to sharped my one on one combat. My team wouldn't be there to bail me out later.

    Which is why, as he raised his axe to block the kick, I lashed out and triggered Cloud Step. Through a tricky bit of maneuvering I managed to bounce off a pair of Cloud Step spots in the air, and combined with Flurry of Blows and a triple stack density shift, along with Mercy Kill and Consecration of Flame and Touch of Tears (otherwise it wouldn't have even landed) I hammered a kick directly into the side of his head, completely bypassing his defense before he could even process was was happening. Though not before he could snap out a backhand to my ribs, bouncing me away from him.

    As he staggered, a storm of razor sharp shadow snowflakes burst out into a cloud of destruction, coming right up from his shadow to swallow him nearly whole, with only his legs being visible. There was a scream, and I got the vague impression of someone waving an axe frantically, but he was too obscured from view for me to keep track for long.

    Callie appeared next to me. "You ok?" She said unhappily, glaring at the ghostly fighter. "Because, that looked like a nasty hit." My ribs ached, mostly because that had been blunt force (and how much bullshit was it that they could use physical attacks fine but ours wouldn't work), but I wasn't too bad off. I triggered a scan heal heal burst combo, and since it was just bruising it wouldn't take too long to patch me up.

    I went to move forward, but she held up a hand to stop me. "Wait. I had an idea. We need a big finisher, and neither of our abilities does that well from range. My constructs can be large, but it makes them less solid, and your attacks are for close range mostly. Will you let me try something?" I could hear in her voice that what she was really asking was if I trusted her. I did, so I just nodded.

    Callie closed her eyes and held out a hand. Then I felt a PULL. Not like when I channeled skills into her, that was always directly physical, like with Abel's punch. This time she used the bond to LITERALLY synergize with my skills, and what's more, use my stored attacks. From the ground in front of her crawled a huge dragon construct, not unlike the wyvern we fought in the necropolis, though obviously smaller.

    She poured skills and attacks into it. Stone Limb, giving the whole thing solidity, Touch of Tears and Consecration of Flame imbuing it with poisoned flame, bolstering it with a fire attack, even adding Mercy Kill to give it a boost. By the time she was done, the massive black flaming magma dragon looked so terrifying that Runk froze as the cloud of snowflakes melted away.

    Callie swayed, clearly having taken most of the soul weight on herself for this, but was still aware enough to make it pounce. As it crashed down, ending the fight, I felt something click. Our bond had ranked up. We'd officially achieved Lesser Paired Dueling. All in all, I'd say this had been a good fight.
    Quenster06, Minion #Q, chrnno and 9 others like this.
  28. BJJPanda

    BJJPanda I trust you know where the happy button is?

    Aug 18, 2020
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    His soul strength seems to fluctuate, sometimes it takes him a dozen moves before his head hurts and other times it takes only a couple. Also, he said no finishing moves and then pulled out the dragon
  29. Malcolm Tent

    Malcolm Tent Experienced.

    Oct 16, 2020
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    Depends on a lot of factors. First of all how many changes he's making, firing off a bunch of Skills normally does almost nothing, but changing a move dramatically is a huge effort. Also stacking or modifying stored attacks gets extremely draining extremely fast.
    BJJPanda likes this.
  30. Threadmarks: chapter 332
    Malcolm Tent

    Malcolm Tent Experienced.

    Oct 16, 2020
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    "What the actual fuck was that?" Abel said as he strolled over. The two ghosts he'd been fighting appeared to be sprawled on the sand leaking some sort of mercurial substance I suspected was ghost blood. He didn't even notice though as he stared at the spot where the dark magma dragon that Callie and I had made with our Paired Dueling Skill faded into a cloud of darkness and green sparks.

    I smiled smugly, pulling Callie against me as she laughed at his expression. I held up a hand to high five her as she proudly proclaimed. "That was our first Skill used through the bond." I was pretty sure he knew that and just wanted us to have a chance to say it, but still, she sounded so proud I didn't want to interrupt.

    The dragon had been cool as shit. I was pretty sure I couldn't have managed it on my own either. While I could use shadow attacks, sustainable constructs weren't viable for me. But using my skills through the dragon meant Callie could still reinforce and control it, her Shadow Manipulation turning it from a big hunk of burning darkness to a dangerous weapon. The Stone Limb skill had also made it much more solid, even with only sand to work with.

    "Damn." Said Abel."I knew you made it to Lesser, but I didn't realize you were already at that level. Not bad. Be careful with that bond though. it's a big strain using it for Skills. As you may have noticed." He gestured to where Callie was practically hanging on my arm and I grimaced. Without waiting for her response I scooped her up with an arm under her legs. She squeaked in surprise and glared a bit, but I could see a little smirk on her face.

    This would normally be a bit over the top for public interaction, but after I'd felt how little strength she had in her legs I realized walking out of here was a pipe dream. Better the audience see me being a bit affectionate than see her showing weakness. Luckily the barrier prevented sound from escaping so no one had heard what he said. Callie waved theatrically to anyone as I carried her our, and when we got back to the waiting room I set her down on a bench.

    She seemed a bit out of it. I snapped my fingers in front of her a few times. "Hey, stay with me. You alright?" She was alive and conscious so she wasn't in any real danger, but being this loopy wasn't exactly a good thing. I didn't realize she'd overdone it so much. I wished Benny was here with his spiritual calming belt.

    "M'fine." She mumbled, waving me off. "Jus' tired." I sighed, picking her up again. I wasn't leaving her in here even if we had wanted to stick around and soak up some of the attention. We could see people at the after party. They should be pretty distracted anyway. They had a few exhibition fights for people who weren't in the tournament to entertain people since fights didn't last that long and one a day wasn't a reason for people to show up at this kind of place en mass.

    Getting her home was easy enough, we were back up in the house in Rajak Zeke had bought. The Pavilion was a bit too far of a trip for daily commute. Once we got back, I borrowed the effect of Benny's belt (I was definitely going to trade for a few charges of that after we got Callie up to the peak of G-rank) and helped her get back on her feet. Once her head cleared, the loopiness became pain, and she ended up curled on the couch groaning, which was what I'd been expecting.

    "Ow." She whimpered. "Is that what you feel like every time you overuse your soul strength? Because if it is I'm so sorry, and also you're an idiot." I laughed at that, plopping down next to her as I took off my mask. She winced again. "Ow. No, bad noise. Don't be so loud."

    I chuckled more softly, lowering my voice as I responded. "Sorry, but it's just funny to hear you yell at me about this when you bit my head off about testing the magma leg in person. But hey, at least you took my 'do something stupid' philosophy to heart." She glared at me venomously, but I just winked back. "It's fine, just don't do so much next time. Honestly I'm surprised you could stack so much on the construct as a rookie. I think it had something to do with using your ability as a base for the effects instead of a half assed Enchanting Skill."

    Sadly I couldn't grant wishes unless people made them, so mobilizing the wish power to act as a base for my DS Mastery wasn't feasible. That meant my soul had to be a lot stronger than most to get the effects, hence the unusual amount of pain I had to go through. She nodded, wincing at the action. "That sounds right. Still, you're not wrong about me overreaching." She gave me an embarrassed look. "I guess it's easier to get lost in the thrill of combat than I expected. I'm sorry I got so mad at you last time."

    "Don't be." I said gently. "You were right. Which means you actually did do something dumb this time. And not healthy dumb, like picking a fight with your childhood nemesis. Legit dumb. So it's my turn to tell you to be more careful. Messing with soul weight is dangerous. Soul damage could kill you or worse if you screw up using it. We can work out some training now that you can use my skills, and I'll work on learning to use yours."

    I was pretty sure I could use her ability (though she couldn't use mine I was positive, if it were that easy to gain access to the wish power plenty of people would have it) with some practice, and I was looking forward to learning that dark dragon construct thing. I could even most likely use her Shadow Manipulation Skill. "So." I said tiredly. "I think we made a good enough showing to hit one of the galas. Assuming we're still going. Your dad might be there and he could cause some trouble for us."

    She just snorted. "Don't be ridiculous. He wouldn't start a fight with his daughter at a formal event. I'm not bored enough to start one with him either. I vented plenty at the arena, and seriously messed with his plans anyway. As for the rest of what I owe him..." She looked at me worriedly. "I can just wait it out. We'll be E-rank before too long, and then we can kick his ass. Speaking of, given how high some of my stats are getting, I should get a really impressive upgrade when I synergize this time. Maybe not something like Jessie has, but still something great."

    I was looking forward to that too. Callie's stats were pretty damn concentrated at this point. She was right that she probably wouldn't get something as broken as Jessie's ability. I'd looked into it and breaking through with the percentage of Vitality she had was almost unheard of. Still, she would definitely get something pretty good. Not that I had any idea what that might be. Still, I could tell that the idea of waiting wasn't really ideal for her. I took her hand. "If you don't want to wait we can find a way to mess with him now. I was already planning to try to pressure him politically with my ability."

    She smiled at me sweetly. "Feel free. But leave any real revenge to me. I want to handle him myself. Once I break through to E-rank, especially if I manage to get more Impact before that, I'll be happy to show him how unhappy he's made me and mom over the years." Her sweet smile had turned sharp and feral, and I grinned back and kissed her softly.

    I noticed though, that she mentioned hurting him specifically and not killing him. I was glad. I hadn't thought she would take it that far, but given how much she hated him anything was on the table. I didn't think Callie, at least MY Callie, would survive killing her dad, no matter how much he deserved it. Hell, wanting to handle him herself was almost a way of protecting him. She wanted to kick his ass for everything he'd done, but she knew she personally would be willing to hold back and not take it too far.

    As much as I disliked him, what I wanted most was for her to be happy with how things ended. If she wanted to break both his legs and smack him around that was her prerogative. "So, we're going to one of the galas. I assume you have a specific one in mind?"

    Her mood, which had been souring talking about her father, brightened. "I talked to Celine about that quite a bit actually. We decided to go to the Mindbender's Ball. Solana the Mindbender is an E-ranked illusionist, and is known for throwing some of the best parties. The gala she's putting on for the visiting dignitaries should be absolutely amazing!"

    "Sounds good." I laughed. "You know I'm hopeless at parties. Just get me the clothes you want me to wear ahead of time and I'll be there. Well, and my mask of course." I looked at the wooden face covering with a complicated expression. It was powerful and useful and naturally protected me from attacks...but it was also creepy. "Man, I cannot get used to that whole defensive measures thing. I try not to think about it most of the time but..." I shuddered in revulsion remembering the sight of that guy getting EATEN.

    Callie grimaced. "Yeah, it wasn't pleasant to watch. But if it keeps you safe I can deal with a bit of creep factor. As for clothes...I'm sure we can find you something nice that won't clash with it. You won't need your armor at least. The gala will have intense security. Plus if anyone too strong shows up Zeke will be there too." She grinned conspiratorially. "I may or may not have already arranged for him to bring a date."

    Knowing she must mean she was having Stella flown over, I couldn't help but grin. It was always fun seeing my uncle off balance, and I suspected this would accomplish that. "What about Benny and Jessie?" I asked. "They can still come even though they aren't in the tournament right?" Also Randall, because seeing a bunch of famous people try not to react to a giant bear, possibly in clothes, sounded hilarious.

    Of course, since she knew me pretty well, Callie just rolled her eyes. "Yes to them, no to the bear. Don't think I didn't notice what you wanted to do. As much fun as that would be we're trying to make inroads with visiting factions, NOT make everyone below E-rank piss themselves. I'm already talking to Jessie about what we're all wearing to the ball, so don't worry about your clothes. Celine is obviously picking Benny's. We'll also be helping Cass decide what she's wearing, though Cark is picking his own stuff."

    I smirked at that. While it might seem presumptuous, in reality, they just knew us well enough to anticipate that none of us cared about formal wear or any of that other stuff. Letting them pick our outfits just meant we didn't need to do it. Well, Benny and I specifically. I knew Cark liked to make an impression, so him picking his own outfit made sense. "Alright." I said. "When is this ball anyway?" I wanted to make sure I was mentally prepared for this before we went, after all. I really hated parties.