1. Due to issues with external spam filters, QQ is currently unable to send any mail to Microsoft E-mail addresses. This includes any account at live.com, hotmail.com or msn.com. Signing up to the forum with one of these addresses will result in your verification E-mail never arriving. For best results, please use a different E-mail provider for your QQ address.
    Dismiss Notice
  2. For prospective new members, a word of warning: don't use common names like Dennis, Simon, or Kenny if you decide to create an account. Spammers have used them all before you and gotten those names flagged in the anti-spam databases. Your account registration will be rejected because of it.
    Dismiss Notice
  3. Since it has happened MULTIPLE times now, I want to be very clear about this. You do not get to abandon an account and create a new one. You do not get to pass an account to someone else and create a new one. If you do so anyway, you will be banned for creating sockpuppets.
    Dismiss Notice
  4. If you wish to change your username, please ask via conversation to tehelgee instead of asking via my profile. I'd like to not clutter it up with such requests.
    Dismiss Notice
  5. Due to the actions of particularly persistent spammers and trolls, we will be banning disposable email addresses from today onward.
    Dismiss Notice
  6. A note about the current Ukraine situation: Discussion of it is still prohibited as per Rule 8
    Dismiss Notice
  7. The rules regarding NSFW links have been updated. See here for details.
    Dismiss Notice

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

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

  1. Threadmarks: chapter 359
    Malcolm Tent

    Malcolm Tent Experienced.

    Oct 16, 2020
    Likes Received:
    "So." Said Mel to Abel. Her tone dripping with relish as we walked into the Cavalcade's entrance. "Did you have to threaten him to get him to cave? Because I loved seeing you do that last time, and watching him get all whiny and stomp his feet would make me smile."

    My mentor smirked at that. "No, I didn't threaten him, I just reminded him that it was my labyrinth and that he threw you two in there and I doubt you were the first. Once I implied I might charge him for damages if I found any he decided pretty quick to help out."

    We hadn't been attacked yet, though it was only a matter of time. It had been hours since the match, and we'd gathered most of our G-rank friends here to help out, as well as Rime, Frostbite, Melinda, and Alexander to wait outside and prevent any F-rankers from just shattering the labyrinth with us inside.

    The rest of our team was Cark, Lament, Teague, Abigail, and a few other former competitors we had managed to get on board. When we arrived at the tent, Cicero wasn't around, apparently he'd decided discretion was the better part of valor and chosen to have his assistant let us in. Probably smart given Mel's extreme dislike of him. Barring intervention from Abel I had no doubt she could easily set him on fire.

    Once we arrived, we hopped down into the labyrinth, and I breathed a sigh of relief at the lack of pressure once we did. This team was more than overkill for a bunch of cultists, or even powerful G-rank mercenaries. We were basically untouchable in our level, and I was really hoping to take some of the enemy out ahead of time.

    "Wow." Said Cark with a whistle. "This place is a dump. Look at all the damage." He kicked a small rock across the hallway, and we could all see the burns, scrapes, and holes from all the traps we'd set off.

    "Imagine actually BEING in it." I said in annoyance. "This place was a giant unnecessary pain in the ass. Shame we triggered all the traps though. We might be able to use some of them." It would be pretty convenient to be able to take some of them out without any effort. We'd picked this place clean for the traps when we'd built up the trap alleys during the siege from the Sanctuary Hall though, so we didn't have anything down here to use to reset them.

    Abel shrugged. "I designed it to be too annoying for a normal G-ranker to get through. Otherwise Cicero would have just kept sending people in. Honestly if you didn't have a Trap Skill there's no way you'd have made it. Most people would have needed to run it cold, and they'd have died."

    Which made me wonder something. "What about Mel?" I said hesitantly. "Not to bring up a bad time, but she was here when you weren't. For years. Why didn't she run it herself and get the deed?"

    "Because she knew I wouldn't want her to." He said with a smile. "She also knew it was safe down there. Without anyone to run the maze Cicero wasn't going to advertise where it was because he didn't want someone stealing it. He guarded the place and kept an eye out so she didn't have to."

    Mel chimed in. "Plus I had no desire to be in charge until much later. I only started making moves to oust that asshole once I felt he'd taken things too far."

    "This is a really interesting design." Commented Teague from off to one side. "Who designed this place? I'd love to get them under contract?"

    Abel chuckled at that. "Mad Madigan built it. He isn't around anymore. Fun fact, designing unstable pocket spaces that can fall into the void at the slightest touch doesn't do much for your life expectancy." He paused. "Well, I mean people assume. No one was there when he died for obvious reasons."

    Cark shook his head ruefully. "Crafters. All of them are nuts." He glanced over at Callie and I. "Speaking of crafters with a screw loose, where are Clockwork and Agria? I'd have figured they would be all over this."

    I shook my head. "Too dangerous. They're not high enough into G-rank. If this had been a few weeks from now it would have been a different story, but as they are now Clockwork is only halfway into G and Agria isn't even that. If not for the nature of this place we might have brought them anyway, let them work with Randall, but since F-rankers are a no go they wouldn't be safe down here in the middle of this mess. I expect to never hear the end of it, but we managed to convince them to stay with Cass."

    Which was unnecessary since Zeke was there, but we'd cheated and had Cass ask them herself, and Jessie had melted instantly. Benny had pretended not to care, but he'd caved way easier than I'd expected too. Guess it had been long enough since Maria was a kid of him to lose some of his puppy dog eye resistance. She'd been a menace when she was younger, and those eyes got her out of a fair amount of trouble with both of us.

    Lament looked bored. "When are the enemies going to show up? I want to see what I can do in this kind of place. With such small corridors I bet I won't have space for manifestations. Not in most of it anyway." She turned to Abel with an intrigued look. "Want to have a fight in here? Might be interesting without full use of our disciplines."

    "No he does NOT." Mel snapped. "I don't know what your teammates will let you do, but he isn't fighting a Master Candidate in the middle of the tournament outside a match. If you want to fight him you'd better make it to the later rounds so you can get matched up with him."

    Lament rolled her eyes, but didn't comment. She took a few steps and then froze. I'd have assumed she took a second to think of a come back, but Callie had frozen too, and I had enough knowledge of her stats to realize what was going on. I clenched my fists, wishing I had my damn cane, but all I could do was plan to pick something up with the money I'd been saving. I'd hoped to let Jessie and Benny pay me out a bit more before I bought one, but I guessed it wasn't in the cards.

    Callie's eyes were scanning the hallway, and the bond was telling me exactly what she was looking for. As I felt a twinge of panic I reacted seamlessly, spinning and releasing a burst of fire from my stockpile behind me, stacked with a Mercy Kill to boost it.

    The dark robed form caught in the flames roared in pain, distracted just long enough for Abel's fist (only the size of an engine rather than a bus) smashed into him and sent him hurtling into the wall behind him. Callie's shadows leapt from the ground as she raised a shield to protect the rest of us. We'd all been on the lookout so there was no chance of serious injury, but that one had been sneakier than expected. I was glad we caught him early.

    I cast a dispassionate glance at the robed figures appearing along the hallway. The hoods cast a shadow so deep I couldn't see their faces, sort of like I'd seen from Natalie when I first spotted her. I guessed that kind of disguise was common in larger forces. "You all look like idiots. It's like ninety degrees out. You must be sweating like pigs."

    Callie snorted out a laugh. She turned to Abigail. "Is the secondary force in position?" The girl's eyes glowed for a second before she nodded. "They have the way blocked off. No one is getting out of here. Our backup has already started pinning down the others and the authorities have been called. Their choices are either abandon the ones in here or fight the entire Unity security team for the planet."

    Frostbite being able to call up Unity forces was a big win for us, since she could get local security to head down here. Just because they were capable didn't mean they'd do so easily, even with us smoothing things over. When an executive of their faction said jump though, the only answer was how high.

    The closest figure, the one who seemed to be in the lead, snarled. "You seek to detain us? No name trash. We alone will be more than a match for you, and your strategy will prove fruitless if we kill you all and remove ourselves from the situation before the local Unity branch can arrive."

    Another figure snorted at that. "The fuck you say." The first looked at him. "We're out. We came on contract with you guys, but the stipulations were only for the tournament. I'll return the bonus you paid for this little operation, but I categorically refuse to stick around and get arrested. We'll take our chances with their rear guards."

    He turned to leave and the first figure flicked a hand and hurled a wave of pitch black flame at him. A figure to the side of the target waved a hand and a cascade of purple bubbles filled the hall. The flame hit the bubbles and the black fire tore them apart, but the water inside created steam, blocking the passage from view. When it cleared the target and seven others were gone.

    I wasn't too worried about it. Either the rear guard WOULD catch them, or they'd get outside and probably get picked up by out backup. I turned to face black flame guy. He spun back to us and barked. "Kill them all!" Before throwing out his hands again and coating the whole hallway in a sea of pitch dark fire.

    Cark roared and hurled a wall of blue flame back at him, but the dark fire clearly wasn't your run of the mill flame. I didn't have time to engage though as the golden fist of one of the other figures flashed toward me. I flicked on the overlay, sidestepping as Callie swept in at his feet. He stumbled and fell forward into a stomp kick to the head reinforced by Mercy Kill, down in one shot as we moved on to the next.

    I saw Abel clash against three other fighters while Lament took on four, Mel joined Cark in pushing back the black flame guy and Callie and I closed on another man, whose hood had fallen back to reveal some sort of man-zebra. I prepared for an attack before there was a bang and a howling purple jackal head smashed into the animalistic man, driving him off his feet.

    Teague tipped his hat to us as he reloaded and we were free to move on. Between the bond, the overlay, and Balam, we wove through the crowd of hooded figures like striking cobras, taking them down wherever we hit. I used Touch of Tears sparingly, given my lack of a focus, but it was devastatingly effective when I DID use it.

    Finally, we finished off the last one, turning to see Mel and Cark subduing the black flame wielder. Once we finished we pushed his hood back, and Teague confirmed he WAS one of the Cult's team leaders, which meant we'd taken out at least some of the competition.

    I sighed in relief as we subdued and started to cart them out. Callie sidled up next to me, raising an eyebrow. "Everything ok?"

    Shaking my head, I stared off after the others. "Not really." I said. "This will get worse before it gets better. We need to fight another team tomorrow and we have no idea who." She just took my hand and squeezed it. She didn't need to say anything after all. We'd been here before. All we could do was move forward best we could.
  2. Threadmarks: chapter 360
    Malcolm Tent

    Malcolm Tent Experienced.

    Oct 16, 2020
    Likes Received:
    We made it home earlier than expected all things considered, but it was still relatively late. Since we had a battle tomorrow we decided to knock out early, but before we did, I went to go check on Benny. My friend was sitting outside staring up at the stars, and I sat down next to him.

    "So, want to talk to me about your meeting with Celine the other day?" I said casually. "I didn't ask because I wanted to respect your privacy."

    His lips quirked up in a small smile. "So my privacy isn't important anymore?"

    "Nah." I said solemnly. "It was never important, I just forgot that for a minute. Now I remember that I don't really give a shit when you don't want to talk about stuff so I figured I'd check in." I shot him a smile to let him know I was messing with him, but I didn't offer him an out. If he actually didn't want to talk about it, he'd just tell me to get lost. We were close enough not to need to walk on eggshells.

    He snorted. "Thanks for that, dick." He went silent for a bit, obviously choosing his words, but I didn't rush him. "It was...weird. I know we weren't you and Callie with your constant affection and PDA, but I got used to us being...close, in our own way. Seeing here right there and acting like she was a stranger sucked."

    "Then why do it?" I said seriously. "You know she wants you back. She turned on her family to help us out for you. Why not just...treat her like you always do?"

    Shaking his head, he let out a long sigh. "Because it wouldn't be fair. I don't know if I can get over what she did. I want to. But I don't know if that's going to be enough yet. If I start being affectionate and acting like nothing has changed it'll make her think that I'm already over it all. That'll hurt her more. I may not be happy with her but I still care about her. I don't want to make her suffer for no reason."

    I reached out to put my hand on his shoulder. "That's...shit man, that's so much more mature then I would ever be. When the fuck did you get so much more adult than I am?"

    My best friend put on a profound expression. "One such as yourself can never understand my journey. Don't beat yourself up over your failure, someday you too will be as wise and farsighted as I." His faux condescending tone made me snicker, and I flipped him off.

    "I've heard people shrink as they get older." I said with an annoying smirk. "Maybe there's some inverse correlation between wisdom and height. Did this new maturity start to show up once you noticed I was taller than you?" My tone was saccharine and it was my turn to get flipped off.

    We talked a bit longer about how he was feeling, and I helped him work through a few things, but mostly it was just an excuse to vent. A lot of feelings had bubbled up for him when he saw her and he needed to let it out, banter and venting both played a big part in that process. Finally we said goodnight and I headed off to my room. Callie welcomed me with open arms (literally, the woman clings like a python in her sleep and I'm fairly sure she would have long since choked me to death if I wasn't so much bigger than her) and I finally drifted off to bed.

    The next morning everyone seemed quite a bit more relaxed. Sure, we had a fight today, but we'd managed to take out three full teams from the tournament, which wouldn't change the round numbers, but DID mean that there would be three potential automatic wins available next round. Who knew, maybe we would get one of them.

    I granted Rime's wishes, and she paid in Vitality Elixirs that I passed to Jessie, since Benny had hit his cap last time, bringing her Vitality up to a whopping two hundred sixty three. She ALSO had twenty five spare points of Might, presumably from her bond with Randall, allowing her physical strength to somewhat keep up with her stamina. At four hundred twenty eight stat points total, she was closer to the midway point of G-rank than I'd expected.

    Once that was out of the way we headed in to the arena. We had a wait once we got to the ready room under the stands so I decided to ask something I'd been wondering about. "So once we get through round eight we're starting individual matches. Are they going to be the rapid fire daily setup like these are starting to be? Because with forty teams breaking down to one hundred sixty contestants there are more than enough arenas to hammer them out one day at a time."

    Callie, who of course had done her homework on the tournament. Shook her head. "No. They'll be using four arenas for the early rounds. Ten matches per arena per day. Helps concentrate the audiences in preparation for the finals and semi finals. That means there'll be a four day break between the ninth and tenth rounds, assuming we get sent out at the beginning which seems likely."

    I sighed in relief. I needed to get Jessie and Benny as close to the cap as possible before the tournament even ended, since that final month wasn't going to be nearly enough on its own. I'd be able to get them close, and with Randall helping Jessie an extra week or two might get me over the edge. Especially since once I ranked up again I'd have another daily wish. They were already taking jobs together to try to save up for the stats, and that was convenient since I needed cash for my new weapon.

    Which I didn't have yet. Unfortunately. I had a few stockpiled contingencies that could help out here, but without my cane to act as a focus my combat capability had dropped drastically. Finally they called us out, and all of us filed through the gate, walking out onto the sand to find a familiar face.

    The blonde haired, blue eyed captain of the Heavensong Tower gave us a friendly smile as we stepped out. "Oh. Hello all! Good to see you. I have to say I wasn't expecting to meet up with your lot so early." I froze at the sight of him, my veins filling with a cold sense of dread.

    I had no idea why, honestly. Alec wasn't particularly tall or intimidating, and I doubted he was a Master Candidate or we'd have heard about it by now. Something about him was just...terrifying, though. He reminded me of Abel the few times I'd seen him upset, this sort of predatory edge to his amused gaze that made it seem like he could kill me without blinking.

    Behind him stood the rest of his team, who I'd made the mistake of ignoring up to this point. A smaller blue eyed blonde girl with twin pontails, a tall dark haired girl with olive skin and serious brown eyes and a dark skinned man with a shaved head and an intense green stare, who was about the same height as Alec, but twice as wide at the shoulders.

    Callie kept her cool, despite me feeling through the bond that she was just as wary as I was, and smiled back. "It'll be an experience I'll tell you that. Anyone who made it this far must be strong. I'm looking forward to our match. Hope you all don't disappoint us."

    The blonde girl with the twin tails giggled. "Oh I doubt that'll be a problem. I bet this match won't last long enough for you to be disappointed."

    "Lena." Scolded Alec lazily enough to make it clear he wasn't really scolding at all. "There's no need to antagonize our friends here. I'm sure they're very strong. I've heard of some of the teams they've beaten. I have no doubt that they can give us a decent work out." His tone was dripping with sincerity, and despite being almost sure he was mocking us, I couldn't really prove it. Alec was just one of those people that ALWAYS sounded like they were making fun of you.

    The taller woman snorted. "Doubt it. Some backwater Master Candidate isn't enough to stop us. Besides, we can't lose any face for the church. We've kept ourselves out of the political nonsense so far, but if we don't make an example we're going to bring shame on the faction."

    I grimaced at that. Fuck. The Church was involved here too. I'd been wondering where the last of the five factions was in all this, but I'd hoped we were lucky enough to miss them. Apparently not. I looked at Callie, using the bond to ask her if we should share about my mom.

    There was no way to be sure that my mother's position would buy us any good will, but it certainly bought us BAD will amongst their opposition. She shook her head in a short, sharp motion. Which was fair, there were still cultists here, and finding out I was a 'heretic' was sure to make me a target. Though it made me curious. "If you're with the Church why haven't the cult members targeted you more specifically?"

    I was sure they'd been attacked when we all had, but that wasn't the same as being hunted down like me. Granted a Saintess was pretty damn high up in the heirarchy of the church, but still.

    Alec shrugged. "The lunatics do what they will. If I had to guess it would be because the Heavensong Tower's affiliation with the Curch is distant. We're raised to its tenants, but we're nominally in the Unity's sphere of influence. They probably don't count us. The Church doesn't have many teams here either, because we don't work with mercenaries, and there aren't many legacy factions like ours in this system."

    Yeah, that sounded about right. Shame, I'd been hoping we could get some backup. Even if sharing in public like this wouldn't work I was sure Callie and I could find a way to tip them off to my bloodline without everyone and their mother finding out.

    The muscular guy with the green eyes sighed. "Can we just start this? I don't feel like sitting around bantering. I didn't get near enough sleep last night. Having to do these every day is such a drag." His complaint was said with such soulcrushing boredom that I felt tired just listening to it.

    The others just rolled their eyes. Lena, the blonde, pointed a finger at him. "Damn it Carlos. Can't you play along? We're supposed to be making an impression here. We'll never be taken seriously if everyone thinks we're lazy bums like you!"

    Before he could respond, Alec cut them off. "Enough." The edge of amusement faded for a moment, replaced with a sharp edge. "We're in public. Deal with your nonsense later." He nodded solemnly to Callie. "Sorry about that. They can get carried away sometimes." He smiled menacingly. "To make it up to you, I'll end this quickly so we can all go home."

    He tensed and was clearly about to move, when Abel's fist smashed straight out at him. He snarled and a tornado condensed around his own hand and he lashed out with a four fingered chop. The wind formed a massive blade and as it did, his hand caught fire, creating a slashing wave of golden fire. It didn't look like peak Intermediate, more like he was using wind and fire manipulation at the same time, but something was off about those flames. Whatever was going on, it split Abel's fist manifestation in half. Huh. Guess I was right. This was going to be a tough fight.
  3. Threadmarks: chapter 361
    Malcolm Tent

    Malcolm Tent Experienced.

    Oct 16, 2020
    Likes Received:
    I was in shock. Alec had managed to break one of Abel's punches. Seeing as Abel was a Master Candidate with an extremely complimentary ability (albeit one he hadn't really been using just then) it was crazy to me that someone who definitely WASN'T a Master Candidate had countered his attack.

    That giant flame chop hadn't been Intermediate manifestation, it had just been a wide scale wind burst that he somehow set on fire. The really weird thing was that he was using wind AND fire. Either he had two abilities (extremely unlikely since my dad's cousin Aiden, the current Wishmaster, was the only person I'd heard of with that distinction) or that had been a Skill that he'd combined with his ability. Or two Skills, since it also seemed like some kind of martial art had been used.

    "Hey Starbreaker." I said seriously. "Any feedback on that attack? You're our resident firestarter." Something about the flames just then had seemed...different. Not the color, Mel's flames were golden too, but something about the energy that made them up struck me as odd. They looked weird, like I could see a strange shimmer in them.
    She sighed. "Those aren't pure flames. I can't tell you what kind of flames they ARE, but they're mixed with something. Maybe a unique Skill."

    Abel nodded. "That was impressive. I think the wind is his ability, but whatever that Skill is synergizes well with it, and it's REALLY strong." He cocked his head. "He isn't a Master Candidate, but he's amazingly skilled at using that Skill and his ability in conjunction." Abel reached up and fluidly stripped off his coat, letting the fabric flutter to the ground as he lashed out with a flurry of massive fist images. He didn't use his spatial ability this time either, but it was clear he was being much more serious about his Ragam.

    Alec clapped his hands together, and when he drew them apart he was holding a sphere of warped air. Inside the sphere was a single flower made of golden flame. Alec spun the sphere up onto the tip of his finger and then blew on it lightly. It floated up like a soap bubble until it came in contact with one of the descending fist images and then the whole thing destabilized.

    The bubble warped, and the flower inside followed suit, becoming unstable and then exploding. The wave of golden flames fluctuated inside the bubble for a second, before it popped, and a colossal burst of fire swallowed the air in front of the Heavensong Tower team, consuming the fist images before they got close enough to do damage.

    My eyes widened in shock, but Abel just nodded. "Purification." I looked at him quizically. "The fire purified my fist energy from the blows. My manifestations use a Fantasy base with a heavy Might percentage. It makes them easier to control. The fire eroded the Fantasy, and the Might was consumed to fuel the flames, since fire is almost entirely Might. Annoying."

    I stared at him. That explained a few things I'd been interested in knowing. I knew Master Candidates could create manifestations, though he'd implied those were just the most common form that high Intermediate took. Still, those manifestations were standardized, and Intermediate was about branching out and making a technique your own. Finding out the manifestations were created custom from various stat mixtures made a LOT of sense.

    It also wasn't really important right now. Purification fire wasn't ideal, but I DID have a counter for it. I cracked my neck, stepping forward. "Hold on, I'll try next." I wasn't sure why they were letting us attack, but it felt like a provocation. It didn't matter in the end. We just needed to beat them and it would be fine. Closing my eyes, I pulled up a flame attack, a triple strength density shifted attack, Mercy Kill, Touch of Tears, and Consecration of Flame, unleashing them all at Alec in a massive burst of dark green fire.

    I'd never tried density shifting an actual fireball before, and apparently it was REALLY effective, because the flames seemed to have become ten times more toxic when condensed like that, and combined with all the boosts even Abel looked impressed.

    Alec's previously casual impression turned stoic and annoyed and he lashed out with a quick series of punches. Each punch created a wind based explosion of air that fueled a bigger golden explosion of fire. The series of attacks eroded my fireball, eating away at it until it dispersed, but it took him dozens of attacks, and the blast got much closer than I think he was comfortable with.

    Callie gaped at me, and even Abel looked surprised, but Mel nodded. "Smart. Purification flame is diametrically opposed to something like toxic fire. It's like trying to burn water. It's possible to turn it into steam, but it isn't an efficient process. How many more times can you do that?"

    I grimaced. "Myself? Not nearly enough, but I can imbue that skill into your orb so you can throw toxic fire like that." She nodded and held it out, and I placed a hand on the orb, triggering a second Touch of Tears and Consecration of Flame. That should increase her actual flame power too, which would be a big help.

    Sadly, showing that we could counter his attack without just relying on Abel mean the spectator sport portion of this was at an end. Lena, the blonde girl, inhaled and then let out a scream of challenge. As she screamed a bank of angry red mist spewed forth from her mouth right at us. Abel reacted immediately, cupping his hands in a dome and creating a shield of hand manifestation over us.

    The red mist hit the shield and stopped, but Abel hissed in pain, and I could see his hands starting to burn under the touch of the corrosive mist. I closed my eyes, using Mistwalker for the first time in a while, and I triggered ANOTHER triple strength density shift, creating a hyper dense extra powerful mist.

    As my mist manifested outside the shield, it began to mix with and disperse the red stuff, both types of mist dissipating as they consumed each other, just like I'd been hoping they would. Lena looked pretty much enraged. She screamed again, louder, and vomited another wave of red mist. The tall dark haired clapped her hands and the mist condensed into a rain of sharpened red ice spikes.

    The last member of the team, Carlos, snapped, and the spikes all randomly changed direction, then he snapped again and they shifted back after traveling some distance. Effectively that trick had spread the spikes across a wide area and then reoriented them on us, and the momentum never stopped, so we had a hundred plus acidic ice shards heading right for us, attempting to turn us into pincushions.

    I reached out and grabbed Abel, using triple strength density shifting and Stone Limb on him, focusing it through the medium of my mentor's skill, or at least trying. He could have obviously resisted, soul manipulation of another person's skill is REALLY easy to counter, especially when your soul is much stronger, but he didn't because we were on the same side.

    The folded hand manifestations shielding us (which were touching the sand of the pit) were covered in earth as stone limb effected them, then reinforced by the density shift. It was a really weird thing to see, because for some reason between the sand and the intangible nature of the manifestations, the stone versions weren't actually opaque. I was able to see as Alec deployed another huge attack.

    As the ice spikes hit the manifestations and stopped (though based on Abel's grunt it was painful for him to experience) Alec lashed out with a hundred plus punches. Each punch created another one of those flame flower wind orbs, and they spread along the arena on an unseen wind, circling around us and bearing down on us.

    Though he couldn't use manifestations or create giant version of that attack, using it a hundred times would accomplish similar things. I knew he wasn't peak of Intermediate since he couldn't manifest, but if the Skill he was using wasn't early Intermediate at least I'd be shocked.

    Mel snarled, having been focusing her fire energy into the orb for a while for some reason. I was pretty sure she was charging an attack or something, but since she usually used shapes or bursts I wasn't sure why she didn't just launch the attacks directly instead of saving them.

    To my shock though, when she made that snarling sound and I turned to watch, I saw her inhale, sucking all the fire energy she'd been condensing into the orb back into her body. She reinforced her physical body with the flames (which made sense since they were technically Might I guess) and her whole form turned green gold. She hissed in pain and I started, realizing she wasn't immune to my poisoned fire.

    "Why are you-?" I started to ask, but I was cut off when she turned to Abel with a nod. He unfolded his hands, letting the shield around us dissipate, and closed his eyes to concentrate. It took me a second to realize what he was doing, but I finally figured it out as HE began to glow green gold.

    It was their bond, he was using it like Callie and I could, to channel a Skill or ability. I was pretty sure he couldn't just USE her fire, but he COULD use a single attack, which happened to be what she'd stored. She had internalized it despite the pain because otherwise he wouldn't have had access, since the orb was a tool and not an innate part of her he wouldn't have been able to channel that.

    The air around us filled with hundreds of floating golden flowers in soap bubbles, gently bobbing through the air down toward us. Abel clenched his fists, condensing his spatial energy along the lengths of his arms, and then shot out a few dozen rapid punches. The manifestations in the air were green flaming fists the size of busses, but as they began to move they touched off the flower spheres, which detonated in a chain of explosions.

    Callie slammed her hands into the sand, a dome of shadow raising above us as I triggered another density shift and Stone Limb again, reinforcing the shadow dome to withstand the chain reaction.

    The area shook as Abel's massive fist images clashed with hundreds of golden flame flower spheres, and while I expected them to be extinguished fast, I hadn't realized how much the poison fire would help with that until the dome came down and I saw the rest of the arena.

    The other team were standing, barely, and torn to shreds. Based on the area around them Lena had used her acid mist and the taller woman, whose name I hadn't gotten, had condensed a shield of ice. There was a ton of shrapnel from where the dome had been busted before melting, but from what I could see Carlos had interfered with that weird, momentum shifting power and prevented them from getting pincushioned by their own protections.

    Alec looked pretty dead on his feet, but when he saw that we were all completely unharmed, his smug smile became bitter. "Ah." He paused for a minute. "Fine. We concede." He sounded unhappy, but I respected him for making the call. In their current condition there was no chance of them beating us, based on the way he was swaying Alec had nothing left in him to use anyway.

    As the match ended I headed forward, deciding to heal them up like I had the last group. Since they were in the Church they might be allies once I mentioned to them about my mom, and if not...well we beat them once, we could do it again. I could feel Callie's pride as I approached too. Seemed like she was happy with how this went. I was too, but I also had a LOT of questions for them. Once they were healed up we'd need to meet with them, it was time to clear some things up.
  4. Threadmarks: chapter 362
    Malcolm Tent

    Malcolm Tent Experienced.

    Oct 16, 2020
    Likes Received:
    We didn't get attacked after the fifth match, which I attributed to how many of the cult got cleaned up in the raid last night. Since the other forces were busy recovering (or trying to exploit the Cult's weakness) we were safe enough to bring Alec and crew back to the house with us. Zeke was already gone when we came out, as were most of the others, so I assumed he'd beaten us home.

    With Rime along I wasn't worried about an attack and the house seemed like the safest place to discuss my mother. I was kind of excited honestly. I knew very little about my mom, and these people were actual MEMBERS of the Church. Granted they were external members, but any A-ranker should be more than well known, and they definitely had some idea about what she was like.

    As for why I was so enthusiastic? I guessed deep down I didn't blame my mom as much as my dad for leaving. Seeing what happened to Zeke made me suspect my dad had forced the issue, plus I spent so long thinking she was dead, so there was a part of me that was still in shock that I even had the chance to eventually meet her some day. I tried to temper that excitement with pragmatism though, she was an A-ranker, and that meant not really a human with an understandable mindset. What that meant for her specific case wasn't clear, but it would mean something.

    We texted Zeke on the way, and he said that he WAS back at the house waiting, since the house was his territory as much as ours and the rules for interference was a bit weaker when his own stuff was threatened. I was pretty sure that wouldn't be true if I outright told him I was skirting the rules to bring them there, but since I left it up in the air it shouldn't matter.

    "I appreciate the heals." Alec said as we sat in the back seat of the car. "Where exactly is this place?" All of us were able to fit pretty easily, but the atmosphere was a little weird. None of them knew exactly what was happening. We'd invited
    them over to meet, but they weren't exactly close to us. I think the only real reason he accepted was that we'd already said yes to his party invite and gone in blind, plus we'd healed him and I was pretty sure he warned his own faction before leaving.

    It was a gutsy move, and I liked him a bit more for it. "Not far. We should be there in a few minutes. Can I get you guys something to eat or drink when we get there?"

    Callie beamed. "Solomon is a fantastic cook, you should take him up on it. He can whip something up pretty fast too."
    Which was true, as long as I wasn't pushing. Making higher leveled food with better materials was time consuming, but if I wanted to cook up some mortal snacks it wouldn't take long. The combination of my Focus, Perception, and Might meaning I could handle things like frying pans quickly and with extreme precision.

    They waved us off, thanking us but saying they weren't hungry. We chatted a bit about earlier matches in the tournament and just general facts about the planet before finally arriving and going inside. I was glad they seemed to know that we wouldn't speak about private matters until we were somewhere more protected.

    Once we were inside, I took off my coat, though I left the mask on for now. I wanted to relax a bit but I wasn't comfortable showing my face, even if that was stupid because dozens of powerful people saw it in Doomtown. Cass and Cark weren't here, having vacated when we texted just in case, and the animals were in their own building, so it was just us and Zeke, who wasn't visible despite me knowing he was here.

    "So, what's all this about?" Asked Alec. "We appreciate the heal, but if you're hoping to question us or something we'll have to shut that idea down. You did us a favor, but we're not like those mercenaries the other factions have hired." He seemed on his guard, like we would just attack them to force them to tell us their secrets.

    I wasn't planning that, and I knew Callie would follow my lead here, since this was mine to tell. So I considered how to explain. "No." I said definitively. "We aren't going to try to force you to tell us anything. In fact, I'm hoping you'll listen while I tell YOU something."

    Alec raised an eyebrow but didn't say anything, waiting for me to continue. I decided to give him a bit of background. "Did you know." I asked conversationally. "That I had all my stats when I awakened? I was told that's uncommon, and the main reason it happens is that the Ascendant in question had powerful parents. Now I know my dad is powerful, but he isn't someone for you to care about. My mother though, she's A-rank from what I know. And she might be of interest to you all."

    "How so?" He said calmly, but I could tell he had at least an idea where this was going. He wasn't an idiot, and for them to care about who my mom was, she'd either need to be a total monster or someone from their faction.
    "My mother is a Saintess of the Red Revenant Church." I said matter of factly. "It's something that's brought me into conflict with the Cult at least once or twice. I figured if they cared enough to try to murder me over it you might care enough to be willing to be friends?"

    Alec's eyes had widened, and his pupils narrowed to pinpricks. He was standing VERY still, though whether out of fear or some other emotion I had no idea. "There are several hundred Saintesses." He said, his voice radiating an obviously forced calm. "Which one, might I ask, are you related to?"

    I shrugged. "My mom's name is Sasha. I'm not sure how many Sasha's might be in the higher ranks of the Church, but one of the crazies who tried to kill me mentioned she was the youngest Saint the church had, if that helps."

    Lena, who had been letting her captain do the talking, SQUEALED in glee. "Sasha the STAR QUEEN? The Fist of the Radiant Pope herself? Oh my Revenant, are you serious? Can you introduce us? Can I get an autograph? Do you have any pictures?"

    She was gushing like I'd told her my mom was her favorite pop singer, which given we were all Ascendants might not be too far off the mark. "Maybe one or two." I said calmly. "She left when I was young, and I'm not sure why. But can you tell me more about her? What do you mean the Star Queen? Who is the Radiant Pope?"

    Alec held up a hand to stop her. Giving the excited blonde a disapproving frown. "Sorry. Solomon, Lena can't always read the room. I can tell your relationship with your mother isn't exactly close, and I apologize if my teammate was insensitive. I can answer your questions for you, if you'd like. Since SOMEONE has the social skills of a blunt battle axe."

    Lena pouted at him. "Shut up. Just because mom likes you better doesn't mean you can be mean to me. Daddy says that as the oldest it's your job to help guide me and teach me when I do something wrong. Scolding me in front of new friends isn't very teacher-y of you."

    He rolled his eyes. "That isn't a word. And dad cuts you too much slack because you inherited his ability."Huh. Guess they were siblings. He turned back to me. "Ignore Lena. I can answer your questions since I'm the CAPTAIN OF MY TEAM." He said loudly, clearly aiming that at his sister.

    "The Radiant Pope." He started with. "Is one of the S-ranked Popes of the Red Revenant Church. Most of them are the original disciples the Revenant took in as he was rising to power millennia ago." He paused. "Anyone who hits S-rank attains the Pope Job, but most of the most powerful were personal disciples, since they inherited some of his powerful Skills. The Radiant Pope is the youngest of the original disciples."

    Lena nodded enthusiastically. "He's also the Star Queen's DAD. She inherited his ability, which most people think is some kind of photosynthesis that makes you physically stronger by absorbing light, but she altered it as she progressed. When she fights, she glows like a star and her physical power is unparalleled. It's crazy, and some people claim it's an entirely separate ABILITY, like she might have two, which almost never happens."

    She sounded...terrifying. And amazing. I wondered what she was like as a person. I didn't remember her at all. Maybe she was intense and driven? Or maybe she was kind and had a core of steel underneath? Maybe she had a temper, like I did sometimes. Gods knew I didn't get it from dad. The idea that she had two abilities like the current Wishmaster just made her seem even more mysterious.

    I paused at that, looking at Alec as I processed all that. "Speaking of which, do YOU have two abilities? Because I saw you using wind and fire in that fight. Was one of them a Skill?" I was pretty sure it was, but he must have been using a bunch of different Skills to get those effects, which made me curious how strong his soul actually was, because that would be exhausting.

    To my surprise, Zeke answered. "He was using the Fist of the Red God." Everyone jumped as my uncle appeared on one of the couches. I wondered why he waited, but maybe he stayed out of the conversation until they told me more about my mom so he didn't need to risk being involved.

    Whatever the reasoning, I was pretty curious about his comment. "What is the Fist of the Red God?"

    "It's a martial art the Red Revenant created personally." At our shock he snickered a bit. "That doesn't mean he taught it personally. It's a unique Skill but he took it far enough to make a systematic training regimen. Still, it's overcomplicated and notoriously annoying to learn. I'm surprised you bothered." He said to Alec with a nod of approval.

    The shorter guy sighed. "My personal ability was too weak. The Fist is extremely powerful and synergizes extremely well with wind abilities. I could achieve power with it using only one Skill that I'd have needed several to accomplish with normal synergies."

    Zeke shrugged. "Not a bad idea, and it clearly worked for you." He looked at the other team, clearly searching for something in their faces. "That said, I didn't come meet you all because I wanted to compliment your fighting style. I came because I have another question."

    That didn't seem to be a surprise to Alec. "You want to know if we'll support him because of his parentage." I'd been wondering that too, and not having to ask was definitely helpful.

    To my surprise though, Zeke shook his head with a small smile. "Children. Always so quick to jump to conclusions. No, kid. I don't want to know if you're going to back him. I want to know if you have the qualifications to do so." Alec looked confused, but I understood what he was doing. It skirted the edge of what was allowed because it showed more than they knew, but if he put it that way I was pretty sure it was allowed by the geas.

    Callie must have felt it through the bond, because she braced herself as I did, grabbing my hand because I was sure we weren't going to be excluded. Looking Alec right in the eye, Zeke released his aura, letting is smash us all down into the cushions. I felt like I was drowning, being crushed by a million tons of rubble, and as I lay there looking at the other team I smiled a bit internally. If they passed this test, they'd remember this. Remember what Zeke really was. My uncle really did do the best he could to help where was able.
  5. Threadmarks: chapter 363
    Malcolm Tent

    Malcolm Tent Experienced.

    Oct 16, 2020
    Likes Received:
    I'd been under Zeke's aura before, but this felt...different. of course, I'd know that he hadn't been trying last time. Given that an E-ranker's unleashed aura had been able to seriously pressure a whole crowd of us in the scavenger hunt I was pretty sure if he felt like it Zeke could have crushed us all to death with this kind of attack.

    Instead, it felt JUST strong enough to overpower us, and his extreme precision and power made it easy enough for me to figure out what exactly I was feeling. This was soul weight. It was more direct than what we went through when using Skills, but it was definitely the same thing. I wondered if this was what it felt like for your soul to shatter under the weight of your own stats when trying to rank up.

    As expected, none of us were immune, but Abel was doing surprisingly well resisting the aura, managing to come partway to his feet against the massive force being exerted on all of us.

    What I didn't expect was that Zeke wasn't sparing any of us, nor was he letting up. This test wasn't just for them, it was for me, and I could feel that resisting the soul weight, while exhausting, was also viable training, and since he was putting as much weight as my soul could take (no more and no less) at all times, this was wearing me out fast, but I felt like it was also helping soul improve at a much faster pace than just sporadic Skills would.

    "Why..." Alec gritted out. "Why is someone like you in this place? This level of control over your soul isn't something an E-ranker could have. Manipulating the weight across all of us individually at the same time. You're a monster. There's no way you're less than D-ranked." His voice was rough and his face pale, he looked genuinely terrified. "Are you some bodyguard the Saintess left with him?"

    It took me all of ten seconds to realize the point of him doing this. He was setting the stage for me to tell them about my dad. Zeke looked at me inscrutably, clearly leaving the choice in my hands. I could see why he'd do it this way too. The combination of me getting them out of this, me healing them already, and my own potential strength down the road made this whole thing a perfect combo of carrot and stick, and one only possible for him to even do because I'd brought them into his space like this.

    "Not my mother." I gritted out, making my decision. I mentally rolled my eyes at the fact that Zeke didn't bother to exclude me from this bullshit. "My father. Specifically Elijih Wyndham an A-ranked former member of the Wish Curse Palace. The person I inherited my own ability from."

    Even under the pressure, I saw Alec flinch back in shock. "What? That's...I mean I wondered what your ability was, since you used such a crazy variety of attacks. But if it's THAT ability... I mean, I know Wishmaster candidates are known to gather a variety of Skills. It explains all the variety. I'd just assumed you made some really crazy unique Skill that did all of that, kind of like my Fist of the Red God."

    "I have questions about that actually." I admitted. "But first I need to know what you plan to do with this information. I admit, I wasn't expecting the test, but I WAS hoping to recruit you all to work with me. Unless that's against your arrangement with the Church. I'm not asking you to join the WCP of course, just my personal faction. If you agree you could become members of my Starchaser Pavilion if you want, or we could just make a personal alliance."

    Alec made a pondering sound. "I...I'm not sure. It isn't against our vows to the Church. The Wish Curse Palace isn't a rival to the five faction alliance, they exist among and around us. That position makes dual employment possible in a way it wouldn't be with other factions. Granted, the Church isn't the CLOSEST faction to the WCP, but we still use their services and have a decent relationship. None of the higher ups are stupid enough to alienate the only source of wishes in the universe."

    That didn't sound like a no, but it also wasn't a yes. It took me a second to figure out what he was saying and I rolled my eyes when I did. "Really? You're being crushed under the weight of a B-rank soul and you're trying to negotiate for compensation?" I said it derisively, but honestly I kind of respected the hustle.

    It was still hilarious seeing the even more sever flinch from Alec when I mentioned Zeke's rank. "I-I'm just looking out for my team. Even if he's B-B-rank that doesn't mean we'll be bullied. You wouldn't want to work with us if you thought we'd fold so easily anyway."

    With a chuckle, I looked to my uncle. "Hey Zeke, ease up on them? I don't know if that's a pass in your book but it's definitely one in mine. Any longer would just hurt our negotiations going forward." My uncle raised a brow, but fast as it had descended, the pressure vanished. When it did, we all gasped and our bodies went limp. While there wasn't really a physical aspect to the pressure, the way our bodies REACTED to the soul weight was another story.

    Abel, who had been trying to stand up, fell over when he muscles went limp, and crashed through a flimsy table next to the couch he'd been sitting on. We all stared at him in shock for a minute, before he groaned out. "Ow." And that opened the floodgates. He wasn't hurt, couldn't be from something like that, and seeing our brutal mentor make a fool of himself set me and Callie off into a storm of mad giggles. The others stared at us for a second, but they needed to release all the tension, and one by one they started laughing too.

    Our mentor just laid there in the wreckage of the table, sulking, until our bodies started working again. I groaned as I sat up from where I'd been slumped. It was extremely uncomfortable, all my muscles felt like they had been cramping at the same time. I triggered a heal burst, bringing me to fifteen total stockpiled including my reserves. Since the damage was done by a G-ranked source (me tensing up) it healed straight away.

    I considered healing the others, but their Vitality should patch them up soon, and I didn't want to waste the heals on minor annoyances. "Thanks." I said to my uncle. "Can you give us the room?" It was a useless gesture, since he could eavesdrop on things happening across the planet, but I thought it would at least make us all more comfortable.

    Callie was glaring at Zeke, and flipped him off as he left, something that made me smile and the members of the Heavensong Tower's team blanch. Abel had gotten back up on the couch and was doing what I could only describe as pouting while Mel sat next to him trying to suppress the giggles the rest of us had gotten past already, which I imagined didn't help his irritation.

    Turning back to Alec, I gave him a smile. "Now, I figure we can talk a bit more openly without all the threats. Don't mind Zeke. He's my guardian and he tends to be a bit protective." I neglected to mention his complete inability to actually ACT on that protectiveness most of the time of course, but it wasn't like they needed to know everything. Since talking shop when they were sore and shaky seemed stupid, I figured I'd let them recover a bit by finally asking something I'd been wondering about. "I was curious by the way, can you tell me more about the Fist of the Red God?"

    He nodded slowly, seemingly happy to have something to focus on other than just being in the presence of someone who could casually destroy his home planet with a disapproving look. "I...yeah. Of course. It's not a secret or anything. Fist of the Red God is a true martial art. The high level ones don't just include movements and themes, they incorporate other Skills that give the techniques direct effects. Like my peace blossom barrage. That's one of the lower level techniques in the Fist repertoire. Of course, the wind spheres are my own twist that make it more effective, but still."

    That...that was interesting. I briefly wondered why Callie hadn't gotten some high level shadow art, but then I realized she'd wished for the 'best martial art for her' in that situation, and presumably the inability to learn something like that due to a weak soul and the complexity of progressing had made stronger martial arts a bad fit, not to mention the inability to teach it to me since she'd intended it for both of us.

    It at least opened up some interesting new options, specifically for Jessie and Benny, who were much lower in G-rank. I supposed a Minor Skill would work for Callie too, but given our bond and its connection to Balam, I doubted my girlfriend would upgrade like that. She might try to synergize the Skill with her Shadow Embodiment or whatever came after it manually though, to make her own version.

    I refocused on the opposing captain, but before I could bring it up, Lena spoke. "So...you can really grant wishes?" She sounded uncharacteristically somber, based on what I'd seen of her. "Like, you can give us anything we want?"

    Shaking my head, I decided to clarify. "No. Not anytime soon. If you want Skills or items or other things around our rank then sure, but big wishes require big stat pools. The crazier the wish is the longer you'll need to wait to have it granted. I take it you have something in mind?'

    Alec cut her off. "We don't. Not in the short term if that's the case. But it's something we'd like to address later on, if you're willing to commit to that eventuality." Based on their demeanor, I was pretty sure this was a Jessie scenario. They'd lost someone, or someone they loved was ill or something. They must be strong if they didn't think it would be anything I could help with soon. Future consideration wasn't a problem for me though.

    "I can do that." I said carefully. "I can't make any promises without finding out what the wish is in terms of when, but it shouldn't be too long from now. A few years at the current rate. Is that ok?"

    Lena exhaled in relief, looking at her tall dark haired friend. "See Ella, I told you they weren't so bad." She winked at her. "I have a great eye for people. You should listen to me more often, instead of always acting like I'm a total airhead." She leveled a finger at the taller girl. "Respect your elders!"

    Ella rolled her eyes, but she was smiling slightly. "Whatever you say Lena."

    The smaller blonde puffed up her cheeks. "That wasn't even remotely sincere! Call me big sis! I don't think you take me seriously enough as the older member of this team."

    Alec pinched the bridge of his nose, sighing heavily, and I smirked under my mask. I liked them, all of them so far. I walked out of the room to grab a piece of paper and start writing up a contract that would benefit both of us, letting the captain give his input as I worked. I was thrilled with how this had gone down. These guys were strong and tons of fun to be around. This round couldn't have worked out better for us. Only three left in the team matches though, and I had a feeling things would only get harder. I didn't mind. All I could do was be ready for anything.
  6. Threadmarks: chapter 364
    Malcolm Tent

    Malcolm Tent Experienced.

    Oct 16, 2020
    Likes Received:
    The next day saw another round of wishes for Rime, and another round of elixirs for Jessie. Our healer was up to two hundred seventy eight Vitality, and with only half of her elixir limit used up. She hadn't quite made it to the halfway point, but it was close. Sadly that was the easy part of the day, because after that we had to head in to the arena for our now daily match.

    This was the sixth round, meaning we had two more after it before we switched to the solo fights. Upon arrival, we made our way down to the room under the stands to wait to be called out into the pit.
    We sat for about twenty minutes, approaching the guy who was assigned to wait with us for a hint, but getting shot down and told to just wait. Finally we were called out into the arena, and on reaching the sand pit, were greeted by our next opponent.

    "Greetings!" Said the short man in the huge hat with kelp green hair. "My name as Albai! I am the current representative of the Magnificent Fable Forest. You must be the team from the Starchaser Pavilion! We were warned about you all, so we won't be taking you too lightly."

    Callie froze. "Oh shit." I looked at her quizically, and she swallowed hard. "They have Fable in their name, and they were warned about us. I'm guessing this is one of the teams sent in by the Faerieland, probably a legacy team like the Heavensong Tower." She turned back to Albai. "I take it Celine's sister was the one who warned you, and that warning came with instructions to show no mercy?"

    He nodded cheerfully. "Of course. Lady Nalia was most displeased at her sister's defiance. She's instructed me to be extremely rough on you to prevent such an affront from occurring again. Lady Celine has been refusing to respond to meeting requests, and Lady Nalia's ability to punish her while under the purview of the Unity is unfortunately curtailed, so you'll be the instrument of her discipline, as it were."

    The tiny red haired girl in the ponytail and the blue dress scowled at us. "I don't see what's so impressive about them that the Lady would be willing to forsake her family. They seem pathetic to me."

    Another woman to her side, one with literal metallic gold skin and bronze hair, clicked her tongue. "Don't underestimate them Roxy. They must have something going for them to get this far. I hear one of them is even a Master Candidate." I was a bit surprised they didn't have any up to date information, but then I remembered that we'd been befriending the teams we went up against.

    Sure you could watch the matches from the stands, but experiencing an attack was much different than seeing it. Like Alec's Fist of the Red God used golden fire, and so did Mel, but the two attacks were radically different in effect and application.

    Roxy snorted. "I call bullshit. You're just too cautious Fiona. If they had a Master Candidate who was any good we'd have heard of them from before the tournament. I bet they're just hyping him up for the reputation."

    "Enough, you two." Said the last team member, a huge rotund man with a bald spot so large he only had tufts of hair on either side of his head. "We're her to beat them, not insult them. Lady Nalia wants them used as a lesson, but that doesn't make them less worthy of our respect."

    Albai nodded. "Right you are Garret, they've shown extreme talent and skill to get this far. We'll do them the courtesy of demolishing them with our full power." He spread his arms wide. "Now, to begin the match, I dislike this dreary sand. Let's change the scenery a little bit." He tilted his head back a bit and whistled.

    As the sound split the air, there was a ripple behind him, and the air above his head and back a few feet started to swirl. As it swirled, color began to mix into the nothingness, green specifically. The whirlpool of color and space accelerated, dragging more space into it, and the entire field around us blurred momentarily before returning to normal again after a second of disturbance.

    Well...not normal. Returning to being clear. The area around us was much different, specifically the whole sand pit had been replaced by what looked like a giant forest clearing full of colossal mushrooms. Roxy, who was staring at us, giggled.
    "Welcome to Wonderland." She said maliciously. Her eyes, which were shining with ruthless glee, began to ACTUALLY shine, and they transformed into a deep gold from their originally normal hazel. As they did, her body shifted, taking on the form of a massive wolf creature that bounded into the surrounding treeline, somehow vanishing into the shadows between.

    Garret reached out and snapped his fingers, calling up a humongous caterpillar beast, and Fiona laid a hand on the monster, coating it in a casing of solid gold armor that looked much tougher than normal gold. Abel snorted, stepped forward, and cocked back a fist. He lashed out at the caterpillar monster and...nothing happened.

    We all froze. "What's wrong?" Said Callie quickly. "Why aren't you attacking?" She sounded nervous, which I didn't blame her for given the circumstances.

    Abel growled. "I can't. My ability isn't working and neither is my manifestation. The space here is being...restrained. I think this is a Domain ability. I've never actually seen one before. They're much more common in the Faerieland. This guy's Fantasy stat must be HIGH for it to restrain me like this. Probably a few boosting Skills between them too."

    Cursing, Callie started looking around. I triggered Seek Hidden, expanding it to her through the bond, and looking for the wolf girl. As we searched, she grilled our mentor. "What is a Domain ability exactly? What does it do? Aside from..." She gestured around us. "This."

    Unfortunately, that didn't seem like it would do us much good. "No clue." He said flatly. "I only know a bit about it, it's not a common style of cultivation here. It's not even a universal thing there, as I'm so you remember your elf friend uses something closer to the Empire's nobility cultivation. All I know about it is that it can lock down space in a way that makes it effective against Master Candidates and that to take it down you need to take out the caster or overwhelm it in some other way similar to a Domain."

    I scowled. "Well how are we supposed to do that? If you can't use your ability or your martial art how the hell are we supposed to beat THAT." I gestured wildly at the massive metal caterpillar. " Nevermind the wolf thing Roxy turned into?" I was still scanning the treeline. "Speaking of, Nightstrike, do you see her yet?"

    "I didn't say my Ragam wouldn't work." He said calmly. "I said I can't make manifestations right now. I'm still a Master Candidate, I'm just more limited in my range. Starbreaker, take care of the wolf girl, I'll handle the metal bug. Nightstrike, you and Solomon can handle Albai, just be careful. I have no clue what he can do in here."

    One of my favorite things about Callie's leadership style was that she had zero compunctions about letting other people take charge if it was needed. Abel was by far the more rational choice to come up with a plan since he knew even a tiny bit more than us, and she had no issues letting him.

    Albai and the others seemed content to play defense, with one exception. I felt a buzz through the bond as Callie noticed an incoming attack from behind me and spun to finally catch sight of Roxy, who had been hiding but was uncovered by Seek Hidden. She'd already committed to her assault so she only slowed down for a second before barreling toward me anyway despite losing the element of surprise.

    Callie and I turned and moved even as Mel appeared in front of her, propelled forward by her flames like a damn rocket booster in a move so fast I could barely track it. I DID notice her seeming to tense up when she got there, presumably unable to handle the strain, but she quickly moved into a hand to hand fight, mobilizing her massive Might and coating her punches with flame.

    As we turned to head for Albai, were shocked to see the massive caterpillar in a crater, with Abel already on top of it, fists driving into the plated shell like drop hammers as the summoner and metal woman tried to interfere in a panic. Grinning, I activated Leaf on the Wind, grabbed Callie, and hurled us forward with a long, low leap, right at the captain of the enemy team.

    We came in fast, and I once again wished I had a weapon, because this bastard had somehow used his Domain to expand himself into a series of illusions, surrounding us and staying just out of reach. Callie lashed out with a hand, trying to pincushion all of them with her shadows, but nothing came of it.

    I dismissed and retriggered Seek Hidden, and was pleasantly surprised to see the glow of a locked on target on one of the bodies, able to alert Callie through the bond without needing to say anything.

    My girlfriend, well practiced at deception in battle, created another wave of shadow blades, and I triggered Flurry of Blows, funneling it into her attack to speed up the stabbing shadows. Since it was an area of effect attack, Albai didn't notice we were onto him, and I watched him use his Domain to somehow swap places with one of the illusions.

    Once he did, Callie redirected ALL her shadow spears at him at the last second, and Albai snarled, agitated for the first time. He clicked his fingers and Roxy appeared in front of him, the wolf girl seemingly unsurprised at being summoned as she braced for the blades.

    The giant humanoid beast shifter took all the blades head on, getting torn apart by the shadows with a snarl of rage, but even as she pulled them back they began to heal. I planted a foot, activating Stone Limb as casually as possible, stacking a triple density shifting blow with Consecration of Flames and Touch of Tears to make a poisoned version of my Magma Leg.

    I waited for Callie to launch an attack again and Albai to swap out, and as soon as he did I triggered Double Trouble. I was already whirling off my back foot and swinging my leg around with the full rotation of my body when I appeared behind him. Apparently his spatial bullshit didn't prevent a Skill as weird or obscure as my DS Mastery.

    Using my Balam Skill I'd built up the strongest kick I could manage, and a Mercy Kill at the last second made it even stronger. I aimed for his lower back instead of his head because I had no desire to kill someone over some stupid tournament, especially not someone who had made a point of mentioning he wasn't aiming for my life (even if he did it by telling me he wanted to kick my teeth in).

    When the kick landed, Albai let out a low scream as I felt a crack, and he toppled forward, the domain shattering as the poison fire and damage to what I was pretty sure was his spine completely destroyed his concentration. Roxy turned on my to attack, but was unable to do anything due to the train sized fist manifestation that straight up smashed her into the ground like a bug on a windshield.

    Walking over to kneel down I looked around to confirm the match was over, and once I saw everyone subdued I used a heal burst to fix the spinal damage as I released my Touch of Tears. Albai shuddered, finally going limp as his pain ended and I sighed. That had been a rough one, but it was over now. Only two more to go.
  7. Threadmarks: chapter 365
    Malcolm Tent

    Malcolm Tent Experienced.

    Oct 16, 2020
    Likes Received:
    We didn't try to recruit the Magnificent Fable Forest, mostly because they were working for a faction that was currently actively pissed at us. While technically most teams could be part of the WCP or the Starchaser Palace and whatever faction they were in at the same time, Callie and I didn't see any upside to trying to recruit someone who had already admitted they had orders to teach us a lesson.

    So once I finished fixing up Albai's spine, we just left, heading home to talk without any meetings or networking for a change. Which was a good thing, because as soon as I got there my first order of business was tracking down Zeke to find out what the fuck had just happened, and everyone else came with us.

    Zeke, of course, had been there to watch the match, but had come home right after his own way, bypassing the hour of travel time with what I assumed was either an artifact or some stupid broken Skill. Well, or he just flew home. I knew that traditionally once your Impact passed one hundred (D-rank in other words) you could literally step on air and fly by manifesting the Impact onto the air under your feet. At Zeke's level he could probably fly insanely fast.

    Either way, when I found him he was in the kitchen eating...enchiladas. I glanced down at the take out container on the counter and raised an eyebrow. "Did you somehow get down to Doomtown, order enchiladas from the Raving Baby, and then come back in the time it took us to get home?"

    He stared at me for a second, taking a bite, and pushed the bag off the counter into the trash. "No." He said through mouthful of food.

    Mel actually giggled at that, while Abel was glaring at my uncle with the white hot intensity of a thousand suns for picking up his favorite food and not bringing enough for him (not that I blamed Zeke, given the amount of those things my mentor could pack away).

    Callie sighed loudly. "Right. Moving on. You saw that fight, so what exactly happened? We have a basic understanding since Abel knows that Domains can nullify abilities like his, but it isn't exactly something we've seen before. Are you allowed to tell us about them?"

    He looked at her with narrowed eyes, chewing as he hummed speculatively, then swallowed loudly and burped, making all of us grimace. "Sure." He said casually. "This is considered common knowledge, since so many people have Domains in some parts of the universe. What do you want to know?"

    I rolled my eyes. "Everything?" I had to hold back a sigh, because of COURSE he had to make things difficult.
    "No." He said firmly. "THAT would be interference. I'll give you the crash course. Domains are a special type of Skill or Ability that allows a person to impose their power around themselves in a radius. They're kind of the opposite of a high level Intermediate combat skill, since you're offloading a large portion of the stress onto the space around you, so they don't require quite as much in the way of soul strength."

    I blinked at that. "Wait...then why doesn't everyone use them? If they can counter a Master Candidate they must be really strong. Shouldn't they be way more common?"

    Zeke shook his head, taking another bite and talking as he chewed. "Nope. There are downsides. Domains are kind of complicated, but the basics is that there are two kinds. Personal and Fable Domains. Fable Domains are based on stories like that Wonderland Domain. They're well explored, but that comes with its own issues."

    "Oh." Said Callie in understanding. "Fable Domains aren't unique, so they would be pretty boring to anyone who knew how they worked. Especially if there's a lot of overlap, that means you would rank up really slow right?"

    He pointed his fork at her. "Give the girl a cookie. You guessed it. Fable Domains are incredibly standardized, and unlike the nobility cultivation the Empire uses, there are enough variations that it dilutes the mass renown that they might have as a singular concept."

    That made sense. I'd wondered why, say, a Count could funnel belief from the entire concept of that rank of nobility and it didn't work the same for Fable Domains. "Ok." I said curiously. "What about the other kind. Personal Domains? I'm assuming that's a less well known story suited to the user?"

    "Yup." He said cheerfully. "But much like Unique Skills those are monstrously hard to rank up. They're still based on stories, but lesser known ones." He paused. "There's...other ways to apply the concept, but that's higher level stuff. Regardless. Domains are the nemesis of spatial Skills and abilities, and manifestations count. It isn't something you'll come across."

    That was vague, but pretty much meant I wasn't getting any more. Luckily I had another question this whole thing had brought up that I hadn't had a chance to ask. "I'm curious though. Do you use heroic cultivation? I've never asked, but I know the Unity is the youngest god, and I don't know how old you are. Did you come from the Conglomerate?"

    He actually stopped eating to look up at me cooly. "I was wondering when you would get around to asking that. No. I was born in the Empire, though I won't tell you how old I am. I use the job system. I'm currently a Legendary Voltomancer. That's Volto like the style of mask, not Volt as in electricity. Most people in the Empire use the job system. After all, if everyone was a noble it wouldn't exactly be efficient."

    I nodded thoughtfully. "Like how some people in the Fairieland use the nobility system, but some people use Domains? I guess there's more variety in the other factions."

    "Of course." He agreed. "Heroic cultivation is considered fairly new and untested. It has limitations and benefits like anything, but Ascendant culture is old, as are most Ascendants who are in charge of it. Most of them are taking a wait and see approach and consider the Unity's whole guild and this entire faction as an experiment."

    "An...experiment?" I said blankly. "The Conglomerate as a whole and the Unity guild has to be centuries old at this point, how the hell does anyone consider that a passing trend?"

    He just shrugged. "High end Ascendants have more than three or four hundred Impact, and you know that high Vitality keeps you in good health for long into the natural lifespan, while a person only ages a single biological year for the number of chronological years that equals their current Impact. Since people can live a hundred to a hundred and twenty or so natural years, multiplying that by Impact means high ranking Ascendants can live for tens of thousands of years. On that timescale, a few centuries isn't anything much."

    When he put it like that I could see his point, but it was still a staggering thing to think about. It also kind of explained why he didn't want to talk about his own age. Who knew exactly how long he'd been around. I'd probably avoid thinking about it too. "Do...do you think we should switch to the job system? Would that cause me to lose my modifier for the Wish power?"

    "Short answer is no. You CAN switch over if you want, your job would just need to use Wish as your Base Skill. It's not something I really want to get into unless you actually go through with it. But the Wishmaster position has existed since well before this particular cultivation system, and obviously the original Wishmaster didn't use it. He created the Wish Skill and then used it to create the Wishmaster job."

    That said some interesting things about how the job system worked to me, not least of which that the Base Skill probably worked at least a bit like an inborn ability. I didn't know much about jobs, though from what I did know they insulated you somewhat from recursion at the expense of some of the speed you got from heroic cultivation.

    I had no real desire to change my cultivation style though. It might be a bit safer, but it would also be slower, which would draw attention. Maybe I'd change my mind later, but at the moment I was fine with the way I was doing things. Plus I was pretty sure that making Wish my Base Skill would end up giving me the same limitations as I currently had, so there wasn't really a point, with the added problem of needing to somehow TRAIN my Wish Skill, and gods only knew how I'd do that.

    This was the naturals vs. Martial Arts Skill user argument, and I had no desire to get rid of my free rank ups in Wish out of some misguided faith in my ability to understand the damn Skill well enough to grind it past where I currently was.
    Zeke didn't seem interested in talking more though, since he put his head down and focused on his enchiladas. I knew him well enough not to expect any more from him. I could see a faint glow from his forehead under his hair, so I suspected SOMETHING he'd just told me or been about to tell me had been counter to the geas. Callie must have felt my guilt and also backed off, turning to Abel.

    "So. Did you have fun during the match? I didn't get a chance to see what you did, but clearly that caterpillar thing wasn't able to take it."

    The grin that split his face was one of the most ferocious I'd seen on anyone in my life. "Nope. They made the mistake of assuming hamstringing my reach made me useless. But Ragam is about pinpoint precision and focusing force into a small area. Bigger opponents aren't a weakness, they're a strength. Took me a few dozen blows on the same spot but I punched through the armor on that summon like an awl. When you dropped the Domain I was finishing up with the summoner and the metal girl."

    Mel piped up. "The werewolf was surprisingly fun in a fight. Her regeneration was nuts, some kind of racial trait thing I think. Even cauterizing the wounds as I made them wasn't enough. Good thing I was strong enough to muscle her with all my Might. Though she was definitely a marathon runner and not a sprinter, so the help from Abel at the end there saved me some serious time."

    "What do you think we'll have to deal with tomorrow?" I asked hesitantly. "Seems like they're getting tougher and tougher every round as people are eliminated. Only two more left, so our next opponent will probably be a monster."
    Abel just shrugged. "Who cares. You got me don't you? You shouldn't worry about the next two rounds." His grin took on an edge. "You should worry about the five rounds after that." He paused. "At least unless you get one of the by spots. But somehow I don't think you have the luck for that."

    I just shook my head with a laugh. "Well, good to see you don't have confidence issues." I turned to walk past where Zeke was still eating quietly. "Now, why don't I make us all something for lunch, since SOMEONE didn't think to bring enough for everyone else."

    Zeke just flipped me off without stopping his food rampage and I rolled my eyes as I started taking out a pan to start work. I would have asked what they wanted, but given Abel was here I didn't need to. He always picked the same thing if he had the option, and honestly the enchiladas smelled good anyway. Now, I just had to find out if I could make them as good as the ones at the Raving Baby. Probably not, but it never hurt to try.
  8. Threadmarks: Chapter 366
    Malcolm Tent

    Malcolm Tent Experienced.

    Oct 16, 2020
    Likes Received:
    The morning of the seventh match was the same as the ones before it. Five wishes for Rime, five elixirs for Jessie, and she officially reached two thirds of her elixir limit even as her Vitality broke past three hundred. On top of that she got another ten points of Might from her bond, bringing that to eighty seven on top of the insane three hundred and three Vitality. Specializing definitely had upsides, since her entire skillset was based on Vitality, compounding that stat allowed her to see INSANE returns on her stats.

    I could see now why people with my power usually had bodyguards, funneling all of someone's stats to one point could create absurd levels of power in compatible abilities. Like Cark having almost all his points in Might. Sure, he already had most of them as a fire user, but that was MOST. Having almost a hundred percent stat allocation reinforcing your main skillset was incredibly broken, and not something that happened naturally even to people with heavily skewed powers.

    The further behind a stat was the easier it got to raise, and the other stats started to climb quicker when you got too focused on one, unless of course you cheated and did it like I did with wishes. Given how strong her healing already was, not to mention the enhancement abilities of her energy infusion on her animals, I was terrified to see what that power would be able to do at next rank.

    I knew that focusing your stats was one way to change your ability without synergizing so expected at least some kind of change when she hit F-rank. Once again we found ourselves back at the same arena. Rime was waiting in the stands with Zeke, who would as usual be gone by the time we came out. By this point everyone had other things to do, and no one but them had time to go to every single one of our matches, not that we would ask them to.

    Stepping out onto the sand, I was prepared for anything. From what I'd seen, we usually got one of two situations when facing new groups, either a widely varied set of enemies, or four people in a uniform or some sort of identical concealment attire.

    This particular group of opponents were the latter. "So." I said musingly. "Exactly how many factions use the whole shapeless dark robes ensemble? This is what? The third we've seen? You would be figure it would be counterproductive given how big a role attention plays in cultivation. Like, doesn't the uniform defeat the purpose?"

    Callie shook her head as we made our way into the pit towards the other team. "No. I asked The Nothing about that. He said they're usually limited within a region, and they make enough of an impact as a group to justify the choice. Being members of that faction gives each person a similar amount of prestige, sort of like Raleigh's Raiders back in the scavenger hunt."

    One of the figures nodded slowly. "She is correct." They said with a voice like a creaking door in a haunted house.
    "Yes." Said another in a voice like claws scraping over a dead tree. "Most correct. The Hate Demon Convergence is indeed such an organization."

    I sighed. Wonderful, they were total creeps. Callie remained calm as ever as she said. "That's a...nice name. Any chance you could give us some sort of individual moniker we could use to identify each of you? I respect the whole...group mentality, thing you have going on, but it would be nice to put a name to the lack of face."

    Because the hoods were completely dark, full of nothing but bottomless shadow...of course. One of them nodded. "We are Skell. We are also Veck, Stang, and Ruk." It announced this with a voice like metal screaming as it shattered, clearly a different one than the other two.

    "Right." Callie said flatly. "Very helpful, thank you." Apparently the 'Hate Demon Convergence' didn't teach sarcasm, because the figure nodded again despite her clear implication that announcing the names of the...convergers, while using the collective we made the introductions functionally pointless. "You haven't attacked yet, are you waiting for us to start things off?"

    The four of them shook their heads in unison. "It begins." Said the fourth one in a voice like cold water hitting hot stone. I was a bit confused as to what that meant...until I looked up.

    Four circles of red symbols, all slightly different but close enough to be recognizable as a similar or identical Skill or ability, floated above us in a square. Red light connected the four circles, and through that square of darkness I could see a giant red hand manifesting.

    "Fuck." Spat Abel as he saw it too, and lashed out with punch at the fist, a massive manifestation of his hand slamming into the demonic appendage.

    The red hand clenched into its own fist, meeting the blow with a similar punch, and the explosion dispersed the manifestation, causing Abel to stumble back with a growl of pain. I stepped over and put a hand on his shoulder, triggering a heal burst, and he groaned in thanks.

    As we watched, another hand came down through the square, the two of them latching onto either side of the square and beginning to tear the space wider with brute force. Through the hole I could see a massive red face with glaring yellow eyes and a huge mouth packed with razor sharp teeth. Rams horns curled back from a brutal looking face as the monster grinned down at us.

    "What the actual fuck is THAT?" I yelped in terror. Whatever the demon was, it was F-rank, which shouldn't be possible here.

    Abel groaned as he flexed his fist. "THAT." He said distastefully. "Is a cooperative invocation. looks like they're summoners. Most invocations have a primary caster, they modify the Skill and offload the power and soul requirements onto others. Cooperatives are what happen when multiple people use an invocation when they all have the same Skill or ability."

    The monster's foot smashed down on the sand as it finally crawled free, a pair of giant red wings spreading out behind it as it threw back its head and roared in triumph.

    Only to have it's roar cut off by another massive fist as Abel slammed a huge punch into its jaw. The beast reeled back as my mentor shook out his hand. "Ok, this is going to be rough." Despite the grim words, his face was plastered with a massive grin as he stripped off his coat and started to limber up. "Mel, an F-rank enemy is going to be a mess, especially one that size. Mind if I borrow a bit of your power?"

    Mel shook her head. "Of course not, but be careful. You know the bond has limits at our rank."

    He just waved her off, then closed his eyes. The summoners all seemed pretty much motionless but they were behind the damn demon so no way we were getting to them fast. Calli still nodded for me to circle around and we started moving slowly, letting Abel and Mel keep the monsters attention.

    I'd never seen them use their bond for anything like Callie and I did. Abel was the main attacker and had never needed to tap into her powers. As I stared in awe, a massive avatar of Abel's fists manifested above us, condensed from golden fire. I'd seen Mel use that ability before, taking advantage of the physical aspects of Might to enhance her body with her condensed flames, but seeing it on this scale was...terrifying.

    More than just the size, the sheer presence of those fists was staggering. There was a shift in the air and the space began to warp around the hands as Abel moved them through the air, warping the space to leave behind afterimages until there were six distinct manifestations in the air. The left fist flashed forward, the other two images condensing on it, then the right followed, each blow coming down with triple the force.

    The demon roared, hurling its own fists out in a flurry of punches, but unlike last time Abel didn't budge. His blows met the punches from the demon head on and the beast reared back in pain, but the damage to the hands healed almost as soon as it happened. Summons were a bitch to take out if you couldn't one shot them, since the summoners could repair them.

    I had no doubt Abel would get the thing eventually, and seeing him get serious and actively work with Mel for the first time in the tournament I was blown away, but this was a team match, which meant he didn't HAVE to do that. Callie and I had circled around to within range for me to use Double Trouble, but I held back, kneeling down to condense Stone Limbs on both my hands, as well as poison fire, just in case.

    Waiting for the perfect timing, I stood stock still, staring at the nearby figures as the giant demonic summon and the massive flaming fists boxed it out above us. Finally, there was a shift near their feet. Callie had flooded the ground with shadows, triggering a Sucking Mud through the bond. The distracted figures had no chance as they all got snagged by the shadow tendrils of the Dark Swamp combination technique, slowly being dragged into the mud.

    Sadly that didn't end the summon, so I activated Double Trouble. A Cloud Step to prevent me from sinking allowed me to lash out with a pair of Mercy Kill boosted punches and then spin off to slam both hands down on the third one's head and dropping an elbow on the last, all imbued with a triple strength tranq blow, using four of my stockpiles.

    The figures all slumped, obviously unprepared for a random teleport into their midst. The unconscious bodies were dragged into the muck, but Callie cancelled the skill leaving them all buried in the now solid sand. I felt a shudder in the air as the massive summon dispersed, showing the major weakness of summoners in general better than any other example I'd ever seen.

    Flaming hands faded from the air as Abel released the fire empowerment Skill. I checked on the hooded figures, and they were all breathing, unharmed mostly since the poison fire had faded when I released the skill, since they were buried underground. Seeing they didn't need any healing I turned to check on Abel, who was nursing a pair of seriously damaged hands.

    I put a hand on his shoulder and used a heal burst, hearing my mentor's sigh of relief as I did. "Ok. Ow. Haven't pushed that far in a while. Bit bummed you ended it so early though, that was the best fight I've had in ages." He shrugged. "Oh well, I guess I'll have to hope someone better comes along in the solo matches."

    Mel snorted. "You would have been hard pressed to beat that thing without me. If someone better than that comes along when you're alone you're screwed. Though I guess the damn thing WAS F-rank, so who knows." She glanced at the unconscious figures. "We going to do the meeting thing?"

    Callie shook her head. "No. They give me the creeps, I don't really want them hanging around the pavilion. I'm sure we can find some other people who can do cooperative invocations. That summon was scary but Rime would crush it for instance, they just aren't worth the investment."

    I agreed, though more for the first reason than anything else. I found them all pretty unsettling. With a sigh, I turned to make my way out of the arena with the others following behind. Next match was the last one in the team segment, and assuming we got through that we might be forced to fight each other. I was going to have to do some work on my DS Mastery to prepare for fighting alone. I had a feeling things would only get harder from here.
  9. Threadmarks: chapter 367
    Malcolm Tent

    Malcolm Tent Experienced.

    Oct 16, 2020
    Likes Received:
    After the match we went straight home again and I secluded myself. This next part was going to be an important step, and I wasn't willing to have anyone sitting in. Even Callie might be a competitor later in the tournament, and as much as I loved my girlfriend, I wasn't going to make it easy on her. We were finally on even footing, and unlike out sparring up til now this tournament had real stakes.

    Granted, it would be fine if either of us won, but we both had our reasons for wanting to advance, so if we ended up fighting I wasn't going to do any less than my level best to win. She knew it too, could sense my resolve, even if she couldn't sense what I was going to do about it.

    Which was, of course, get stronger. My stats were maxed, but I had plenty of room to grow, and my DS Mastery was my best chance to do that. I had ten or more subskills to upgrade still, and I needed to make sure to grow them in a way that would let me fight one on one without relying on backup from Callie or Abel or even Mel. I had to use my room to grow to make myself a legitimate threat, and the best way to do that was to get back to my roots a bit. It was time to min-max my build.

    Or at least the aspects of it I could. The Fatewalker build was fantastic for DS, but it was less than ideal for a frontline combatant. Specifically my divination, while useful, had yet to unlock any of the combat applicable skills I could get later in the tree, and as such was much less of a priority. I had a few tricks like the overlay, but that wasn't really even a skill so much as an interface. Seek Hidden was useful, but wouldn't be combat applicable in most situations.

    Which meant my upgrades should be aimed at the most compatible of my subclasses. The monk. Granted, the rogue subskills were hugely useful, but I'd upgraded most of them already, and I had no weapon anymore, at least for the moment. After tomorrow I would finally have some breathing time to get a new one made, but until then leaning into the monk abilities and their synergy with martial arts was going to be the key to making me stronger. Even after I got my weapon this would be a useful path to take.

    Now, I'd upgraded several of my monk skills already. Consecration of Flame, Stone Limb, and Afterburner. Which meant I had five more left. Mistwalking, Sucking Mud, Boiling Cloud, Cloud Step, and Leaf on the Wind. Two water skills, an earth skill, and two wind skills.

    Four skills didn't give me any groundbreaking options exactly, but it gave me some, especially if I used them in conjunction with each other. Which meant I needed to figure out ways to alter each of the skills to they would work in harmony with each other, or at least a few of them. I was pretty sure I couldn't jail break them completely, but by making multiple skills different enough to work as part of an overarching whole I should be able to manage...something.

    Then I stopped. Skills could be used in conjunction. Part of a whole. They could also be SYNERGIZED. While I wasn't sure if I could synergize full Skills into my subskills, I didn't see why not. I had plenty of bullshit Skills that did nothing, and combining them into aspects of DS Mastery could improve its function.

    I considered my options. First up was Stealth. It was still at Lesser, which meant it was well within tolerance for synergy. Mistwalking was designed to help me hide in a cloud of mist, but there was viability for something much more powerful. I might lose Stealth by doing this, I didn't know since it was my first synergy, but even if I did I had stored charges and I could use it through the bond.

    So I closed my eyes and reached down into myself. I used Mistwalking, filling the room with mist that would let me move more sneakily. It was a pretty basic and uninspiring ability. But I focused on a specific part of it. The hiding aspect. I focused on the stealth element of the skill, trying my best to shift the skill as I did with any skill, using my soul to sort of highlight a path for it.

    Instead of just altering it over and over until it became effortless though, I altered it as far as I could and HELD it. My head started to pound, but I ignored it as I focused on my Stealth Skill, and holding the Mistwalking skill I resonated Stealth as hard as I could. I felt something catch, felt the two skills begin to harmonize as my skills did sometimes, but instead of letting it go, I focused on the harmonization.

    It felt...simple. Not easy mind you. My head was throbbing, but simple. Like it was meant to happen. I held it like that, letting the resonance get stronger and stronger, and in the same way a skill eventually became different when I upgraded it, there was a sort of...click, inside me and the two skills blended together.

    I fell over, letting myself breathe as I tried to tamp down on the pain. It took a few minutes for my head to clear, but it eventually did, and when it was done, I mentally checked over my Skills. They were mostly the same, except two small differences. First, Stealth was gone. I hadn't been sure that would happen, but this was a Skill and not an ability so it didn't shock me. I knew most Skills synergized with an ability didn't vanish since you had to keep ranking them up to progress, but it looked like Skill synergized with other Skills did.

    Second was under my DS Mastery skill. I could dive into that if I needed to, and it listed my subskills, but Mistwalking was no longer one of them. In its place was an entirely new skill. Moonlit Night. My subskills and skills didn't have descriptions or anything, but I didn't need them. It was MY skill. I knew what it did, and this one was pretty fucking amazing.

    Moonlit Night did what Mistwalking had done, filled the area with fog, but with Stealth included that fog did a few new things. Aside from obscuring sight, it also obscured me specifically from other senses, like hearing and smell. On top of that, because Stealth was doing a lot of heavy lifting, the Mistwalking skill was able to get back to its roots as a monk skill, which meant it amplified the force of my blows when I was hidden by the fog. In other words, I got a fucking sneak attack bonus. Every blow I made undetected inside the fog caused double the damage.

    I wanted to do more, honestly, I couldn't wait to find some new way to improve my DS Mastery. I could feel it becoming...more. Evolving as a Skill not only because I had upgraded a portion, but because I had included more Skills in it. What that would do I had no idea. Maybe it would change the Skill when it upgraded, that was certainly how abilities worked, but either way I was excited to become more powerful.

    For now, my head was still throbbing and I decided the best move here was to test out my new ability. I headed down to the training room, making sure it was empty before starting my practice. I closed my eyes, triggering Moonlit Night. When I opened them...I could see.

    I hadn't considered why it would be called Moonlit Night, but standing in the fog I could understand perfectly. Light. The fog itself wasn't opaque, rather, to my eyes it looking like softly glowing phosphorescent liquid. That was interesting. I had a full understanding of the mechanics of my new skill, but apparently not how it would physically manifest.

    Other people, based on what I knew about the skill's function, wouldn't be able to see, or hear, or smell me. Granted some special tricks like my Seek Hidden would make it possible to detect me anyway, but detection abilities weren't exactly universal, especially among the enemies I'd be facing. They would all be pure combat types.

    I strode forward in the fog, silent as a ghost, it was amazing, like being inside a giant Stealth Skill. I couldn't wait to do this with my last few subskills and make DS Mastery really mine. I shifted into my Balam stance moving undetected among the targets on the edge of the training room. As I got within range of one I spun off my back foot, scything out with a kick at the nearest target.

    There was a bang as my kick fulfilled the condition of a sneak attack, namely, that no one was perceiving me actively within the fog. Double the force was expressed through the blow. I triggered Mercy Kill, inflicting three blows at half again the strength, a grand total of two hundred fifty percent damage. I'd been hoping those would stack instead of combining but I supposed it kind of made sense since they both came from the same skill.

    Looking at the target, I didn't see any particular damage, but that was fine. These were peak G-rank targets, and my Might was two hundred and twenty. Five hundred and fifty points of Might wasn't anything to scoff at, but it wasn't peak of anything. Then again, it didn't need to be. I could deliver these all day, and this was without any enhancement at all. Stack this with some of my triple strength punches and I was throwing blows hard enough to be F-rank.

    Now I knew, of course, that it didn't really translate exactly like that because of the way Impact worked, but against someone my own rank I'd be able to do some serious damage, and everyone in the tournament was G-rank, even if some of them would have F-rank defensive gear like I did. I got back in position again, readying myself for another attack, and proceeded to spend a few hours focused on utilizing every speck of Might I had perfectly, finding the optimum usage for my Balam Mastery for sneak attacks and mist based combat. I kept going until I could barely stand, ignoring the pain in my head as I practiced.

    Finishing up my training I slumped down, head still pounding, and closed my eyes. Sadly the pain didn't fade quickly, but that was ok. I hadn't strained my soul too much, this was within my tolerance, it was just at the high end of it. I would be right as rain tomorrow before the big match. Not that it would matter because there was no way I was going to show this new skill off in the team battle. I'd save it for when I needed it.

    Once I stopped feeling like a pack of boot wearing rat kings were playing hop scotch on the inside of my brain I climbed to my feet and headed upstairs. I climbed into the shower and slumped down on the bench, letting the boiling water wash away the soreness and sweat from the hard workout. I wasn't exactly invincible now, but I still had another four monk skills and at least one rogue skill to upgrade before the solo fights. I was going to make sure that I was a completely different fighter by the time that all came around.

    As I stumbled into bed and dozed off, I felt Callie climb in after me, and I drifted off to sleep happy with the progress I made. Tomorrow was the finals of the group matches, and I couldn't help but be excited to find out who we would be facing. Whoever it was, I was sure this would be a hell of a fight.
  10. Threadmarks: chapter 368
    Malcolm Tent

    Malcolm Tent Experienced.

    Oct 16, 2020
    Likes Received:
    "So." I said as we arrived in the waiting room below the arena. "Last team battle." I swallowed hard, trying to ignore the pounding of my pulse in my ears. "Who do you think we'll be up against?" Not that it mattered. I was barely thinking about this fight. I was more worried about the next five. Because any one of them could be against one of my own teammates.

    On the one hand that was exciting. I was almost positive if I fought Abel I would lose, but I had a decent chance against Callie and possibly even Mel if I pulled out all the stops. But still, I'd gotten so used to us all moving as a unit. Especially Callie. She was my partner. Fighting with her at my side was almost like breathing at this point. It was going to be jarring switching from that mindset, never mind actually fighting against her.

    Which...was what Abel had told us during training. That we would need to be able to keep that mindset separate from our normal outlook so we could turn it off. In some ways I was pretty sure that was the point of making Paired Dueling a Skill. By doing it that way we kept it as a separate part of our lives, which made it easier to do without. As opposed to making every aspect us codependent.

    Callie sighed, and I could feel through the bond she was just as hesitant. I couldn't feel the REASONS for that, but I knew her well enough to assume they were similar to my own. "Nope. But if they made it this far they must be tough. Each of the teams has been pulling out some crazy trick that we've never seen, so we should assume the same of this one. Whatever it is though, I'm sure we can hang with whatever they've got."

    Abel seemed pretty much at ease with everything, but that wasn't surprising. I'd yet to see him go all out for real. Sure, he'd tapped his bond with Mel in that demon fight, but that was just a raw power thing. Given Mel's comment that he only ever got serious when he took off his mask, I was positive that Abel had other tricks. The rest of us weren't as...invincible.

    Mel was pretty calm too though, and while I didn't think I was as strong as she was, I was closer to her in power than my mentor, especially now. Strangely, hearing Callie's fear about what was coming in her voice made mine seem inconsequential. I stepped forward and wrapped my arms around her, pulling her into a hug.

    "I know you're not worried about this fight. Not really. And neither am I." I felt her stiffen against me as I touched on something she hadn't brought up. The bond was useful and positive a lot of the time, but empathy was a tough thing to get used to. "We're going to kick ass in the solo rounds. We've been training constantly, and we've learned a ton. We can do this."

    She nodded against me. "Yeah. You're right. I'm just letting this get to me. Besides, even if I lose it isn't the end of the world. Four of us means four times the chance of victory. And that isn't even counting your cousin." I'd almost forgotten Natalie was going to be taking part in this. I wondered who her fourth would be. Callie sighed, stepping back. "Alright, well for this to matter we need to win the current match. Like you said, I'm not worried, but we should focus.

    "Oh definitely." I agreed. "Being confident doesn't mean being stupid." I heard the call from outside as we were summoned for our match. "Speak of the devil. That'll be us. Whoever it is, I'm sure we can figure something out. We just need to make sure to take our time and work out what they can do, right?"

    She grinned at me. "Of course. I'll come up with a plan as soon as we know what they can d-" She stepped out of the gate onto the sand and stopped. "Oh. Well shit." I was a bit confused as to what had stopped her, but when I stepped out myself I realized what it was.

    "Sanctuary Hall." I cursed. Beat, Sever, Carl, and Serenity. Four of our old enemies who were strong enough to be a serious threat. I turned to Abel. "I don't suppose you discovered some secret weakness of hers in battle and will be able to shut Serenity down quickly?"

    "Nope." Said my mentor. "And with Carl added on this is going to be tough. Neither of you are a match for Beat or Sever one on one, and Mel can't handle them two on one either. We beat them all last time because of our distribution, but with one more person this is going to suck." He scowled. "I hate fighting her. It's like punching cotton. There's no fun if she just no-sell's everything I do."

    Because almost everything Abel did was brute force, and Serenity was the closest we'd seen to a hard counter to him. We stepped forward, and the calm looking girl nodded to us. "Well now." She said lightly. "I wasn't expecting you to be our last group opponent. But maybe I should have." She smiled warmly. "I have to say I don't dislike the symmetry. We'll make sure to pay you back for last time."

    Seeing that banter would be pointless, and not wanting to deal with Carl's bullshit, I knelt down, triggering stone limb on both arms as well as my poison fire. Coating them in toxic acidic magma. "So, who am I up against." Ironically, despite being unarmed and therefore more bulnerable to Sever, my armor was better at tanking sharp force trauma, so Beat would be the bigger threat.

    "Carl." Said Callie firmly. "We can handle the other two, but Carl has who knows how many tricks up his sleeve. We need our most versatile fighter on him. I'll deal with beat, Starbreaker is on Sever, and Apollyon will handle Serenity as planned. Go."

    She moved as soon as she finished talking, clearly planning to overwhelm them with surprise as a wave of crushing shadow smashed down at Beat. Mel expelled a burst of golden flame, appearing in front of Sever in a flash and then releasing a burst of fire right in his face. I sighed and triggered Double Trouble, appearing behind Carl and launching a flurry of magma infused punches.

    To my shock though, when I arrived my punches were countered, as a pair of huge hairy arms pulled free of the ape tattoo on Carl to slap them aside. Despite the knowledge that he would have tattoos that could protect him courtesy of his dad, I had no idea where the things were until now. They weren't VISIBLE at a glance, which would have been obvious since Carl didn't wear a shirt.

    Now I saw where they came from though. I could see the tattoos fading into existence, not from nothing, but as if they were coming from a great distance, a trick of perspective as his skin was flooded with colorful images that he hadn't had a second ago. I backed off watching him closely as the writhing images adjusted themselves across his skin.

    Behind him, I saw a massive golden shield form in the air, defending against a storm of massive punches as Serenity channel her ability through what I was pretty sure was an F-ranked artifact, nullifying them with hear pacifying power on impact. I could hear my mentor's groan of frustration as he accelerated the punches, weaving them in from new angles only to have the shield intercept them all.

    I could feel Callie was tense but safe, and I didn't have time to look over everyone as I prepared for Carl. I triggered Flurry of Blows and Mercy Kill, three augmented super speed punches to test out what Carl had going on. Another tattoo, this one a small monkey, dashed off his skin and split into a chain of monkeys, each throwing one of the others into the path of one of my punches and exploding into fucking confetti of all things, though luckily this stuff didn't cut me.

    Seemed like the tattoos had individual abilities, though I wasn't sure about how varied they were. Carl grinned at me, flexing his muscles ridiculously. "First stage of my tattoo boom, Primate Parade! You think your stupid lava punches can hang with my monkey madness Solomon? Punchin Carl spits on pathetic hand to hand bullshit! Only nerds throw hands."

    It took all my effort not to literally groan aloud in pain at how stupid he was. "Your name is PUNCHIN Carl. You're saying you think punching is beneath you?"

    Carl snarled at me, flicking his hands to hurl a pair of snakes at me. "SHUT UP! Real men don't punch with their fists, they punch with their brains! I have the most badass bare knuckle brain in the world, so I don't need hands to punch!"

    I just...stared at him as I easily sidestepped the snakes with the help of my now active overlay. That wasn't how ANYTHING worked. At all. "That...made no godsdamned sense, you lunatic."

    Rather than hurl more snakes, Carl reached behind him with both hands. He let out a grunt and hauled up what looked like a fucking boar made of rocks, holding it over his head like a championship belt as he roared. "I'll punch sense in the FACE!" And hurled it at me in an overhand toss.

    Activating Leaf on the Wind I pushed off the sand, my foot coming down on the boar as it arched through the air, and I pushed off the thing, hurling myself further up in the air. Glaring down at the crazy gangster, I triggered a spider leg attack, pointing both legs above my head to form a sort of arrowhead. Using Cloud Step to reorient myself, I aimed the point down at Carl, triggering a gravity attack, a triple strength density shifted attack, and Mercy Kill as I plummeted down at him point first.

    I aimed for the shoulder and arm, because I didn't want to murder Carl for being a fucking idiot, but limbs could be regrown. Sadly, it didn't really matter. Carl saw me coming and knelt down to slap the ground. As he did a shape erupted from his back, an absolutely huge grey form, it took me a minute to figure out it was a literal steel elephant, and it crouched over him to tank the attack before it had a chance to hit him.

    The pointed spider legs propelled by their enhanced density and the gravity attack slammed into the back of the elephant, and there was a thump as the tattoo beast stopped as the body proved too dense for the spider legs to punch through. I dismissed them, kicking off a cloud step platform to hurl me out of the way of the wounded elephant (which bled mercury apparently) as it lashed out with its trunk, trying to break me in two.

    I touched down lightly, Leaf on the Wind preventing my impact from being too rough, and aided by the sand. I'd had to strain the skill a bit to prevent it from stopping my attack altogether, but I'd managed, even if my head was twinging a bit. As I stood up I looked over at a glaring Carl. Behind him I could see Abel coming up blank against Serenity, and I growled with annoyance.

    This was the last fight of the team section, it should have been easy fighting people we'd beaten before. But from what I could see someone (probably not Carl) had done quite a bit of research. They knew what to expect from us and had covered all their bases. I cracked my neck as I took up a Balam stance. That was fine. I'd just need a home run.
  11. Quenster06

    Quenster06 Your first time is always over so quickly, isn't it?

    Apr 14, 2023
    Likes Received:
    Aw, man, I'm caught up. Loving the story so far and the world you've made. If I lived in this world I would totally hope for the same or similar Ability that Benny got, except instead of going Inventing I'd go Blacksmithing and aim for Armour Embodiment. Then start making situational Armour and base my suits on different creatures to attract more interest. From there I would find a martial arts style that also imitates creatures and then focus on improving what I had, absolutely pick up Enchanting since that's pretty important for item crafting. Not sure if you've had any ideas like this or not, but feel free to take inspiration from it if you haven't. Can't wait for future chapters!
    Malcolm Tent likes this.
  12. Threadmarks: chapter 369
    Malcolm Tent

    Malcolm Tent Experienced.

    Oct 16, 2020
    Likes Received:
    Carl was scowling as he put his hand on the metal elephant. "Hey! How dare you hurt McRuffles. He's one of the best tattoos my old man gave me." Looking up at the elephant I actually did feel a little bad, but I didn't believe that the tattoos being harmed damaged them long term. I was, however, concerned about another part of that statement.

    "Your old man?" I said dubiously. "M-Jack's tattoos have to be above G-rank, how are you even using those? If they're F or higher then they would be illegal in the tournament because they would count as offensive weapons." I wasn't actually sure they would, but I'd at least bring it up. Honestly I couldn't tell what rank the tats were, their Impact came from Carl rather than being part of them, so the manifestations of the tattoos didn't give it away.

    Carl snorted. "Nuh-uh. They're G-rank for sure. My old man isn't just a tattoo user, he's a tattoo artist, and he can tailor his work to the person he's working on." He made another ridiculous flexing motion. "And with an awesome canvas like this he made some badass tattoos. You're just trying to confuse me with your rules bullshit. Do you think I'm stupid?"

    I stared at him for a second. "Oh! That wasn't rhetorical." I paused. "I feel like the answer you're looking for is...no?" My condescending tone was obvious enough even Carl couldn't miss it. The shirtless man roared in rage and reached up to slap the bottom of the elephant.

    The massive metal form dissolved, shrinking down and recovering Carl, except this time it didn't imprint itself onto his skin, it covered him like some kind of armor, giving him a metal suit with an elephant head helmet and a long hanging trunk, as well as gleaming metal plates along his arms, back, and shoulders, though it left his chest and stomach bare.

    His arms, hulking with muscle and metal, started lashing out at me in a series of punches, and between my overlay and my Balam Mastery, avoiding those blows was completely feasible. Roaring with outrage, Carl started flinging his head around, trying to smash me with the metal trunk.

    Gritting my teeth, I triggered a triple stack density shift on my arms, which were still coated with toxic magma. Holding up my limbs, I got them in front of my face, tanking the trunk whips with my armored forearms as I waited. It sucked. A lot. I triggered a heal burst to begin healing the damage and to overclock my energy reserves as I weathered the storm.

    Despite the pain and constant barrage of attacks from both arms and the trunk, I had to admit he was holding back though. Carl could have tried to gore me on those tusks, and he didn't. He obviously didn't want to kill me any more than I wanted to kill him, though apparently he had no such compunctions about tenderizing me.

    Waiting for a gap, I took the punishment, finally seeing an opening via the overlay. I triggered Flurry of Blows, enhancing my speed as I slipped through the gap, letting my armor tank the hits (though since they were blunt force I felt a rib crack, only to be healed up by my still surging life force) and hit Carl with the heaviest right cross I could manage, using my Minor Boxing Mastery along with Balam and Mercy Kill to land the heaviest punch I could.

    The elephant armor dissolved as Carl staggered back, head spinning from the punch, which I followed up. I had two more hits with Mercy Kill of the three, and I triggered a tranq punch with each hand as I used them. As that happened, I tagged him with a gravity attack from Alden, making sure he could feel the obvious change.

    Certain that the sluggishness from the tranq punch was the increased gravity, Carl started flailing around, not bothering to try to resist or counter the tranquilizer or even the poison fire that was still spreading from all of my strike points carrying it.

    As I kept up the punches his own arms came up to try to stop them, but they couldn't do shit about the spider legs raining down short sharp stabbing blows from above. Granted they weren't imbued with poison fire, but they were G-ranked metal spikes stabbing into bare flesh from above which I didn't imagine was fun.

    Despite the advantage, I waited. I could see him getting more and more dizzy and unstable. Finally the overlay gave me a tip off on an opening, and I triggered Double Trouble, appearing behind him and leaving behind a fake image of me as usual. When I did that though, I decided to try something new.

    I had tranq blows, but I'd imbued other kinds of attacks with certain abilities before. Feeling my head split open I used a tranq blow, but instead of a punch I slipped past his guard from behind and locked him into a sleeper hold, imbuing the choke with the tranquilizer attack.

    Carl stiffened, slapping my arm and struggling, but I could feel the tranq working with the stuff already in his system, after about twenty seconds he was out, and I let him go, dropping him the sand as I doubled over, hands on my knees, to process the intense head pain. I'd strained my soul with that little trick, it had been a big change very quickly.

    That had me down to four tranq blows and three density shifted ones. I needed to top up soon, luckily Jessie was almost done her elixir limit and I'd be back to buffing Benny. I waited for my head to clear and then stood, turning to look around at the rest of the battle.

    Abel was still stalled fighting Serenity, but I doubted I'd be either useful or appreciated there. Mel was dealing with Sever and Callie with Beat, so I decided to go help my girlfriend with the blunt force user. Without waiting I spun and triggered Double Trouble again, appearing behind Beat mid rotation, bringing my elbow around into the side of his head with another Flurry of Blows.

    Callie, who had been barely keeping up with the powerful force user, felt a surge of relief that I could clock through the bond, but it turned to horror when the hoodie wearing younger man bent at the knees, leaning back to let my blow pass over his head and planting his hands on the sand behind him, feet coming up to smash into me.

    His lead foot slammed into my chest, and the other hit the back of his first shoe, smashing his initial kick into me like a chisel driven into stone. The energy from his punches gathered on his feet and slammed into my chest like a car going full speed, and I felt my sternum crack as I was sent sailing off into the distance, my head blurry with pain as I hit the sand and rolled like a stringless puppet.

    I used a healing burst, then another just in case, and I felt the bones in my chest begin to knit together, though my head didn't stop spinning. I rolled over, propping myself up on my elbow, and panted with pain as I tried to right myself. I could feel Callie's rage through the bond, and hear the roar as several of my abilities were funneled through the bond, Touch of Tears, Consecration of Flame, Stone Limb, all channeled through my girlfriend and the soul weight born solely by her.

    I raised my head, seeing the massive shadow magma dragon construct bear down on Beat, who was hurling explosive bursts of concussive force to keep the monster from reaching him. Staggering up to my feet, I nearly fell over, having to catch myself with the spider legs, and tried to walk towards to the spot I'd been at before.

    That had been my bad. I'd tried to engage a fucking member of the Titan Twenty in close combat, one who almost definitively specialized in Might. I'd gotten cocky after beating Carl and fucked up, but I couldn't let Callie lose this. As I tried to step forward and almost fell again, I felt a hand on my shoulder. "Enough, kid."

    I looked up to see Abel standing next to me. Serenity's golden shield was nowhere to be seen, though the woman herself was lying in the sand near where they'd been fighting. "I have to help."

    "No." He said firmly. "You had your fight. I'll mop up the rest of this. She was only supposed to slow him down anyway. It was my fault this took so long. The two of you are pretty good, but handling someone like him is still a little ways off. Sit your ass down and let me handle it. Might as well take advantage while you can."

    Of course, right at that minute, the spider legs finally gave out, the attack collapsing and my body going with it, falling back into the sand. "Ok." I said calmly, ignoring my spinning head. "You go ahead and take care of that. I'm just going to rest here for a second."

    He laughed at that, grinning down at me. "Good work on taking out Carl, kid. For future reference, you are NOT a frontline combatant, even if you're physically inclined. Next time pick your moment better if you need to take on someone like that in close quarters."

    I already knew that, so I just gave a grunt as he vanished, appearing behind the distracted form of Beat. He didn't bother with manifestations, he just got in close and started throwing hands. Callie let the construct drop, sagging herself as she did, but her soul had clearly grown since the last time, because she didn't pass out, just seeming exhausted.

    Beat...he lost. Bad. I'd forgotten after seeing Abel fight how brutal he could be, and I guess he was annoyed at the force user for hurting me so bad too, because he fucking DISMANTLED the guy. Every blow Beat threw was turned aside or minimally dodged, and every blow he took was somewhere vulnerable and painful.

    Short ribs, kidney, every punch was brutal and aimed at the worst possible spot. I had to give Beat credit, he lasted much longer than the F-ranker had, though admittedly Abel was much less driven this time. Still, he actually landed a few punches in return, though my mentor mostly diverted them with his ability.

    Finally, the younger brawler couldn't take it anymore and missed Abel slipping around with spatial lubrication to nail him in the kidney. He gasped in shock, and my teacher wrapped an arm around his neck in the same sleeper hold I'd used on Carl and choked him out, waiting until he wasn't moving and dropping him in the sand.

    He turned to where Mel was still fighting and cleared his throat. Sever, who was burned in several places, looked up to see the rest of his team totaled and sighed, before dropping his knife and folding his hands behind his head, getting down on his knees.

    And just like that...it was over. The fight had ended, and now we were officially past the team matches. From here on out, it wasn't us vs .them, it was ME vs. them. I had a few more upgrades to make to my abilities before my first round, and after. My major plan was to make sure I got to Intermediate in DS Mastery before I hit anyone scary, because I had a few incredible skills coming next rank.

    Callie staggered over, dropping into the sand next to me, too tired to leave but not too tired to get over to me to make sure I was ok. I smiled at her and pulled her close, dropping a heal burst on both of us to combat the side effects of a hard battle. Then I leaned back and sighed in relief. We were one step closer. That alone was worth celebrating.
  13. Threadmarks: chapter 370
    Malcolm Tent

    Malcolm Tent Experienced.

    Oct 16, 2020
    Likes Received:
    "So." I said as I slumped back onto the couch. "How long exactly until the next round starts? I know there's going to be a few days between rounds nine and ten, but I didn't bother asking how long until nine actually starts." I was sitting with the others, Jessie, Benny, Abel, Mel, and Callie. We'd decided to have one last team meeting before this whole thing became a mess of conflict.

    Callie, who was leaning against me on the couch, gave a groan of despair. "Three days. They only gave us three days off. I'm so tired, and my head is killing me. My damn eyelashes hurt."
    I chuckled and pulled her against me. "Well that's what happens when you go ape shit on your opponent without caring what it takes."

    She glared at me. "I did that because he hit you so hard I was afraid he killed you for a second. The bond sort of...fizzed out. I couldn't sense anything but pain and fear and I was terrified."

    "I..." I stared at her. "I didn't know. I swear. It's a low level bond I guess the feedback from the attack was too much for the empathy portion of it. Or maybe I was in shock and you felt that. Either way I'm sorry. I didn't know how scared you were."

    Abel groaned. "Can you please save your soulful staring into each others eyes for later when we AREN'T having a meeting? Because if this is just going to be you mooning over each other like usual I don't think we need to really have this one. So what exactly are we doing here?"

    Callie groaned again and sat up. "We're here." She said. "To discuss what happens if we end up fighting each other, and exactly how soon that might be coming. They won't be pitting people against their own teams first round, but after that we could easily run into one of our own at any time after."

    "She's right." I said grimly. "Granted, early game it probably won't happen. There are one hundred and sixty fighters left on the final bracket, five rounds will bring us to the top five, and they'll be handling it as a separate issue from the current lineups, a big main tournament competition in front of the whole city. Until then our odds for running into each other are slim to start with, but with each round it becomes more and more likely."

    "I hope you two aren't expecting me to take it easy on you." Abel said with a smirk. "Because it would be a disservice to my training not to come at you as hard as I can. If we win you get the slots to distribute like we said, as long as the two of us can come along, but which of us actually gets the win depends on who is stronger."

    Callie grinned at him. "Which is what I wanted to confirm. We're a team, and we're friends, but from this point on, we're all competitors. Don't share your new abilities, don't share your plans, don't tell us about your tricks." She looked at Benny and Jessie. "And that means no help from you two for any of us. If we're keeping this confined to the tournament we need to do it fair and square. No outside assistance."

    Abel's smile couldn't have been prouder. "Well, well, well. Looks like the kids are finally growing up. Agreed. This is going to be one on one. Anything else?"

    Shaking her head, Callie called the meeting to a close, and we all headed off on our own. As I walked, I considered what she'd just done. Some might think that little meeting was pointless, but I knew that doing it that way was not only intentional, it was important.

    This tournament wasn't just sparring, this would be our first time up against our friends in a battle with stakes, and because of that all of us had our own ideas about how it would go. By setting the standard now she was confirming that none of us were going to hold it against the others if they won, and set a standard of combat so no one felt like they had been taken advantage of.

    That said, now that that was all taken care of, we were well and truly on our own. As a fighter who was used to working with people, and one with a support based ability, I was at a disadvantage here, which meant I needed to take the next step on creating my cohesive combat style.

    I stepped into the training room, and considered my options.First up was the skills I'd get on my next rank in DS Mastery, which admittedly wouldn't be before next rank. I'd have three new abilities, one in each of my subclasses, and they were all pretty impressive.

    Danger sense was an extremely useful divination ability that did exactly what it said on the tin. For my rogue ability I was getting a finishing move, which I only got every other rank, and this one was called Marked for Death, and gave me a single undodgeable hit that landed with twice the damage. Finally my monk ability was called Mountain Stance, and tripled my defense as long as I was standing still on solid ground.

    For now though, I needed something to get me through the NEXT fight until my rank up. With Moonlit Night, I had my concealment and some of my combat taken care of, but within that fog, I still had plenty of things to improve on. So with attack and concealment handled, my next big move was going to be mobility.

    My main mobility skill was Leaf on the Wind, and since I'd had so much success with my last attempt to merge in an outside Skill, I decided to do it again. I closed my eyes and crossed my legs, breathing in deeply as I triggered Leaf on the Wind. I felt my body...lighten. like I was soaring through the air despite being landbound. Focusing on that sensation I tried to envision moving with Leaf on the Wind. The unbound motion, the speed.

    I held that image in my head, and as I did, I began to resonate my Minor Gymnastics Skill. It was weak, but it was also something I associated with motion, something that would let me move about as I wished. I felt the two skills begin to blur as my head started to ache. Strain, just like last time, though not as bad since I had the practice now, began to pound through my brain.

    Pushing through, I ignored the pain focusing on recreating what I did with Moonlit Night, and suddenly, I felt the skills give, and then there was that same click and the skill just...changed. Checking my Skill list to make sure, I confirmed that yes, the Gymnastics Skill was officially gone.

    Focusing on my DS Mastery, I searched for the subskills and found the one I was looking for. State of Grace. I grinned widely as I felt what it did, and understood I'd gotten exactly what I needed from this one. State of Grace free me from the bonds of gravity, but it also freed me from my natural limitations. It enhanced my speed to double what it was during the five minutes I spend under the skill, allowing me both weightlessness and enhanced movement speed during that time.

    It was perfect. With this I would be able to move around inside the mist perfectly and deliver incredibly fast, incredibly powerful strikes. It also meant I only had three more upgrades until I reached Intermediate, and no one else had a clue. I hadn't been keeping anyone up to date on my alterations to this Skill since it had so many parts, and not one of them would see this coming.

    I sighed and slumped to the ground, exhausted and in pain. Again. I maybe should have waited until I recovered from the fight to do this, but I'd gotten so fired up by Callie's proclamation. I wanted to win through the tournament and get to the point where I'd be fighting all of them. I wanted to make myself strong enough to beat them all. To beat Abel.

    For the first time since I'd started this I felt like I might actually manage to go all the way. I not only had my new powerful subskills, I had stored attacks and the power to use them alongside my skills. If I could create a synergistic system of powers, I could win this. Or at the very least show everyone that I had what it took to get close.

    I hadn't realized how much the assumption that Abel would crush me had colored my perception of this whole tournament, because knowing I might possibly be able to win this made my already decent amount of anticipation explode into a bonfire of excitement and restlessness.

    Reaching down for my scan ring, I spun it up and called my cousin. Since we couldn't have outside help, I wanted to check and make sure that she and her team actually got in before this all started. After all, they were supplying part of our forces here, since if they won we'd get to go too.

    Natalie picked up with a smile, her face appearing with no hood or mask in the floating screen above my ring. "Shane! Judging by the slight smile I'm guessing you made it, and judging by the wince I'm guessing you already started training for the big show."

    I laughed. "Good guesses. I was calling to let you know my team made the cut, and to let you know that we decided on a non interference pact, so I won't be able to be in contact much. Aside from being shady I'm going to need all the time I can get to train if I'm going to make it very far on my own."

    "I feel that." She said, blowing out a heavy breath. "I have tricks of my own, but I'm not very confident in myself for this. My teammates however, are definitely going to be strong contenders. You better watch out if you fight any of my people. They don't play around."

    I laughed at that, and we spent the next few hours just chatting, relaxing and discussing family business and our histories, and just generally getting to know each other better. Aside from time spent with Callie, it was hands down the most fulfilling time I'd spent in a while. Actually bonding with my family, getting to know one of the few people who could understand me.

    All good things must end though, I had to say goodbye, and since the call had been to inform her I wouldn't be in contact, I might not speak to her again anytime soon. My best shot would be during the Moonsong Glade trip if we made it, and I made a note to get to know her better when that happened, and maybe to let Callie get to know her too if there was time. It couldn't hurt.

    My head, thankfully, had already stopped pounding because of the down time. I climbed to my feet and headed over to the track on one side of the training room, getting ready to get back to work on this. Moonlit Night might be conspicuous to train, but State of Grace would just look like Leaf on the Wind to an outsider, and I needed to be as prepared as possible.

    Using my new skill, I felt my body free itself from the bindings that kept slow and chained to the earth, and I grinned as I blurred forward, beginning a mad dash around the track, bouncing off every possible nearby surface as I tried to acclimate myself to high speed three dimensional movement. This was going to be so much fun.