She ran up, grabbing towards the rifle. I lifted it up, grinning at her,
“Come on you gotta try harder than that.”
She morphed her arm, the oversized arm grasping the rifle. The strength of her grasp was tremendous. She leaned towards me, a full grin on her face,
“It’s good to see you too.”
I wrapped my arms around her and picked her up in a single armed hug.
“I missed you too.”
I set her down before she blushed, her blue gray skin turning purple. I released the rifle, letting her inspect it. As she looked at it, I analyzed her, discovering her level. I was worried that she wouldn't meet the level requirement. It was good to see that worry was unfounded.
At level 1554, it wouldn't be a problem. I raised an eyebrow,
“So how did you gain so many levels?”
She rubbed her hand across the metal on the rifle, “I haven’t just been getting intel. Torix has me making assassinations all the time.” She looked up, a teasing grin on her face, “What about you? 2000 already?”
I raised a hand, clamping it into a fist, “We killed Dakhma Wike.”
Her eyes opened wide, “What? How?”
I lowered the hand, “By kicking his ass.”
She nodded, “That does sound like how you would do it.”
I waved my hand, “Not anymore. We almost all died. I’m planning out the next fight with a follower.”
She rolled her eyes, “I’m sure it’ll be way different than us just kicking their ass.”
I pursed my lips, “Come on, give me some credit. I’m going to come up with something clever. Just you wait and see.”
She raised her eyebrows, “Uh-huh. Sure.”
I pointed at the rifle, “Well John and I had some other goodies planned out too. If this keeps up though, we might not find the time to make them.”
Althea raised a hand, “Wait a minute. I didn’t mean that...Wait a second, who’s John?”
I pointed at the rifle, “He’s an engineer who helps me design those cannons. I’ll introduce you some time.”
“So you’ve been taking all the credit this entire time? I was expecting more from you.
I turned around, a teasing tone in my voice, “Oh well, I suppose you’re right. I guess I’ll just go eat lunch by myself.”
Althea shoved my shoulder as she laughed, “Oh come on. You owe me a lunch. I’m so tired of rations.”
As Althea shoved me, she pushed herself backwards. She frowned, “What happened to you? You’re heavy as a house.”
I weighed my hands back and forth, like they were two scales, “More like a tank. A house is the next step up.” I pointed at her, “What about you though. You’re still stronger than me.”
She shrugged, “It’s useful for up close combat. I’ve been working on my knife skills recently.”
“Really? I can make you a knife too.”
Althea gripped her hands together, her chin resting on them, “Really?”
I started walking towards her tent, “Come on. Let’s walk while we talk. I’m starving.”
She slung her new rifle over her shoulder, “That sounds nice...and so am I.”
We paced through the camp, our walk slow and steady. It was like neither of us wanted the calm to end. By the time we reached our camp, she and I gushed over the new parts of our builds.
“Once I got a new unique skill for knives, it let’s me get bonus damage on targets that don’t know I’m there.”
“So it’s kind of like a stealth critical?”
She nodded with vigor, “Exactly! I really prefer firing at people. I’ll kite them back until they close in. I disappear all of a sudden, then I finish them off with a critical strike. It’s worked like a charm so far.”
I shook my head, “It sounds brutal. I’ve been sticking to my guns.”
“Keeping things brutal?”
I shrugged, “I mean, you can say it’s like that.”
She giggled, “I don’t think you can say it any other way.”
We reached her tent as I raised my hands, “I think of it as poetry made into violence. Painters draw out their work. Musicians compose their music. My art is made with violence instead, like a dance of death.”
I scratched my nose, “Eh, I don’t know. It sounds silly when I say it like that though.”
Althea shook her head, a knowing smile on her face, “No, I don’t think so. It sounds a lot like you. I think it’s perfect. You’re one of those people everyone thinks is some brute. Once someone get past that, you’re just a big old teddy bear.”
I raised my eyebrows, walking into her tent, “Sureee.”
She frowned at me, “What? I’m serious.”
I waved her off, “I’m as fluffy and huggable as a metal cactus.”
She crossed her arms, “So why did you make me the rifle then?”
I looked at her, then I glanced away, “I uh, figured that it was a good way of making my new strike team better.” I pointed both my hands forward beside my face,
“You know, offensively speaking.”
She smirked, “Uh huh.”
I nudged her side, “Well then why do you want lunch with me huh? So we can discuss tactics?”
She blushed, “You make good food. That’s it.”
“And you say I’m transparent.”
She shoved me, “Whatever. Go make some food.”
I stumbled towards her fridge, laughing the whole distance, “At your service, madam.”
We chatted away as I prepared us a salad with a sandwich. I always liked my sandwiches with a bit of kick, so I’d put arugula instead of lettuce and some caramelized onions. It took a bit more time to prepare, but it was worth it.
Althea’s glowing grin through the entire meal meant she shared my thoughts. At one point she laughed her ass off because I accidentally smeared mayonnaise over my face. Needless to say, it was a lot of fun.
At the end of the impromptu meeting, I stood up as I said,
“I missed these lunches. They’re always so refreshing. I have to go though.”
Althea deflated a bit, “Can we do this again tomorrow?”
I tapped my chin with my hand for a bit, “Hmmmm, yeah, I think so. I’ll be planning out the assault on Elijah over the next few days. A few breaks sprinkled in their shouldn’t be a problem. It may help me keep my mind clear anyways.”
She clapped her hands together, bouncing on her feet, “Good.” She lowered her hands, looking down towards the ground. Her left hand tapped its fingers without her knowing. She was nervous.
She looked up at me, “Uhm...what are you going to do after we get rid of Yawm.”
I tilted my head, staring off, “I’ve been asked more than once about that. I don’t know for sure, but I’m thinking of helping people rebuild. I know right after I finished BloodHollow, I kind of just went out on my own. If Torix hadn’t reeled me in, who knows where I’d be.”
I met her eyes with mine, “I sort of lost everything because of that. I never had much anyways, but I could have built something up. You know, made myself a new home or something like that. It’s weird, this place has turned into that for me.”
I shook my head, “But it’s just...it’s not going to last forever. Not unless someone gets everyone together and makes it happen. I could be that person. Not forever, but for a little while. After that, I don’t know...I’ll probably just go out and explore the galaxy for a bit.”
She nodded. She bit her lip before saying, “Would you mind if I helped out?”
I creased my eyebrows, “What? Don’t be ridiculous. Of course you can. I could use a shapeshifting assassin anyday.”
She sighed, all the tension leaving her, “Ok, great. That’s all I needed to know. Good luck with your plans.”
I grinned back, “Good luck kicking ass, though I know you won’t need it.”
I paced away from her, walking back towards the center of the camp. Of course I’d rather plan this all out without other people watching, but I didn’t have a desk in my tent. I reached one of the standing desks before picking it up, papers and all. With it held over my head, I carried it to my tent.
I mean, if Yawm had spies or something like that, I didn’t want it to be that easy to figure out our secrets. With my unique skill, Knowledge Maker, I could hold the information in my head forever. Anytime I needed that information, I could sift through my memories for it. It was kind of like a library in my skull.
With that goal in mind, I reached my tent before getting to work. I needed knowledge first off. Torix sent us progress reports about the activities of each Follower, so I sifted through them for details. It didn’t take too long before I got an idea of how Elijah spent an average day.
He was a fallen seraph, a converted eldritch that worshipped Yawm as a god. He worshipped Yawm before he went to sleep and right after waking. He organized the named ones that Yawm assimilated from his plague.
They had three ranks, seekers, fighters, and researchers. Seekers sought out people hiding in the quarantine. Fighters fought intruders. Researchers experimented with abundant eldritch. Elijah would give each them sermons before they went about their daily duties. Since most of the named were rather young and inexperienced, this process took time.
While Elijah guarded the untrained recruits, Ajax was the exact opposite. He controlled the veterans that travelled with Yawm from world to world. If Althea, Kade, and Aatrox weren’t tearing their ranks apart, then Ajax would have already dismantled the steel legion. We lost Aatrox during the fight with Dakhma, so the pressure was on Althea to bridge that gap now.
That’s why Althea was so busy. She stopped most of Yawm’s denizens from retaliating against our bombardment. The more I looked at Torix’s plan and info, the more impressed I became. No matter how many moving parts there were in the plan, Torix worked it like a well oiled machine. It was a tremendous feat of willpower and intelligence.
My goal was integrating my own plans into his without missing a beat. I found my chance fast. Elijah held a weekly sermon, something like a church gathering, with all the named ones. During this time, Ajax meditated throughout the day, reflecting on the prior week. Ajax seemed strained during these meditations now.
Torix hypothesized it was due to a crisis in his conscious. Ajax’s activities were restrained, like he wasn’t giving anything his full attention. I figured this would be the perfect time for attacking Elijah. It might seem counterintuitive at first glance, but I justified it with a few facts.
The horde of people would be the least likely time for an assassination. Surprise would be on our side. The horde would act as a living health battery for me too. The highest level named ones were around level 800. That meant Event Horizon could kill them in about five to ten minutes. During that time, I would be invincible.
I would be distracting them while Althea and Hod dived in from above and below towards Elijah. To keep Ajax from coming, Torix and his summons would be burning the world tree close to Yawm. Anytime Torix had done so, Ajax came in and destroyed whoever had been harming the roots of the tree. I would take full advantage of that fact.
It seemed like our best shot. Before grinding out the details in it, our entire team needed as much of a boost as possible. The easiest way would be crafting them gear. I couldn’t spend weeks and weeks doing it, but a few days were worth it. With the bench right here, I didn’t need to leave my room.
So I set up shop. I sharpened the point of one of my fingers. With it, I traced out a few of my ideas. My hand etched out the lines onto the wood with a practiced hand, all the carving coming in to play.
Althea’s dagger was easy. I would make a jagged knife, more like a monster’s jaw then a blade. Althea’s power made blunt weapons much more dangerous, so I kept that in mind with the design. The main runes on that blade would be speed and precision, the two qualities most necessary for an assassin.
Once I finished that, I’d focus on Hod’s weapon. The easiest addition would be something covering his wings. Considering how frail they were, giving him lightweight armor over the limbs would help keep him fighting. I theorycrafted exoskeletons, each of them extending out over the surface area of each wing. They would come together into three sharpened blades as claws for his shadows to cover.
On the other hand, Torix needed something for channeling his mana. He would cast large, inefficient spells from his grimoire. Awesome as they were to behold, the mana drain was palpable. I set up a staff that he would channel the mana through. It would act as a stabilizer for the intense flows of mana, using runes that would amplify those effects.
Armor would be quite helpful for all of them as well. Althea could have gauntlets, a chestplate, and a helmet since she could extend her stealth. Hod needed a helmet for his head, and he needed something reinforcing the bones of his legs. They kept breaking during his fights. His amazing offense prowess always got cut short because of this.
As for Torix, he needed a helmet and jewelry. I could give him a set of rings, an amulet, and a crown of sorts. Making it thorny and covering it with enchantments would help him with his necromancy. All these bonuses would compound into a sizable advantage in the coming plan.
With all that in mind, I set out on Althea’s armor first. With her measurements from John, I created fitted armor. It had openings along the back for her wings, and the forearms and upper arms would remain uncovered. Considering how much she morphed her arms, she needed that liberty of movement.
Once I finished that, I made the helmet. Althea never morphed her face anymore, keeping a conservative approach. With that in mind, I made the helmet with a wide field of view for her eyes and openings for her ears. Dampening her senses would do her no good. The armor acted as a sort of skeleton, keeping her from being crushed by some immense blow.
I worked on Torix’s helmet next. The goal was different here. I could reinforce him much more since his senses weren’t as important as Althea. With his magic flies as his eyes and ears, he barely needed eyes. His helmet left a slit for his eyes and that was it. There was crown of thorns on top of it, each thorn covered in runes for pain. It was an evil artifact once I finished, something fitting for a wielder of the dead.
I left Hod’s armor as the last addition. It was the hardest to make by far. I created adjustable, interlocking segments for his wings. After pressing those together, I made the claws with his shadows in mind. They were curved away from him, letting the claws catch on whatever he swung at. That would increase the contact his shadow claws had with anyone.
After that, I molded a helmet for him. Instead of a solid piece like Torix’s, this was a thin exoskeleton. It would coat his face, preventing his head from cracking like an egg at any impact. I connected a series of plates that would run down his spine and neck. That would prevent him from having his legs and arms taken from him during a fight.
I finished the armors and gave them the needed runes. Dominion and control for Torix. Speed and precision for Althea. Savagery and darkness for Hod. I laced the runes with my own mana, circling the runes with my silver blood to hold the energy in. My silver blood even let me overcharge the runes, letting the items act as consumables with permanent enchantments.
I took regular breaks during this process, keeping myself sharp. I ate several times too, taking care of my body. All food was soft now, like mashed potatoes. I bit into a rock during one of those breaks, and it was like chomping into a cracker. Everything was like that.
The world felt so different now. During one of these breaks, I tried accessing my own dimensional storage. I could do so by swallowing things with my armor teeth. It gave me a solid idea. I was always worried about drowning, so I just swallowed a few roomfuls of air into my dimensional storage.
I couldn’t do this with my ring’s storage because it was limited by my mass and volume. A few lungfuls of air was all it could hold because of that. This other storage could hold an almost unlimited amount of it. Considering this was one of my biggest weaknesses, covering it this easily was a pleasant surprise.
So I finished all the armor, jewelry, and weapons while patching one of my glaring weaknesses. It only took two full days of effort for a huge gain. During that time, I visited Althea once and had dinner. It was a nice respite from all the crafting. I had to admit, making armor and whatnot was a lot of fun though. Shaping nothing into something valuable was oddly satisfying. Why, I can’t really say exactly. It simply is.
What I can say is that I put all the armor and weapons into my dimensional storage with ease. The lack of a volume requirement turned it from a meh utility into something ridiculous. Whenever I checked my weight, I was 25,000 kilograms. That’s about 54,000 pounds. I could hold anything I wanted within reason.
I planned on abusing it as much as possible soon. First I had to hand off the armor and explain what it was good for. I walked over towards Torix’s base, anticipating his surprise at the gift. He knew I was coming hundreds of feet away because of my aura skill.
As I neared the door to the suburban lair, he willed it open with a hand. Inside a room coated with maps, ffigures, and runes, Torix glanced at me. His blue fire eyes cast a blue tint over his noble robe, golden stitching running down from his shoulders to his feet.
“Well then disciple, what brings you here?”
I made my armor grin, the red aura leaking out. Torix raised an eyebrow as I reached into the mouth. I pulled out his staff then his helmet. I tossed them towards him. Before they crashed into him, I raised a palm. I slowed their descent with a gravity well, laying them into his hands with a gentle touch.
“I made these for you. I think you’ll like them.”
Torix lifted them towards his eyes. He narrowed his eyes,
“Impressive. This is your armor no doubt, and it’s much harder than steel. It was a pleasant weight as well. That makes it feel valuable. There’s six notches in staff’s top for imprinting gemstones into it. Useful for mana gems or consumables.”
He lifted the helmet up, inspecting it close towards the room’s light, “And this is a helmet with many of the same features. You even made it evil looking for aesthetic purposes. I must say Daniel, I never expected this level of...finesse form you. Especially after seeing your battles with Kessiah and Dakhma.”
I shrugged, “It took a bit of time is all. The runes had some carry over.”
Torix nodded before glancing at my left forearm. On the inner portion was two characters of the dimensional cipher I carved. Torix pointed at it, “Is that...one of the eldritch runes.”
I wanted to tell him it was the dimensional cipher, but the system banned me for learning about it. I got a pass because of my unique situation. Torix might not be so lucky, so I answered, “Basically yeah, except it’s two letters.”
Torix nodded, “They are for strength and speed. I can see it.”
I frowned, “How can you?”
Torix met my eye, a wry grin growing on his face, “They remind me of you, for some peculiar reason. Regardless, I thank you for your gifts. These will help tremendously with storing and channeling my mana. I suppose I can offer paymen-”
“Don’t worry about it. Think of it as repayment for all the dungeon cores.”
He pursed his lips, “Are you certain?” After I nodded back, he continued, “Well I suppose I can accept a gift or two from you...how about the plan for killing Elijah. How’s it shaping up?”
I raised both my hands, “It’s shaping up nicely. I should be able to send you a review of it soon. I’m going to hand off some other stuff to Hod and Althea during the meantime.” I turned around, pacing out of the evil lair Torix made out of the average house,
“Practice with both of those before the next weekly meeting with Elijah if you can. Cya Torix.”
He nodded, “Excellent work disciple.”
I reached over towards Hod’s room. He was stationed with the other Eltari in a suburbia. Most of the Eltari talked and spent time on the roofs of their houses. They would fly around, groom their feathers, and play games in the air while they were bored. They did all those things and more as I reached Hod’s house.
He had a colorful sign that said, “Hod’s home. Hod’s friends welcome here!” He had a scribbling of himself beside the sign. It looked like a child had drawn it. In essence, it was perfect for him. I walked inside. Straw, twigs, and feathers littered the scratched floors. He wasn’t taking advantage of the housing, that’s for sure.
I shouted, “Hod, are you here?”
Hod crashed through a door, his taloned feet slipping on the hardwood like a dog’s paws,
“Hod not sleeping. Hod aware and ready for action!”
He fell down, a plank of wood cracking. Hod looked at me then the plank. He bit into the plank,
“Hod break floor on purpose. Hod need extra fiber in diet. Harbinger know how it is.”
I pinched the bridge of my nose, but I couldn’t help but laugh,
“Yeah, I suppose I do. Anyways, here’s a little gift.” I reached into my armor smile and pulled out his exoskeleton armor. He ran up and grabbed it, gushing over the metal,
“Hod not break Hod’s wings now! Hod not like broken twig anymore.”
I shrugged, “That’s the plan. Anyways, I gotta go.” I turned and walked out of the house, “Train with flying in that. If doesn’t fit or doesn’t work out, send me a message letting me know why and I’ll fix it for you.”
Before I closed the door, I looked at Hod. He was still chewing the wood, grimacing as he did.
“Oh yeah, and don’t finish eating that wood. It’s a recipe for an awful few next hours. You know, unless you enjoy painful shits and all.”
Hod spit out the wood, “Harbinger wise. Sometimes, Bathroom is nice. Other times, bathroom is battlefield. Hod prefer nice bathroom.”
I didn’t want to hear anymore, so I closed the door. Hod could do whatever it is that Hod does during his free time. I went back towards Althea’s tent. After having another lunch, I handed off the armor and went back towards planning. I wrote a brief of the plan, sent it to Torix, and got an ok from him after a few adjustments.
Just like that, the next few days passed as I experimented with my new legendary skill. Torix and I grinded out all the details of the plan over a half an hour long meeting. He liked the plan, though he discussed the need for a battalion of the legion to join him. He didn’t want to risk all of his summons for Ajax’s attention. Considering how dangerous he was, I couldn’t blame him.
Just like that, the day of the plan dawned, the skies gray and cloudy. That night, the glowing green aura around Yawm’s world tree seeped into him now. Once it emptied, he would awaken. We didn’t have time for a plan B anymore. The goal was to kill Elijah then regroup. We didn’t think it was even possible to kill Ajax yet.
How we were going to kill Yawm...the dimensional opening seemed more and more likely. We would make a last ditch request for early rewards from the quarantine. We’d create a rupture in dimensions before I shoved him in. If we both fell in, well, I guess I would die.
I shook those thoughts from my head. Killing Ajax after we killed Elijah was a possibility. If we could finish Ajax before Yawm awakened, we had a chance of finishing this.
After clearing my head, Althea and I set out towards Elijah’s weekly worship. Elijah would perform it near the lake beneath the world tree. Elijah always stood on a root of the world tree as he spoke, and the named ones stood below him. Hod would use the trees as cover, and Althea would just use her own stealth. I would walk out of the ground and grab his attention before they arrived. They would strike and I would charge.
Torix organized a meeting with the legion before all that though. They needed a moral boost, and I had turned into a symbol for them since killing Dakhma. We would leverage that fact, turning me into someone the army could get behind. We would need whatever advantage we could grasp considering the odds.
They all clustered right outside the new quarantine zone. Yawm hardly controlled a square mile of territory anymore. All that remained was the world tree and the dense metropolis at the center of Springfield.
The floating islands remained, their beauty marred by the monsters that writhed upon them. There were no more yellow forests covering Springfield. There were no more ghosts of people, made of deformed flesh squirming through the city. With a cold, unyielding hand, Torix decimated their entire population over the last month.
Althea and I reached the meeting point. Torix stood on a raised platform of earth. As I shot through the air towards them all, I reached out a hand. I created a gravity vortex, carrying myself towards the pillar where the others stood. Torix grinned at me, a proud look on his face. Kessiah wasn’t there. She was off training the newer recruits.
The Eltair were circling through the air. Many of them landed along the edges of buildings and in the empty sills of broken windows. At least a thousand troops were grouped up between four buildings, the massive quarantine shielding us from Yawm.
Althea and I landed with all the members of the legion staring at us. For some reason, I wasn’t nervous. It didn’t seem like the legion was either. The constant fighting hardened them into veterans. They were averaging level 500, a ridiculous level just a few months ago. Now they were a unified army, united under a single purpose.
We stood there for a moment, the crowds murmuring a roar in our ears. It was awe inspiring sight. This was a horde going off towards war, a war of survival. Torix gestured at me,
“Go rally the troops. They’ll listen to the human that killed a follower.”
Hod nodded, “Hod already told Eltari. Eltari know Harbinger’s prowess in combat. Eltari follow you.”
Althea grinned at me, and I grinned back. I turned towards the crowd, I spread my arms wide. When I spoke, Torix amplified my voice. It echoed off the nearby skyscrapers and into the sky,
“Who here is ready for war?”
The legion roared, raising their rifles into the air.
“That’s good. We’re here to fight one. We’ve pushed back the nightmare. We’ve taken our city back. Springfield was dead, and we brought it back to life. Now the last stronghold lies behind this final barrier.”
The eldritch swarmed behind the barrier, unable to pass the field left by the quarantine zone. Abstractions twitched behind the barrier, hungry and waiting for the coming feast. We would teach them who was feasting on who.
“Do you see them? They’re the monsters we once feared. I remember when the system first started. I was a scared child.” I pounded my chest, the clash of metal on metal resounding through the crowd,
“Just as you all have, I forged myself in the flames of an endless war. We all stood at the brink, hopelessness crawling up our spine like the breath of a monster at our necks. We turned towards that monster, and we smiled and we laughed. We struck fear into that shadow. Today, we make sure the monsters never forget that fear.”
My armor grinned as I raised my hands, “We will teach them fear. We will carve it into their skin. We will bury it so deep that even their children will fear us. We will crush their bones. We will rip apart their skin. They believe that they feast on us. We are the ones that feast on them. We are the coming storm. We are the rising tide. We are the force nature, unleashed in all its fury.”
I clasped my hands into fists,
“Come, my brothers and sisters. Today, we conquer.”
I left one hand raised in a fist as I boomed, “Today, we rise.”