My head popped back, “Wait...You aren’t going to fight anymore...period?”
She shook her head back and forth, “No. I told you already. I’m done.”
I leaned down, my stomach sinking for a bit. Kessiah’s nose and eyebrows creased at me, like she was expecting me to condemn her. I wasn’t planning on it. It hurt losing her, I won’t lie about that. Kessiah was our highest level member. Killing another follower without her would be a desperate struggle.
The thing is though, we could probably manage now, especially with Althea’s help. Torix would lose summons, we would need a plan for sure, but we could manage without Kessiah. She didn’t use the experience as well as I or Torix did either. We could make something happen with a 500 level boost.
Kessiah’s had a 1000 level boost over all of us, but she somehow managed to pull the least weight. In fights, clearing rifts, gathering intel, or even just managing people, Kessiah wasn’t doing much. I couldn’t blame Kessiah for wanting to call it quits either.
Nearly being absorbed by an eldritch then having her mind controlled by it...the feeling of violation and shame must be palpable. She was supposed to be our trump card. In the end, she was almost our downfall. I don’t think any of us would blame her for what happened, but she probably blamed herself. I know I would blame myself if I was in her shoes.
All these thoughts raced in my head before I reached out. I placed a hand on her shoulder. It was a gentle touch as I spoke with the same tone,
“That’s ok. We’ll find something else for you to do.”
Kessiah looked up at me, her eyes narrowing, “Aren’t you going to call me weak?”
There was a cold bite in her words. She had expected us to lash out at her. She reminded me of an abused dog, recoiling from anything that came near it.
I shook my head, “I wouldn’t call it weak. That eldritch-” Kessiah shivered at the word, “-was horrific. I don’t expect anyone to want to face something like that. Besides,” I lifted my hand, a warp of gravity forming over Kessiah.
“I can handle it.”
Kessiah floated up, the warp of gravity fluid and controlled. None of the gravity’s pull was wasted. It was a level of control I’d never known, a revolution in my finesse with my own abilities. It was a casual display of vast technical skill. All the skill points in Force of Nature made it that simple.
Even Hod gasped at it. Torix shook his head in disbelief at the sudden jolt in control. Kessiah looked on in disbelief as well, her anger fading. She landed on her feet, flabbergasted at me lifting her. I pulled my helmet off, my armor shifting in silence,
“I’ll tear them apart, limb from limb. I’ll make them regret even thinking of coming here. You're not the one that needs to worry. I can promise you that.”
What made my words so convincing was the belief behind them. I was supremely confident. There wasn’t any fear that I wouldn’t do it. I was facing a monster of mythic legends. In my eyes, that legend would end here on earth. From what I could tell behind me, the others sensed my confidence as well.
Kessiah blinked, “Ah, are you sure? I...I just don’t want to fight anymore. Having that monster under my skin...I just can’t do it anymore. Please...”
I shrugged, “Yeah, that’s ok. I’d much rather you keep fighting with us, and it would really help. The thing is, you shouldn’t be forced to.”
Kessiah bit her lip, her voice straining, “I...I’m sorry.”
I nudged her, “Come on, it’s not a big deal.”
She looked around, struggling for words, “But, you saved my life again. I’m just making things worse, all the time. I nearly killed Torix and Hod. I tried killing you. Now I’m leaving you to kill more of those things without my help. I just don’t get it. Why don’t you hate me?”
She pointed at her chest, “Even I hate me. You should hate me too. I know that bag of bones and dumb bird do.” She grabbed the sides of her head,
“They should. I fucked everything up. There’s so much on the line here, and yet I just...I just want to run away. I’m the strongest here and the most afraid...”
I raised an eyebrow, “I don't know about the strongest anymore. Besides, you can fight in other ways.”
She looked at me, her face confused. I continued,
“There's all kinds of projects you could do for the troops here. You could create build layouts for newer recruits. You could plan out courses for unlocking common unique skills. You could make bootcamp for people, disciplining the troops further than just basic skills.”
I grinned, “You don’t have to swing your fists on the front lines to fight a war. You can fight here at home too.”
With an offhand tone and staring in the distance, Torix murmured, “I could help organize the courses...If you need the help.”
Hod chimed in, “Hod help Eltari learn about Kessiah. Kessiah help Eltari learn about skills. Eltari fight in Kessiah’s place.”
I spread out my hands, “Yeah, and if you change your mind about kicking some ass, then we’ll be here, ready and waiting.”
Kessiah nodded her head, overwhelmed by the support, “I just need to process all this...I just need some time after that thing got me like that...I’ll get back up..."
Tears pooled in her eyes as she looked down, "Gah, fuck you guys. I never cry.”
She ran up, hugging me. I was half a head taller than her now. Her head fit along the nape of my neck, and I hugged her back. I whispered, “It’s alright. IT's alright.”
Kessiah cried like that, a soft, restrained kind of cry. She wasn't sobbing out. It was a heart warming moment instead of a bitter loss. In a weird way, the situation had brought us together, somehow. Kessiah quit crying before she pushed herself off me. She wiped her face,
With a sly grin, I ruffled her white hair, “No problem. Now go lay down for a bit. I’m sure you’re exhausted.”
She shoved my hand off her head, a slight smile on her face, “Yeah. I’m out on my feet.” She turned to Torix, “I’ll send you a message when I’m ready for organizing actual courses. See you guys later.”
Hod raised his wing, “Hod tired too. Hod find bedroom. Goodbye, Harbinger and Dry Man.”
Hod spread his wings and shot into the sky. Torix grumbled, “You get called Harbinger and I get called Dry Man...”
I laughed before walking up to Torix, "And you're called master and I'm a disciple."
Torix smiled, “And don't you forget it. There's still much I can teach you yet." Torix watched Kessiah walk off, "Now I’ve lost one of my best baits. You'll have to take her place I suppose.”
I shrugged, “I'm made for it. Even then, two of the followers are out of commission. We just need Elijah to step away from Ajax, then we’ll rip the angel’s wings off and stab them through his chest.”
Torix pointed at me, “Quite a visceral description, but I agree. Once he’s dead, destroying the rest of their infection will be inevitable.” Torix stared at plumes of yellow smoke billowing off the burning forests of Yawm. His lips curled up, the menacing expression full of satisfaction,
“I’ll relish watching the world tree burn.”
I raised my hands, “First things first. We need to kill Elijah next. Without Kessiah’s help, facing off against Ajax isn’t an option. Not yet.”
Torix cupped his chin, “How are we going to handle him exactly though is-”
I raised a hand to Torix, “I’ll make the plan and organize the team for it.”
Torix raised an eyebrow, his fire eyes growing in size and intensity, “Really? You don’t have too. I can handle it.”
I waved my hands, “Nuh uh. I heard what you said about me before we left for Kessiah. You're right. I need to plan some things out for myself. If I see a damn problem, it's up to me to fix it.”
Torix frowned, Reaching out a hand, “Those were words spoken in anger. Don’t take them to heart. I meant nothing by them.”
I shook my head, “I’m not mad at you Torix. I’m mad at myself. You were right about you having to handle everything. Your attention should be on managing the push against the quarantine. Putting all that and all our movements was a hell of a strain on you. We were being ridiculous.”
I raised a fist, “I’ll organize the teams and the plan we need against Elijah. I’ll send it to you when I finish them. You review and send it back. I’ll gather the resources from the reserve before heading out with the plan. I’ll need your help, so have the battlefront handled for the few hours the plan lasts.”
Torix gave me a hard look, like he was searching for something. He nodded, slowly at first before he was agreeing with me,
“Excellent. I look forward to what you plan out.”
I grinned at him, “Hell yeah. I’ll see you later. I have work to do.”
With amusement painting his face, Torix rubbed his hands together, “So do I. Good luck, disciple.”
I turned around, dashing up. I slid into the ground without having to dive, like I was walking into the earth. My runes charged in seconds. As I reached my head underneath the ground, I unleashed the surge of energy. The impact rippled through the ground, sending me firing off towards my tent.
Whenever I burst from the ground, my own velocity amazed me. I dipped in and out of the earth, faster than flight or falling. The downside came with the craters I left behind. They left a trail behind me, making me easy to follow. The sheer size of the craters was tremendous as well. Even if I distributed my weight outwards, I still left a bus sized impression in the ground.
The rush of fluidity and power and speed was worth it, however. It was like being born anew. I was much faster than Hod now. He was limited by how fast he could fall. That’s what flight really was, a controlled descent. I could outspeed that since I could launch myself faster than I could fall.
Using this travel, I reached my tent in seconds. I didn’t bust into the area. It would make far too much noise. I travelled under the earth instead. As I reached my tent, I sensed a member of the steel legion leaving it. Curious about what he was doing, I walked out of the ground as if the earth wasn’t even there.
A look of abject horror spread on his face as he fumbled backwards. He fell onto his back, as I willed my helmet off. The amor flowed down my back as I smiled,
“Now what are you doing here?”
He raised his hands, pulling off his power armor helmet. Under the mask was John Diesel, an engineer who helped me with Althea’s rifle. He had a huge crush on her, and everyone called him Diesel because John was such a common name. The whole time he helped me, he tried hiding his obvious infatuation with Althea.
I could understand why he was intimidated by her. That reminded me of Althea’s message. Days passed and I still hadn’t replied. I murmured,
“Oh shit. Althea’s going to kill me.”
John’s raised an eyebrow, “Daniel? Thank Jesus. I thought I was dead.” He sighed, “Please, never sneak up on me like that again.”
I frowned, “Oh, sorry Diesel.” I offered him a hand, “You just reminded me that Althea sent me a message a while back. I haven’t replied in days.”
Diesel stood up, patting dirt off his armor, “If she does kill you, serves you right for trying to give a poor soldier a heart attack.” Diesel looked at me, light reflecting off his glasses,
I raised my arms, “I’m a bit bigger than last time we saw each other.”
Diesel nodded, “Yeah. Your level is just insane. How did you get it that high?”
I grinned, “I killed Dakhma, one of Yawm’s followers.”
John perked up, “Really? Well I’ll be damned. I always wondered why you were called a harbinger. Now you really do look the part at least.”
He grinned, “You still have a normal guy vibe to you though. Most of the higher level legion members are...I don’t know how to explain it, but they’re weird. It’s like they all forgot where we came from. The system just pulls them in and that’s all they think about.”
I frowned, “Then Schema’s done his job I guess. I can’t say I haven’t been doing the same thing.”
Diesel shook his head, “Who can blame you though? Even older folk are starting to realize that levels are everything now. Your level is your status now. Ranks are decided by it. Rations, housing, all of it. Who cares if you help someone if your level is over 500? Damn near noone.”
I shrugged, “It’s a tough balance. If you spend to much time helping other people, then you can’t help yourself. At least that’s what I’ve come to learn.”
Diesel nodded, “You’re right, even if it’s a bitter pill to swallow.” Diesel shivered, “Do you feel that?”
“What exactly are you feeling?”
Deisel grimaced, “I don’t know. It’s heavy here and hard to breath. It’s like I’m beside the eye of a giant beast, and it’s looking at me. It makes me nervous, like I’m just a sitting duck out here.”
“That feeling is a skill I have. It’s called Overwhelming Pressure.”
Deisel blinked, “Really? I couldn’t even tell it was from you.”
I pointed at the tent, “I couldn’t tell it was you coming out of my tent either.”
With a bit of guilt, Diesel scratched the side of his cheek, “Yeah, about that. I made a few new blueprints of Althea’s cannon rifle while you were away. I figured a new model would help her out.”
“Really now?” My thoughts clinked into place as I clapped my hands together, “Perfect timing.” I gripped a hand into a fist, “That’s exactly what I needed.”
Diesel put his helmet back on, muffling his voice, “For what?”
I passed Diesel, walking into my tent, my aura preventing me from destroying the fabric under my feet.
“I can make Althea a new cannon. It will help us versus the next follower, and it will make a compelling apology. Who knows, maybe some armor and a helmet would help too.”
Diesel raised a hand, “If you’re making her armor, I have her measurements. I can let you see them if you’d like.”
I nudged Diesel’s side, “Well, well, how did you get a hold of her measurements?”
John blushed a bright shade of red, “I know what you’re thinking. I didn’t do anything wrong. They were from Torix. He wanted us to make Althea and Kessiah combat suits.”
I rolled my eyes, “Oh yeah, sureeeee.”
Diesel spread out his arms, “Oh come on..”
With a mischievous grin, I nodded, “As the mighty and oh so powerful harbinger, I can put in a good word or two towards Althea. If we get lucky, maybe we could all have a round of drinks after all this is over with.”
Diesel shook his head, “It’s been a long time since I’ve just relaxed. It burns a bit, because we would already be up on our feet by now if it wasn’t for Yawm. We wouldn’t need the necromancer’s constant commands. We could focus on rebuilding and setting up a new society around the system.”
I cupped my chin, “Well shit...I’ve never even thought about that. Life after we kill Yawm...rebuilding doesn’t sound so bad.”
John nodded, “It’s something I think about everyday. I’m an engineer by trade. I’m thinking of how we can use the new tech from the legion all the time. I’m thinking an external exoskeleton on top of the power armor would be the best option. It would stop humans from being mauled so easily up close.”
I gripped my hand into a fist, “I could show most people a few skills for it. If Torix taught people magic and Althea taught them stealth, we could set up an army. Taking a few cities then spreading out might be a good idea too.”
I stared off in the distance, “It would be awesome if we could turn Schema’s system into something positive...in the long run at least.”
Diesel’s face turned solemn, “That all fringes on Yawm. The soldiers tell stories about him. Commanding officers silence the stories when they hear them. Something about demoralizing the war effort. Considering the plague he started, the rumors are downright gruesome...”
Diesel perked up, “But hey, you killed a follower. There’s some hope yet.”
I grinned, “You keep up the fight on your end, and I’ll keep up the fight on mine. We’ll teach Yawm what humans are made of.”
John smiled back, “We’ll give him a lesson he won’t forget.” Diesel turned toward the center of the camp, “Speaking of which, I have to get back to work. Good luck Daniel.”
I waved at him, ”Same to you.”
He left before I walked into my almost empty room. It wasn’t familiar or homey either. I didn’t need a bed, chairs, or anything really. There was a pile of scrap armor, a fridge full of rations, and a few rolled up blueprints on the floor. That’s it. I guess it really didn’t matter much anymore at least.
I picked up the blueprints, inspecting them. While there wasn’t anything game changing, the schematics changed a few things around. The main difference was in the shell type. Althea used spears for the piercing effect in most cases. This cannon a hollow slug instead. Notes along the bottom explained Diesel’s thought process in detail.
He was trying to change Althea’s rounds from armor piercing to anti-personnel. He learned from Torix that her armor piercing wasn’t from the shell type. Armed with that knowledge, he hypothesized the new shells would create large impact zones.
The hollow tip of the shell would collapse, spreading outward. This created a mushroom of metal that would puncture out the back of a creature. The flattened metal would disperse much more of its kinetic energy into its unlucky victim. Wherever the bolt shot out of, it would leave a gaping hole behind.
The more I read about his theory, the more I liked it. At the very least, it was worth a shot. With that in mind, I walked out towards the center of the camp. My mind wandered as I walked, brainstorming different runic combinations for the new rifle.
As I walked through the camp, all eyes were on me. From awed gasps to hushed whispers, they spoke about me. I felt like Mike Tyson walking into a boxing gym. Some feared me and some admired me. Regardless of what they thought, noone ignored me. I was an unknown anomaly, and their curiosity sparked questions and interest. Most of their comments were in awe.
“What the fuck...level 2000.”
“What did he do to get there so fast.”
“Thank god we have that monster on our side.”
Some, not so much.
“Did you feel him come closer too? He makes my skin crawl.”
“It’s like he’s become one of the monsters from the dungeons.”
“Is that what the system does to higher level players? He’s not even human anymore.”
My aura caused it. I didn’t really enjoy the attention, but I needed to disperse my weight. Otherwise I would end up sinking into the ground. I didn’t let it bother me as I reached a workbench. Using a mental map of the blueprints, I prepared myself for molding my armor. Visualizing before I made it helped with the process.
I breathed out, a deep sense of calm coming over me. I raised a palm, simple parts of the rifle forming first. They would be my warm up. Once I was done with a few of the smaller pieces, I set out working on the barrel. I remembered it being the hardest part of the process beforehand, so I was ready for a struggle.
The struggle simply wasn’t there. My armor shifted into shape, the act of creation intrinsic and natural to it. It was like the armor was begging to take form and make matter. All the parts of the rifle didn’t even take fifteen minutes in total. Once I finished that, I readied myself for the runes.
I opened the portal into my spatial ring, pulling out my grimoire with gravity magic. It floated into my hands, folding open towards an unused and black page. With a bit a grin, I wrote in the runes for power, strength, and speed onto the first page. Onto the second, I carved the meaning of change, the fury of wrath, and the essence of pain.
I laced poison into the meaning of the words, my hands handling the deft, intricate glyphs with ease. I had already worked with the dimensional cipher, a language infinitely more complex by comparison. If anything, writing with this was even easier than writing in English.
Once I chained those glyphs together, I added phrases around them. Some of the glyphs acted as transitions between the primary glyphs. Others acted as accents, refining the raw meaning of the other words. By the time I finished the passage for the barrel alone, it was almost like a story told in my memory.
As I channeled mana into the grimoire, a profound sense of vulnerability washed over me. The runes were like showing a piece of myself, a view into my mind. I showed them sights and sounds that only I experienced. It was like publishing a slice of my life for others to see.
I dealt with the feeling by justifying the need for the runes. The more vibrant and cutting the memory injected, the more profound its effect would become. I wanted Althea’s bolts to cripple her targets with pain and to poison them. My most painful memories were actually my armor transformations, so that’s what I etched into the stock.
It took a few hours, but once I finished the full passage, the runes was agony. The invasion of metal into flesh, the waning sense of self, all of that contained itself in the markings. I etched other memories into other parts of the barrel.
Some were moments of triumph, like right after I slayed Baldag-Ruhl or Dakhma. Others were moments of deep frustration, like working with the eldritch runes. Whenever I fully molded the parts and slid them together, this was the best work I’d ever made by far. The bonuses of the item reflected that.
A Dimension’s Wake(lvl requirement: 1,500 | Enchantments require Conduit towards Dimension C-138) - This rifle is a finely made cannon created by Dimension C-138. The newer design enhances the stability of older cannons by redistributing the mass of it. Several adjustments were made for shapeshifters, letting them fill out the empty areas of the barrel as they need to.
The newer design even allows for superior grip on the surface of the metallic structure. These lines allow for a thin filament of the shapeshifter’s body to cover them. This allows them to hide the weapon just as they hide themselves. These qualities make the rifle very valued on the galactic market. When combined with another item giving a conduit towards Dimension C-138, the item becomes near priceless.
Dimensional Fabric: +100 End and Will | +50 Stren, Con, and Int | -50 Char |
Dimensional Continuity: Quadruples ammo efficiency, recoil stabilization, and rifle drilling speed
Dimensional Stability: + 30% to all resistances, including dimensional resistance.
The simple bonuses resulted in a massive boon for anyone using the rifle. Considering how much Althea invested into strength, having a few stats rounding out her build was excellent. The resistance bonus was amazing as well, considering Althea hadn’t capped hers already. If anything, the rifle was better for defence than offense. Unusual maybe, but it was highly effective.
I picked up the rifle, walking back towards my tent. Now I needed to plan out how to kill Elijah. It would no doubt take a day or two to grind out all the details. I paced through the camp, eyes set on me once more. It amazed me how short everybody was now. I was two heads taller than most.
Whenever I reached my tent, I sensed someone else waiting there for me. It was a woman instead of a man, so I had an idea of who it was already. As I paced up, the tip of my horned helmet peaked up over the tents. Right in front of my tent, I expected a glowing smile and a running hug.
But no, that wasn’t the case at all. Althea was there, her purple hair flowing behind her. Covered in a black, carbon fiber skin suit, she frowned at me. I pulled my helmet back, scratching my head,
“Ah, sorry about not sending messages. I’ve been so busy, and some things just fall between the cracks.”
She looked at the rifle, her eyes opening wide. Her frown turned to a grin as I lifted it, letting her inspect the metallic sheen on it.
A mischievous grin popped onto my face, “I did have time for a gift though.”