With that in mind, I kept my experiments tame. I wasn’t about to try and fuse two different existences together like Yawm was. My goals were simple: get stronger, faster, and better. Considering I could generate stats, that wouldn’t be too difficult.
The primary problem with my current strategy was time. Based on how long I’d had the rune on my left arm running, I gained about 8 strength and dex a day. That was an enormous amount over the long run, but it isn’t enough to kill Yawm. I needed a better conversion from mana to stats for that to work.
Considering the stats hadn’t resulted in any side effects, I stuck within my sphere of competence. Until I mastered this part of the cipher, I wasn’t about to jump into splicing dimensions.
With that in mind, I pulled out my grimoire from my dimensional storage. I opened the leather bound book, flipping to a black page. I reformed the armor over my finger, giving me an effective stencil for my work. Before beginning my next rune, I planned out what I would make.
The first priority was increasing different stats other than strength and dexterity. They were nice, but they didn’t help me with my dimensional cipher. Endurance was an obvious candidate since I received a 60% bonus to the attribute. All my stat multipliers from my perks and trees applied to the cipher’s raw stats too.
That wasn’t the only reason to invest in endurance though. As the cipher increased my endurance, I would generate more mana. That mana regen would help me make more endurance with the cipher. The process would repeat, speeding up faster and faster over time.
The ramp up time for that strategy would take a while, so starting early was a good idea. After that, I would try making the runic glyphs for all the attributes. It seemed like a good place to start with the runic glyphs.
With that in mind, I carved into the page. Endurance was a familiar concept for me, so turning it into a glyph wasn’t hard. Endurance wasn’t bearing great hardship. It was choosing to bear great hardship. It was knowing you could stop at any moment, but continuing despite exhaustion, fear, and pain.
For me, that was the best way I would quantify the concept. As I marked the runic glyph onto the page, it came with greater ease than before. Force of Nature gave me a technical proficiency as I wrote, making the process simple. My hand moved in complex patterns with little focus on my part. Instead, I directed my mind at the words meaning.
Each line was flowing, forming the foundation of the letter. Once I etched the basic lines, I engraved the jagged, sharp lines around them. From all sides, the symbols were markings of difficulty, exhaustion, and terror. I injected the meaning of hatred and spite and horror into these outer lines.
These lines cast an oppressive shape around the basic character. Within the basic character, I etched out straight engravings. This gave the basic letter a stability, providing a foundation for the rest of it. This created a contrasting dynamic for the glyph.
It was like glancing at a story. At the surface, the letter’s shape looked as if the outer lines would consume it, tearing it apart. However, upon closer inspection, the letter expressed a deep assurance.
There was no doubt in its ability to withstand the external torment. As I finished the character, the letter’s confidence bloomed further. This was a certainty born and tested through time. The glyph showed suffering, but the glyph showed the rise in spite of that suffering.
Once finished, just looking at the runic glyph imbued a sense of calm. It was like staring at the eye of a storm. As the world ruptured around it, this carving would remain unshaken. As I finished the rune, I pressed my palm into the page of the cipher. I transferred the mana in silence, not wanting to wake up Althea or Hod.
The mana transferred straight from my palm into the text. Minutes passed before the rune finished channelling. It floated from the page, casting a red glow in the room. I turned my right forearm up, letting the glyph float down onto it. The lines of the rune glowed red before dissipating.
I raised both my forearms, comparing the characters on each arm. Compared with my new rune, the strength and precision rune wasn’t as clear or pristine. It was well made, at least in my eyes, but it lacked the same vibrance that the endurance rune carried.
When glancing at the strength rune, power ebbed from it. When I did the same to the endurance rune, there was a crisp sharpness. Endurance didn’t ebb, it poured from the rune. The idea was absolute, as certain in itself as a researcher is in science. To me, it was superior to the other rune.
Without hesitating, I poured more of my mana into another copy of the endurance. After many minutes passed, another copy of the endurance glyph floated into the air. I turned my left forearm up, letting the endurance rune float onto the rune for strength. The new rune engulfed the previous one.
Once it finished the carving, I poured my mana into each of them out of habit. It was something I did without thinking by now. It reminded me of Agony way back in BloodHollow. Learning to siphon the extra health was like falling into an old habit, being both simple and easy.
After finishing those runes, I set in to carving other attributes. I started with constitution, but the concept was far harder to nail down. After a few attempts at it, I swapped over towards willpower instead. Willpower was a much more natural concept. It only took about two hours before I carved and recarved out my second highest attribute.
By the time I took a gander at constitution once more, the sun was rising overhead. I stood up before stretching out my arms and legs. I walked outside, seeing Ajax still fused with a tree outside. As I approached, his eyes opened. He glanced at me, his glowing eyes turning to slits.
He glanced back down at himself, then back to me. It was like he forgot about yesterday. He pulled himself from the tree, his skin forming from the tree’s bark. He stretched his arms out wide, shining streaks snapping onto his chest. He shook his head, the horns on his head whistling in the air like branches.
He looked at one of his hands, “It has been many years since I slept so soundly.”
I glanced above him. His title had changed.
Ajax Volan, the Void Eater(lvl 5693)
I raised an eyebrow at him, “How did your level increase so much?”
Ajax raised his hand, “As you may imagine, the infection beneath my skin crippled me. After healing myself, I’m now I’m much closer to my original strength.”
He pointed at my forearm, “I see that your intention is on gaining power as well.”
I peered at the dimensional cipher on my forearms, “Well, I have to gain whatever advantages that I can.” I glanced back at Ajax, “What I want to know is how you healed exactly?”
Ajax pointed at the world tree off in the distance. The top of the tree’s branches were visible over the house behind us.
“The same way that Yawm did. We can ask for the help of nature, often times molding with it. In my case, I asked this tree for shelter and any spare energy it carried. It was a generous soul, giving helping me heal in exchange for conversation.”
I tilted my head, “Wait a second...you aren’t stealing from the life force of the planet or anything like that?”
Ajax opened one eye and narrowed the other, as if he was raising an eyebrow at me, “What? Of course not. Would you walk up and steal food from another’s home? Of course you wouldn’t.”
Ajax walked back, pressing a palm against the tree, “You see this structure, it’s more than the container for this plant’s soul. It’s a home, built through countless cold winters and many warm summers. Through rain and drought, this being took its stand against the elements around it. It shared many of the long days it spent here with me.”
Ajax pressed his forehead against the tree, “Thank you.”
With a surprising gravity in his movements, he held himself there for a few seconds. It was like watching a preacher pray at an alter. After Ajax finished, he turned back to me,
“Yawm, as corrupt as he is, still knows where he came from. He remembers his past. He would never, no matter how little of his mind was left, steal from this bountiful earth.”
I glanced at the world tree, “Are you telling me that Yawm’s world tree is just him asking plants for energy? Seriously?”
Ajax nodded, “Yes. Over time, he persuaded more of our brethren towards our cause. He aided them in their growth, trading nutrients for their raw energy. Overtime, he strengthens himself within his domain. With that and the cipher on his skin, Yawm empowered himself beyond the limitations of Schema’s system.”
Ajax stared at the world tree with me, “As much as I hate Yawm, I can say he’s no fool. He threatens god like entities like Schema with good reason.”
I frowned. If what Ajax said was true, the overseer lied to us about Yawm. I was told that Yawm devoured a planets life force with the damn world tree. I glanced around, noticing that the wildlife around Springfield was alive and well, at least for winter. There wasn’t any leaves on the trees, but they weren’t dead either.
Ajax pointed at the room Althea and Hod slept in, “Will we wait for them to rise? Time isn’t on our side, as you may have noticed.”
I sighed, “That’s true. I’ll go get them up.”
Ajax turned back towards the tree before sitting beside it. He placed a hand on it,
“I will warn you now. Yawm will ally himself with the life on this planet.”
He turned his head towards me, “You would be surprised what Yawm may discover within the whispers of the wind and in the voices of trees.”
I grimaced as I jogged towards Althea and Hod. Ajax’s warning was like an omen. They could listen to trees, grass, pretty much any living plants. If that was the case, we were surrounded by spies at all times. It was a humbling thought as I reached up the stairs.
The whole time, I bent and ducked under doorways and low ceilings. At this point, I sort of just walked through any parts of the house that wouldn’t let me fit. Without my unique skill, Overwhelming Pressure, walking on wood and other soft materials wouldn’t be possible.
It felt kind of like being in the middle of an ocean, but being able to walk on water. I silenced those thoughts as I reached upstairs. Hod was stretched out over a twin sized bed, his beak open as he snored. Althea slept on her side, her long hair spread over the sheets like a deep, purple silk.
I walked over and nudged her. She turned towards me, her eyes cracking open.
“Good morning sunshine.”
She turned away from me before pulling the sheets over her head. They muffled her voice,
“Can I just lay in bed for a while longer...Please?”
I rolled my eyes and lifted a hand up. A gravity well formed above her, floating her off the bed with the sheets in tow. She glanced at me,
“Oh come on. How is this fair?”
I shrugged, “All's fair in love and war.”
She grinned, “Really, is this love then?”
I lowered my hand, the gravity warp ending. She flopped against the bed before I leaned over her,
“Nope. It’s war.”
She swiped towards me, the motion playful as she giggled, “Way to shut me down.”
I ducked and dodged her hands,
“Wait till after we handle Yawm before you start professing your undying love to me.”
It was Althea’s turn to roll her eyes. After a short laugh, she frowned.
“What if there isn’t an after though?”
I frowned, “You mean we die? That’s not happening.”
She sat up on the bed, pressing her hands against her thighs, “You saw his level. I’m not saying we can’t do this, but I am saying it’s not that likely anymore. I wouldn’t want to leave things unfinished...you know, between us.”
I glanced away, thinking about what she said. I turned my gaze towards her, meeting her eye,
“Here’s the thing. If we try rushing everything before we kill Yawm, we’ll be fighting him while expecting to die. It’s like a self fulfilling prophecy. I’d rather put stuff like that until after we’ve killed Yawm.”
I leaned towards her, “That way we fight that much harder to live instead of making it easier to die.”
She pursed her lips, “You sure?”
With a knowing grin, I brushed her hair over her face,
“Yeah, I’m pretty sure.”
She blew the hair off of her before jumping up off the bed. The grace of her movement was like watching a scene from a movie.
“If you say so.”
I turned towards Hod. I lifted a hand, pulling him up off the bed with gravity. I shook him back and forth with telekinesis,
“Come on Hod, wake up.”
His head whipped back and forth as drool poured from the corner of his mouth. Hod opened his wings and legs but his eyes stayed closed. Hod motioned his wings like he was swimming.
“Hod fly in sky. Hod feel wind on Hod’s face.”
Althea burst into laughter before Hod’s eyes snapped open. Hod glanced around,
“Is Hod sleep-flying again? Sleep-flying even worse than sleep walking.”
“No. I pulled you up with a bit of magic. We’re about to leave and meet up with Torix.”
I dropped him from the well, Hod landing on his feet. He stood up straight. A moment later, he turned toward Ajax,
“Tree Man better now?”
I nodded. Hod continued,
“Hod glad. Hod not like Tree Man before Harbinger took the monsters out. Tree Man desperate then. Hod know a desperate person is a dangerous person.”
Althea and I let Hod’s words sink in. Hod was one of those people where 99% of what he said was just fodder. The other 1% was absolute gold, so you had to listen to everything he said. Otherwise you’d miss the valuable parts surrounded by, well, less valuable parts.
Interrupting my thoughts, a message appeared in my notifications,
Torix Worm, of Darkhill( 6:01 A.M. 01/05/01) - We’ll meet at the Lola Mine near the town’s outskirts at 9:00 A.M. I forwarded the location to you.
I checked the time using my interface. It was 8:16 am, so I pointed my hands at Althea and Hod, “You guys ready to leave?”
I walked out of the room, “Let’s go then. Torix is expecting us soon.”
I paced outside the house, ducking under the parts of the house I chipped while walking in earlier. I reached outside,
Ajax stood, turning his head towards us, “Then let’s be gone. I will follow you, though I recommend we stay stealthy. I’d rather not be obliterated with all of you in a burning fire.”
Ajax slipped away, his existence disappearing entirely. Hod murmured, “Tree Man spoke the truth.”
I forwarded the mine’s location to Hod and Althea, “Thanks for letting us know. It’s always unnerving when Ajax just disintegrates like that.”
They both fiddled with their status screens, looking at the notifications.
“That’s where we’re headed. Let’s try being quiet.”
I shot forward into a sprint, leaving the two of them behind. They shot forward after I left, catching up quickly. We each stayed on the ground, running on the ground instead of flying or hopping around. It would make too much noise and be too easy to see, so we took a the long way there.
As we traveled, I noticed a few changes in the cityscape. The roots streaking across the city were wilting. The further out they went from the world tree, the more dead the tree was. Wherever the world tree died, plants blossomed. Flowers of all colors, brushes of all sizes, even full grown trees sprouted up around the rotting husk.
It was like the forest around Springfield was creeping inwards. We kept away from these new slices of forest. Ajax’s warning about trees listening to us spooked us pretty badly, so we kept away from them. In all honesty, that makes us sound crazy as hell.
Maybe we were, but there wasn’t really a need in taking any unnecessary risks. We reached the Lola mine about half an hour later. The entrance was a set of train tracks leading into the side of a mountain. Tall trees towered everywhere around it, an overgrown dirt road leading it it.
The place was too far from town for anyone to tag the place. It was a place almost overtaken by nature. Torches lit the inside along with lights from the steel legion. All along the tracks and tunnels, the legion holed up inside. As we walked inside, the first soldiers we saw up close looked broken.
Their shoulders drooped over and the fight in them was gone. We reached them, and they looked up at us. The tallest soldier, sporting a brown beard and a scar down his cheek gasped as I walked up. The other soldiers glanced up at me as I walked within range of my aura.
The broken look on their faces faded as they looked at me. I was the war hero coming home victorious. With Hod and Althea tailing behind me, we were sight to be seen. I walked into the camp, other soldiers peering out of their makeshift rooms to see me. Whenever I reached the center of the camp, hundreds of eyes looked at me.
I stopped walking. I turned around, looking at the eyes of the soldiers looking at me. I raised an opened hand, my voice booming with the sound of victory and strength,
“The followers are dead.” I clamped my hand into a fist harder than iron, the sound of clapping metal echoing through the mine.
“And Yawm is the next skull I crack under my heel.”
The legion burst into a roar of approval as I turned towards Torix’s room and walked. As I paced by, hands covered in power armor slapped my shoulder and pat my back. It was an invigorating feeling. It was like as long as I lived, so did their fighting spirit. The weight of responsibility pressed on my shoulders at the same time, however.
It wasn’t that unpleasant a weight to bear though. I was never the smoothest talker or the most likable guy. I was rough around the edges, more of an acquired taste. That changed with the system. I went from a social outcast to some sort of weird, war hero. In my eyes, it was a step up.
The legion agreed. Some howled with approval as I walked towards Torix’s checkpoint. I passed them, reaching deeper into the mine’s depths. We reached a staircase leading down into the mountain, lit by white fired torches. We entered a circular room full of diagrams and assorted
Once out of earshot from the legion members, I gasped out a breath as I leaned against a wall,
“Fuck man...doing that kind of thing on the spot...I didn’t think I had it in me.”
Althea laughed before Ajax walked onto our plane of existence. He turned towards me,
“So someone like you is the symbol of your people?”
I weighed my hands back and forth, “I mean, I guess you could call it that. I think of it more like I’m some glorified con man.”
Hod walked over, placing a wing on my shoulder, “Harbinger not just symbol for humans. Harbinger symbol for Eltari as well.” Hod walked up to Ajax,
“Hod ask Tree Man to wait. One day, Harbinger will be symbol for eldritch too. Bad symbol though, not good symbol.”
They were both lean and thin for their frames. Hod was a head shorter than Ajax though, so Ajax looked down on Hod as he spoke,
“Your aura reminds me of us followers. It’s as if you’re on the brink of being consumed at any moment. How are keeping the eldritch at bay?”
Hod shrugged, “Harbinger do it, not Hod.”
A portal of shadow appeared beside us. From it, Torix paced out. Torix connected his hands together behind him, peering at each of us. His fire eyes lingered on Ajax. Torix introduced himself with a quick bow,
“So this Ajax...It’s good to have your acquaintance.”
Ajax returned the gesture, “Likewise. Your handling of your troops is masterful. Perhaps you may show me your methods some time.”
Torix grinned, “And I’ll ask how you cut through the fabric of dimensions as well.” Torix turned to us all, “It’s good to see that our mission wasn’t in vain. All of us escaped unscathed for the most part. I was even able to escape with most of the legion, though of course we lost a few members.”
Torix met my eye, “I won’t let their bodies go to waste.”
I frowned, “I wouldn’t let anyone see that you’re using the bodies of allies. It would cripple moral completely.”
Torix unhooked his hands from behind him, waving off my concern, “Of course, of course. I’ll utilize them in other ways, I assure you.” He raised one of his hands, “In fact, I already have. One such way involved being messengers.”
Ajax tilted his head, “You’ve already spoken with Yawm?”
Torix nodded, “I’ve also informed the overseer of our plan. He believed it was our best chance of victory.”
Hod walked up to Torix, “Hod think there something very important for Hod and Dry Man to discuss.”
Torix sighed, “What is it that you want to waste my time with now?”
Hod placed his left wing over Torix’s shoulder, “Hod promise, this time it worth Dry Man’s time.”
With his right wing, Hod pointed out like he was trying to envision something grand,
“Hod want Dry Man to think about a place. This is a wet place, a place with much water.”
Torix groaned, but Hod continued, “Hod think Hod found wet place for Dry Man. Dry Man drink water, and Dry Man no longer dry.”
Hod pressed his wing into a fist, “But Hod need Dry Man to be with Hod on this one. Hod can take Dry Man to place with water, but Dry Man has to want it. What does Dry Man say, is Dry Man willing to follow Hod to lake? Is Dry Man willing to become not dry?”
Torix leaned down while pinching the bridge of his nose. Ajax pointed at them,
“Are they serious?”
I walked over towards Ajax. With a look solemn as a grave on my face, I spoke,
“Oh, you mean Torix over there...Well, let's just say he’s dead serious.”