From Torix's palm, a funnel of white magic poured outward. A radiant, holy light enveloped the merject, giving it angel wings. I crossed my arms and raised an eyebrow,
"Uh, it looks like you buffed it rather than blew it up."
Torix laughed, "Watch."
Torix raised his other palm, releasing a horde of ravens covered in black fire. The creatures swarmed toward the merject, piercing through the new white light. They stabbed the merject with their beaks, crawling under their skin through the open wounds. The merject swelled, its body bulging as the blackbirds squirmed through the merject's flesh like maggots.
The merject exploded, unleashing a thick mist of black ash. The plume darkened the sky, spreading a dark shade and leaving nothing left of the monster.
Torix squinted his fiery eyes, "So I was correct. The holy magic incantation worked wonderfully."
"Of course I don't mind. I'm a professor at heart after all." Torix pointed at the cloud of dust, "I augmented the creature with a divine attribute. The silvers aren't resistant to this enhancement. That enhancement over triples the black magic attacks I use against it."
I raised a hand, "So it's like giving a monster a fire element then using water magic against them?"
Torix snapped his fingers, sending a blinding shockwave up towards the pack of merjects.
The merjects lost their balance, several of them blinded. As they fell from the spires, Torix raised his arms. From under his robes, the crows came in throngs. Casting the battlefield in shade, they tore the merjects apart with their beaks and talons. Any merjects that landed on the ground faced the ore golems.
They didn't do so hot. The merjects that is.
One of the atronachs lifted a merject overhead from the ground. With a mechanical, hydraulic strength, it tore the creature in two. As blood poured over the atronach's purple eyes, a merject landed on its back. The merject tried piercing the back of its neck to suck out its brains. The merject broke its tongue on the end of the golem's neck.
The atronach's neck and arms turned 180 degrees. It hugged the merject to itself before pulling its head back. Like a hammer smashing a rotten tomato, it banged its metal skull against the merject. The creature's face caved in, blood masking the grievous injuries. After a few seconds, the golem pulped the remains like a living jackhammer.
The entire battlefield erupted in scenes of cold carnage, mimicking that golem's savagery. The ore golems, as dumb as they were, worked with efficiency, ripping a dozen merjects into pieces. The entire time, Torix inspected the edge of his robe, mouthing out,
"Blagh. A drop of blood plopped onto my robe. Blasted it all. I've become sloppy."
I gazed around, impressed by his ease of handling the group,
"Damn Torix. You just mauled them."
Torix rolled his eyes, "No differently then you would have I'd imagine. Come, we've much ground to cover."
We paced out into the land of horror, Torix at home here. With each passing silver, Torix practiced his holy dark combo, fusing the two techniques over time. I took a backseat, letting him level and get some experience with his wizardry. Some practice did him well, turning theories into devastating techniques.
After a few hours, we stopped near a pool of sludge. Around us, stronger silvers swarmed. They feasted on the excess purple mud here. This abundance of food led to stronger, abler silvers as a result. Observing this shift in the monsters, Torix rubbed his hands together,
"This area shall do nicely."
Instead of asking another question, I bided my time for Torix to show me what he was talking about. Without waiting, Torix collapsed mana into a sphere over his hand. With a dramatic flair, he raised it overhead and smashed it into the metal beneath us. A series of runic carvings branded into the steel around him, glowing orange.
Torix raised his hand and tightened it into a bony fist. His robe rippled as a pillar of light lifted into the sky. It flashed for half a second like a bolt of lightning. Torix outstretched both his hands, pressing his fingertips together, pulling them apart.
Like strings of charcoal, lines stretched between his fingers. He twisted them, creating a series of magical shapes. As Torix did so, his grimoire flipped open, settling on a page. The incantation glowed blue, and wisps formed around him, each one quivering with newfound life.
Torix moved the black strings in his hands. As he did, he corrupted the bright wisps into darkened sprites. Each creature lengthened, turning into blackened eels. Torix pulled his hands apart, the strings snapping. As he did, the eels scattered in all directions, searching for prey.
I glanced around, finding each eel homing in on a high leveled version of the silvers. They sunk into the eyes of whatever creature they detected, drilling into its brain. After seconds of struggle, the silvers fell to the ground and convulsed without further conflict. Several dozen silvers fell to these eels before Torix sat down and crossed his legs.
He glanced up to me, "I'll be overwhelming the spirits of these silvers. As I do, would you mind keeping guard of my body?"
I sat down beside him, "Sure. Go and do your thing."
He cackled, "Gladly."
Torix glanced down, his robe enveloping his face in shadow. With Torix debilitated, I glanced around and made sure nothing came by. Torix incapacitated all the nearby silvers, leaving me little to do. Without wasting time, I whipped out my grimoire and set to work. There were runes still left undone.
After molding Event Horizon around us, I guarded us both while investing myself in my work. I needed more practice with the flowing lines I tried earlier. Without missing a beat, I stenciled out a blueprint of the new rune I intended on making. Fifteen minutes later, and I lifted my grimoire up in the air.
Yup. It was a scribble at best.
I figured out the problem pretty fast. My idea for my creation was fuzzy. Without a clear vision, the blueprint fell to the wayside about halfway through. I lacked creativity instead of ability, and that realization frustrated me. It was like waking up in Micheal Jordan's body and trying to nail some free throws.
Turns out it still takes a lot of practice and experience. Set on gaining that experience, I jotted down a few notes about my ideas on the topic. A generalized rune would suit the flowing rune best. If I tried something specific, the smooth lines would bleed some of that precision. That bleeding effect weakened the runes.
For a general rune, that same effect worked to my advantage. It could fill in gaps in my understanding, filling out the skeletal message I created. With that in mind, I decided to create an augmentation rune for my whole being. It would be my most massive undertaking yet, and I wanted to push my abilities to see what I could do.
To make something of that scale, self-introspection was vital. I racked my memory for my history, keeping a log of it in my obelisk so I didn't forget. I wrote down my short childhood, my mother getting cancer and my father's rants about the Vietnam war. All of it was distant, like seeing through a haze.
At the same time, the emotion lacing the memories fizzled like a firecracker. At first, I tried to recall these meaningful memories in detail. That failed. Even if some of my skills made me remember better, they only worked for memories I gained after getting the skill. These instances, while impactful, lacked the same crisp clarity I had for recent events.
Instead of trying to force detail that wasn't there, I focused on the emotion of the time. Stabbing sadness, harrowing heartbreak, even obvious anger, the feelings still left me wincing. These old memories acted as the foundation for the spell just like they acted as a foundation for me.
After compiling a list of these meaningful memories, I brainstormed my next step. I decided to collect some of my most meaningful decisions. I mean, I am what I do, right? If that's the case, then my choices were a big piece of who I was. With that in mind, I found a few that stuck out.
When I was twelve, I resolved myself to fight my dad instead of giving in. He wouldn't make me hate life, even if he tried his hardest. Two years after that, I chose to never cry about my mother again. She told me to keep my chin up. I'd be damned before I spit on her memory by ignoring it.
During those times, I found solace in fighting. I supposed it wasn't that different from what I did after Schema, but I digress. I ended up absorbing myself in my boxing, and I was tough. The thing is with fighting, if you take too much damage you end up losing your edge.
Coaches called it being punch drunk, and I showed minor symptoms even at seventeen. I almost appreciated the dulling of my senses. Sure, I was ruining my future, but I had a bad case of fuck-it-itis. I didn't care about anything at the time. I was young, stupid, and angry. To no one's surprise, it was a pretty damn volatile mix.
The system came at the apex of that anger, and I needed an outlet. That might have been why I survived my first few encounters with the eldritch. It freed me in a way like I didn't have to hold back anymore. Something about the violence did prove cathartic in a way.
The memories stung as I brought them back up. At the same time, bringing all this back up was necessary for the cipher. Even if my situation sucked at the time, I could look at it in a positive light. The discomfort made me strong and sturdy. Not just my body but my mind as well. Because of all that, I ended up taking control of my situation.
Hell, I saved Earth...with more than a little help.
Since I got some semblance of control, I never let it go. Ever since the system initialized, I was running full sprint forward. I never rested. I never stopped. I was a machine, trying to latch onto that control I so desperately wanted, no needed. That led me here, where I was trying to move on to a different part of life. One where I didn't need to control everything anymore.
In a way, I found it more comfortable to keep on living this way, even when there was no real reason for it. I was so used to it by now. In fact, taking a break was much harder now than continuing to work. As I dwelled on all this, I leaned back from my grimoire, looking up.
It was beautiful. Clear blue skies, white clouds floating overhead, and light sheening off nearby spires. Alien as Giess was, it showed its good side more often than not. With my mind clear, I took a deep breath and etched out another blueprint for my complex rune. I filled in the emotion, the meaning, and the choices I made in my history.
It took far longer than making the framework had. Kind of like how a good idea was easier to get than a good plan. With my idea set in motion, I stayed relentless. Torix and I ended up sitting there for ages, both of us preparing ourselves for the worst.
Torix didn't stop with the silvers around him, however. From each of Torix's new minions, he spawned more mind eels. They spread like a plague, several hundred hosts turning into several thousand over two days.
At the same time, I came up with a better framework for the runic inscription. The draft came together like a tapestry, stretching over many pages. It read like an autobiography, detailing my life while dishing out plenty of my opinion about each event. As I finished my task, I glanced at my work and smiled. It felt right.
Torix interrupted my task's afterglow, pulling the robe from over his head.
He glanced up at me, "Ah, you're still here. Good to see we're still alive."
I snapped my grimoire shut, putting into dimensional storage,
"Yup. You ready?"
Torix gave me a nod, "Yes. My new army is complete."
"How many did you end up with?"
"Around 5,000 silvers, most of them falling to around level 3,000."
My eyes widened, "What the fuck?"
Torix snickered with glee, "Now it's finally your turn to be surprised. Ah, it feels as wondrous as I envisioned it would. Wait one moment as I let this moment sink in."
I pat him on the back as I stood up, "As I was saying, damn that's just, you know, so few."
Torix jeered, "Oh yes, thank you for the support."
I spread out my arms, "Hey, don't mention it...For real though, how did gain control of so many so fast?"
Torix waved a hand, "The silvers lack much in the way of a mind. This makes manipulating them easy. Combine this with my enhanced persuasion abilities from my Speaker class, and I amassed a sizeable force in a fraction of the time it would otherwise take."
I looked around, "Where are they?"
"Good question. Ah, here's your answer."
A raven landed on Torix's shoulder, glancing towards him. It cawed a few times before flying off. Torix sighed,
"Well, the silvers aren't as good at reconnaissance as I hoped they'd be. In fact, few of them even have eyes that rival a mole's vision let alone a hawk's."
Torix threw out his hand in disgust, "Even when armed with so many eyes at my disposal, I still cannot find the base near Mt. Ash. If anything, the silvers seem blind to it."
I shrugged, "Hey, if you want something done right, do it yourself."
Torix sighed, "Part of being a leader I suppose."
With our goal set, we traveled towards Mt. Ash. Torix kept his silver army spread out, keeping them from clustering. This prevented him from giving their position away. At the same time, we stayed to the ground, the pillars of steel hiding us from anyone's eyesight.
After a day of hard-fought travel, we reached Mt. Ash. We came up to it as a blip on our minimap. Since we stayed low, we didn't make out the actual mountain even as we got close to it. I figured we'd never know we were on the hill beside for some steepness.
I was wrong.
The forest of spires thinned as we approached it. As I rushed out of the final few pillars, I gawked at the fabled peak. It wasn't owned by silvers, not even in the slightest. Giessian creatures swarmed the mountaintops, flowers, and trees sticking out from the gray wasteland. It didn't take long before we found the cause of the flourishing life.
A moat of lava encircled the entire mountain, warding off any grounded silvers. At the same time, some kind of electrical aura warded off nearby flying creatures. It acted like a magnet of the same charge as the silvers, pushing them away when they tried to enter.
This protective, magnetic forcefield was fed by some strange species of Firefly. A swarm of the bugs circled around the mountaintop as we approached. Night approached fast, so we passed onto the mountain and made a camp.
As the sunshine died down, the fireflies acted like a living light show. A symphony of yellow cascaded over the sky in waves, keeping the mountain well lit. Torix and I finished our base of operations and wasted no time, scouring the land with an eye for detail. We split ourselves up, giving us a better range to search.
I discovered many familiar species of plants and animals from around Yildraza. A variety of animals ran through the bushes, most of them charged with elemental mana. The sheer volume of life amazed me as well. Even though the mountain was a small area for an ecosystem, the animals thrived.
To our dismay, finding any source for the Skyburner's was next to impossible. We grew restless, and Torix and I continued the search nonstop. It didn't help that Althea sent me a message every five minutes asking what was going on. Of course I messaged her back, but texting wasn't my thing. It was more annoying than anything.
Several hours passed with us searching the mountaintop. With no notable progress to speak of, Torix and I specialized our searching. I burrowed beneath the ground, diving through the mountain. Torix's hordes searched the surrounding silver territory. The actual lich kept to the mountaintop, scrutinizing every pebble and blade of grass. The giant dragon frogs eluded us somehow, but we remained relentless.
Just as I believed that Draygalga lied to us, Torix got his breakthrough. He called me over towards the moat of lava. Besides the pool of molten rock, the fireflies swarmed above. Torix pointed up to them, "Do you see those creatures?"
I nodded, "Yeah. I'm tired of them."
"As am I. Their wanderlust faded a while back, and now they act as a persistent buzzing in my ear. In fact, allow me to rid you of them."
He snapped his fingers. As Torix did, an opaque shield enveloped us both. Seconds passed as the blurred surface of the forcefield faded. As it did, the fireflies disappeared. I glanced behind me, finding a Skyburner camp at the mountaintop.
I smacked my forehead, and glanced back to Torix, "You're telling me it was here the whole time?"
Torix sighed, "Yes. The fireflies were an illusion style of magic. Think of Delilath's yellow spheres, but many in number and tiny in size. They created the field that confused us."
Torix gestured towards the mountain, "What caught us was a very old and very powerful kind of illusion magic. The electrical field we felt was, in fact, mana used to maintain the spell itself. The magnetic resistance acted in much the same manner. It fooled the silvers into avoiding this place, and it fooled us into wasting time."
Torix turned and pointed towards the mountain's center, "A group of the Skyburners is hiding within the mountainside. From what I could gather, they're a collection of mages considering the illusion magic."
I shook my head, "Well shit. At least we only wasted a few hours searching."
Torix shook his head. He murmured, "We've been here for a week."
I sighed, "Fuck."
Torix nodded, "That's right. The illusion magic made us lose our sense of time as well. It's a rather potent combination of magics really. I'd be more impressed if it didn't hack into our constrictive time limitations already."
Some frustration welled in my chest, "They took us for fools. I'll tear off their arms and force their limbs down their throats."
Torix laid a hand on my shoulder, "Oh, we will do so. I'm equally displeased that they tricked us like this. However..."
Torix pointed towards the mountain, "Since I discovered the location of the base, I've ordered my silvers to guard any and all exits. The Skyburners are trapped inside without any means of escape."
I raised an eyebrow, "Any plans to kill them off?"
"I'll send in my army. Once they've exhausted their stamina and mana on fodder, you'll rush in and finish them one by one. I'll offer support from a distance."
I turned a palm to Torix, "Sounds pretty solid. Are we going to go get Althea first?"
Torix shook his head, "We'll be all that is needed."
He turned towards the fireflies, "Before we set out, I'll need you to dispel the magic here. I unable to do so."
I pointed at the swirling masses, "What's this barrier doing then?"
"It allows us to view without any illusion magic. Unfortunately, I cannot keep it cast on a permanent basis. On the other hand, you should be armed with quite an effective measure for disrupting the illusion."
Torix waved his hand, "The magnetic field here is used to repel the silvers. When we traveled to Rivaria, you were able to absorb lightning, correct?"
My eyes widened, "Ahhh, I'll be a lightning rod and absorb the field, dispelling the magic."
Torix put his hands on his hips, "Precisely."
Torix pushed my back, shoving me out of his illusion barrier. As I left it, the empty Skyburner camp disappeared. It mirrored a rocky cove, unassuming as a cloud in the sky. I passed it several times in my search. It convinced me now, my mind assuming that it existed with certainty.
Without letting the deception fool me again, I activated my Lightning Eater skill. The electricity around me drained inward, but the range of my draining was in the inches. I needed miles of pull, so I pushed out the scope of my draining. The aura bent, allowing me to drain the energy for several feet around me.
At the same time, the inklings of a headache formed. There was no pain from it, but the pulse of heart rang in my head. I ignored it, pushing further outward. As I reached ten feet, my skull itched and something popped in my nose. Seconds passed as a pour of silver blood drained from my nostrils into my helmet.
I grunted out the blood, used to it by now. That shit wouldn't stop me at this point. With my resolve set, I pushed out with my arms. As I did, the range of the electrical drainage extended out. Behind my eyes, my brain throbbed with a dull pulse. The first piece of pain poured in right after.
I laughed at the aching sensation while demanding my field of influence to expand. Every inch of growth felt like miles, but I pushed past it. A piece of my brain howled at me to stop this nonsense. I silenced it, relishing in the challenge. I was dead set on proving that part of my mind wrong.
With about zero percent of the mountain cleared, I clenched my teeth and clasped my fists. I strained my magical abilities, remembering the feel of my other skills. The electrical draining compared with my armor's needles in a way. Even more so, it mirrored Event Horizon.
Using my experience with those tools, I condensed the electrical drain. A moment later, I molded it into different shapes. It fought against me, not as willing to change as Event Horizon. At the same time, I wrestled my skill's resistance as if dropping it to the ground and smashing its face in.
Metaphorically speaking of course.
A bead of sweat dripped down my forehead as I took a deep breath. After getting a handle on molding the aura and condensing it, I used both at the same time. I pulled the area of effect inward, easing the process. Once I changed the field's density and shape, I enlarged it. As I struggled on, a notification appeared.
Lightning Eater(lvl 8)--->(lvl 33) Breakthrough achieved!
A wave of relief passed over me, the skill bending to me. Without skipping a beat, I pushed the range further out, covering several car lengths. The ability leveled a few more times over the next thirty minutes. Once I got several more car lengths added to the range, I turned to Torix,
"Alright, I think I got enough of it uncovered. I'll level the skill as we go."
Torix closed his status, turning to me, "Perfectly fine. It's a somewhat new skill so I wouldn't expect mastery of it already. We need a field for battle. That is all."
I grunted, "I...should be able to do that."
Torix scoffed, "I'd prefer it if you could do so without sounding constipated."
"No can do...Not yet at least."
Torix tsked, "Well...I suppose I'll deal with it. Can you battle like that?"
I raised my fists, my hands shaking a bit, "Yeah...I'm good."
Torix's eyes narrowed, "It's rather opportune that I gathered that army. Here I believed it wouldn't be necessary, but maintaining that aura of yours appears more than merely difficult."
Torix pressed his hands together, "I'll be pulling more of the weight than usual." As he pulled his hands apart, a wave of dry air spilled out,
"It looks as though I'll be able to apply a few tactics I've been planning."
We stepped towards the gialgathen mage's base while Torix cackled,
"I pray they're painful."