We walked out into the clearing of the quarry before Althea said, "I wanted to thank you for capturing me that day."
I frowned as I said, "What? Why?"
"Because life wasn't the best were I was. I hated it. Life isn't exactly amazing here either but I...I can deal with it."
I shrugged as I said, "I didn't do it for you. I did it for me."
"Does it really matter?"
A sly grin crept onto my face as I said, "Eh...I guess not. You ready for another fight?"
Her eyes turned to stone as she said, "Always."
I rolled my eyes as I said, "Now you're stealing my lines."
I dashed towards her before she aimed her gun and fired. The same harpoons drilled out towards me. I shot out an arm and diverted the spear. Instead of knocking it away with force, I shifted my momentum as the spear landed, angled the back of my hand, and adjusted my armor just enough. With boundless storm, the spears couldn't even force me back, let alone do any damage.
A few more spears shot my way, but I didn't need to dodge. They glided off my armor with well timed deflections. I bent my armor so that the spears had perfect landing pads for skidding off me. I didn't even think about it. It just happened. She tried kiting me by running sideways as I approached. I didn't lose sight of her as I approached. I cut her off as I ran towards her.
She grew a fleshy sack of green from her skin before shooting it towards me. The green sack detonated as I breathed in a gulp of the air. It burned my lungs like mustard gas. Needles grew out of my lungs before I could taste blood in my mouth from my throat.
I shot outward from the green gas before reaching right beside her. In a horrific display, a pair of wings jutted out of her back. I could hear her clothes tearing, her bones creaking, her skin and flesh rupturing. A fresh coat of blood covered them, each wing several times longer than her body. She flew upwards evading my charge.
I stomped my heel into the dirt, a wave of power rippling through the clay surface. A crater appeared under my feet as I flew up towards her. I met a pair of talons instead of feet. She gripped the long, black talons of her fucked up feet straight towards my arms.
My armor grew and shifted in response. The bladed talons slid off, gliding past my arm as my armor guided them. In the end, her toes clamped onto my arms with surprising force. It wasn't enough to stop me, however. She was in my domain now.
I pulled my legs up, throwing her off balance. My legs whipped around before smashing straight into her face. She collided into the ground as I landed on my feet, skidding on the ground. I pushed off my back foot, bolting towards her before she thinned and burrowed under the ground.
As she disappeared into the ground, I leapt into the air above her. With a momentous slam, I crushed my heels into the ground, sending another shockwave through it. The sound of claws tearing the ground stopped before I dug my hand into the ground. I grabbed her before pulling her out of her little escape.
Tiny claws covered her elongated and deformed body. She writhed in my hand, more like an insect than a human. I turned her in my hands like a whip before slamming her into the ground. After several slams later, The bottom half of her body detached like a lizard's tail.
She reformed, her clothes tattered as I threw the piece of her aside. I ran toward her again before stomach bulged. When I reached her, the bulge traveled up into her mouth then out of her mouth. She vomited the green acid straight onto me.
This time, my armor reformed into a solid, smooth shell around me. The acid poured on me before I rolled onto the ground, wiping it off. When most of it was gone, I uncovered myself before looking up at her. Her bio rifle was pointed right at me.
As I saw the momentum sink slide out the back, my mana swelled inside my chest. The fiery aura and arcs of lightning flashed out of my arms as I clapped them together. The spear spun in my hands, heating my armor as I gripped with all my strength.
Heat built in my hands until the metal of the armor glowed. My feet skidded backwards as I caught the spear in my hands. The dust settled as I stared at the harpoon, riveted so that it looked like a narwhal's tusk. I jumped forward, diverting another spear with my other hand before lobbing the spear with my right arm.
The spear shot straight into Althea's throat, ripping through her flesh like tissue paper. She fell backwards before I darted towards her , stomping onto her chest. My foot fell through her sternum before it showed the inside of her ribcage. Like a horror movie, her ribs had become two sets of teeth. They clamped down onto my foot.
They stabbed into my armor before working their way through it. I grit my teeth before growing my armor from my foot like a set of spikes. They stabbed through her chest and ribs, but her ribcage of teeth kept clamping before slicing through my foot. I fell onto my left side before she writhed on top of me. From inside her sternum, intestines poured out. They crawled into my helmet, digging under my eyelids and into my nose and mouth before I screamed in horror.
Oppression cut on, and her body retracted completely. Like a bug being thrown into the fire, her tentacles withered and wilted as she scrambled away from me. I heaved on my back, my eyes wide with terror. I shook my head before coming back to my senses. I cut off oppression before turning towards Althea.
She'd returned to normal, all of her skin singed off and blood leaking from her mouth. I frowned as I said, "Sorry."
She glanced at me and said, "Uh...no. I was wrong to do that. I was just so close to winning. I wanted it so badly."
I frowned as I said, "Eh, you pretty much had it."
She shook her head, "Whatever that skill was, it was like my entire body was thrown into a vat of molten acid. I couldn't even think it was so bad."
I said, "It was oppression, an aura of mine. In fact-" I turned towards Torix's cave as I said, "I just used oppression on accident. Is that okay or naw?"
Torix said back, his voice sounding into my ears as if he were right beside me, "It's fine. I've already carved a ritual or two into the surrounding area that disguises any abnormal energy signatures. How else do you think I've been able to cast magic so freely here?"
"I didn't really know. Thanks for the info." I turned back to Althea. "I can't believe you pushed me so hard."
Althea frowned as she said, "I listened to what you said. I needed to use what I had intelligently. If I didn't fight using my strengths, I'd lose every time." She hugged her legs against her chest as she said, "Even if that means becoming a thing when I fight."
I looked at my hands before beaming a grin at her and saying, "Did you see me catch that harpoon? Talk about badass."
From under the cover of her knees, she said, "Maybe a little. I can't believe your aura is that strong. It's unbelievable."
I shrugged as I said, "You just need more constitution to fight against it. If you had maxed out damage resistance, then I'd have lost. Hell, I can't believe you wormed it out of me like that. I thought I'd stomp you once we got close."
She rocked back and forth as she hugged her knees. She said, "My uh...power makes me really good at overwhelming my opponent once they get close. If we were standing, I think you'd have gotten me. Once I get you onto the ground, I can just block your lungs."
My skin crawled as I said, "What skill is that?"
She put her chin onto her knees as she said, "Flesh of eldritch. It lets me use my mana to manipulate my body like I was using magic of origin. It also converts my mana into eldritch mana. This makes it a bit...unstable. You saw."
I nodded before saying, "Why so chatty all of the sudden?"
"I don't know...I just feel like I have a place here now."
I leaned back onto my arms as I said, "I get that. I suppose the way you got into our group was rocky at best."
She shrugged her shoulders. "I guess. I thought I was going to die for the longest time. Torix is scary, maybe even scarier than the doctor. It's hard to say." She lifted a hand, morphing it, the flesh mushing together as she continued, "The doctor did this though."
I frowned before saying, "Is that what let's you penetrate my armor?"
She shook her head and said, "No. That's my other passive skill. Forbidden knowledge of the old. It has something to do with the old ones...probably."
I sighed as I said, "Man they fucked you up." I crossed my legs and leaned onto my knees as I said, "Eh, I'm pretty fucked too. This armor's someone else's deformed soul. It's mine now though. Maybe. I don't really know anymore."
We sat there for a second before Althea stared at her hands. She said, "Do you ever feel like we're not who we were anymore?"
"Well no fucking duh."
She frowned at me before saying, "I know we're different. I mean do you feel like we shouldn't be here? Like we shouldn't exist?"
After a little sardonic laugh, I said, "Honestly? Who gives a fuck if we should or shouldn't be here. I've got a lot better shit to do than trying to answer questions without answers."
She hugged her knees again, hiding her face behind them as she said, "Really? It sounds more like you just want to avoid hearing the answers to those questions."
I narrowed my eyes at her as I said, "You wanna hear the truth? Alright. You and me, we're fucking freaks. We're completely fucked up, deep down into our bones." I pointed at my chest as I said, "See this shit? It's evil. It's not going anywhere either. Why should I bother worrying about it, eh? Dwelling on shit I can't change never helped me, neither did crying about it. Trust me. I tried both."
She frowned as she glanced away and said, "Yeah. I know." She turned back to me and said, "You sound like Leda."
I raised an eyebrow as I said, "Who's Leda?"
"One of the other experiments. She always told me to stop crying when I was younger. She went away with the doctor and never came back. She wasn't special like I was." Althea closed her eyes and said, "That's how everyone was...but they all withered away, sooner or later."
I stood as I said, "I've got a revolutionary tactic for preventing that."
"What's it's called?"
She giggled a little before saying, "Tell me how that strategy works out for you."
I walked off as I said, "Sure thing. Let me know if you find some other answers. I wouldn't mind hearing them."
I walked off towards Kessiah, dead set on learning some more augmentation magic. Althea had closed the gap despite the fact that I learned boundless storm. I'd been focusing too much on non combat stats, like luck and charisma. If I faced off against an Althea with full damage resistance, then I'd be in serious trouble.
It was exciting though. I couldn't help but bounce off my heels as I went towards Kessiah. Having a rival was fun and challenging and new. It gave me a nice benchmark for checking my progress, and gave me someone to chitchat with about skills and stuff.
With that spurring me on, I paced towards Kessiah, finding her carving into a block of wood with her finger. It was an intricate carving of a sleeping child, delicate and detailed. She hummed a lullaby as she worked, her finger hard enough to press and mold the wood like it was clay. She had a light, almost motherly expression on her face before my foot hit a branch.
She turned to me, her eyes soaked in wrath. She hissed, "How long have you been there?"
"I don't know, a few minutes?"
Her shoulders slackened before she dropped the carving beside her feet. With a quick stomp, she crushed the wood as she said,
"So what is it that you want?"
"Ah, I was wondering if you knew anything about augmentation? I was trying to learn it and struggling during the process."
Her arms dropped to her side as she looked around. She laughed a little before saying, "Ah, yeah, sorry about that. I thought you were spying for Torix or something."
I shook my head as I said, "No. I'll keep the humming to myself."
She walked over, placed her hand onto my shoulder, and splintered the shoulder plate between her fingers as she seethed, "You'd better."
A drop of cold sweat poured down my temple as I saluted her and said, "Yes ma'm, miss Kessiah."
She laughed while pushing me off, her old self returning. She leaned onto a hip as she said, "Alright then. What are you struggling with?"
"Pretty much everything. When I use augmentation, the stream of it just keeps growing until it eats through my hp bar."
She nodded before saying, "Sounds like a classic case of battle fervor."
She leaned onto a tree at her side and said, "It's when someone likes fighting, so they get more and more into it. As their spirit rises, so does their consumption of mana. I could definitely see you having this problem."
I frowned before saying, "Any tips on how to fix it?"
She glanced up, tapping her chin with a single finger as she said, "I mean, there aren't any easy ways of doing it. You have to be able to relax while you fight, and that can only come with a lot of practice."
I lowered my gaze and frowned as I said, "Damn, sounds rough..." I lifted my head and spread my arms as I said, "What if I used dominion magic to taper down the consumption of it?"
She waved the idea off as she said, "You're of augmentation, not dominion. Just the fact you're asking for augmentation help means you can't use the other styles. Your affinity is set."
I shrugged as I said, "I have a dual affinity."
Kessiah's head whipped back and she blinked a few times before she said, "Really? You have dual affinities for augmentation and dominion?"
She threw her white hair over her shoulder as she said, "You're like the reincarnation of Alfred. It's crazy."
"What do you mean like Alfred? You mean Torix's son?"
She leaned close while pulling me beside her. She whispered while cupping her hand, "Don't tell him I told you this, but Alfred had far more oomph in his magic than Torix does. His son was like you, someone with a dual affinity. You and him are the only two I've heard of that are like this."
She rose her head as she said, "Enough of this gossiping though." Kessiah pat my shoulder hard, knocking me forward before I turned back to her. She opened her hands so that they faced each other. Orange mana spilled out as she said,
"I was always more of an augmenter myself. If you could learn dominion magic as well, that would allow you to further enhance yourself. The thing is, most dominion builds are based on telekinesis. You know, floating rocks and shit. There's quite a few side branches that focus on taming summoned monsters or other stuff, but telekinesis is the bread and butter of dominion."
She strained as black poured into the spiraling ball of orange. The strands cycled in between her palms, like she was holding a tiny jupiter. She said with a struggle in her voice, "This ball right here...it would let me help me augment myself and move the augmented limbs with my mind."
Kessiah sighed as the ball dissipated. She said, "The idea is instead of moving a rock over there, you move your body to help you hit harder. I've tried doing it for a while, but I just don't have any talent for dominion magic. I was much more of an augmenter with a little splash of origin."
She tapped my forehead as she said with a smile, "You'd be the perfect guinea pig for trying out all kinds of ideas I've had."
I frowned as I said, "Yay. Awesome. I'm someone else's toy again."
With a teasing grin, she said, "Don't worry. I treat my toys very well."
I rolled my eyes before I said, "Come on, let's get back to the augmentation stuff."
She frowned as she said, "You're still no fun."
I cracked my neck before saying, "And you're still distracted."
She shrugged her head, "Only when I want to be."
She put a palm onto the tree before saying, "So I guess the easiest way for you to learn any further would be learning the language of magic. If you could write and make your own formulas, you could create rituals that make controlling the augmentation magic far easier. I think that would be the quickest way to progress."
I nodded as I said, "Hell yeah, sounds awesome."
She carved into the tree, strips of wood falling onto her feet. After a minute of this, a series of fifty characters were etched out onto the wood, most of them more complex than any letter I'd ever seen. She pushed her hand into the tree, the wood splintering as she scooped out the wood in her hands. She said,
"This is the alphabet for the language. It's a lot, lot more complex than the simple stuff you use in your own writing."
I nodded as I glanced at them closely. While I couldn't understand the characters, my perception was high enough that I could make out certain feelings associated with each glyph. Some were like anger, red and wrathful. Others were like blue, calm and soothing. Each had a feeling associated with it, and they all came together into a stunning symphony in my hands.
Skill gained! [Comprehension of Oblivion(lvl 1) - You've stepped into the unknown. Now you must learn to see in the dark. +1% to comprehension of oblivion.]
I lost myself staring at them. Just the runes themselves carried great power. Do you know the feeling of listening to a song that captures a memory? Or maybe a place that is thick with nostalgia, like a bittersweet fog? These words could put those feelings into words in ways that normal English couldn't. Telling you what these characters were like is like describing the color red to a blind man.
How do you find the words when telling him what it looks like? These characters would show him the color and the feeling of it as vibrantly as sight itself. With these runes, you could show a blind man the wonder of a mountain's view or the wonder of music to a deaf man.
Kessiah snapped me from my surprise as she said, "What's the big deal. You've seen them before, haven't you?"
I nodded before rubbing my hand over the wood as I said, "Yeah, but they were mixed up with a bunch of Baldag-Ruhl's bullshit. This is like a lake of crystal clear water while that was a muddy pond. You can't really compare the two."
She rolled her eyes and said, "Well fuck man. I didn't think you'd be the type to be like this."
I glanced up and said, "Me neither."
Kessiah placed a hand over one of the characters and laid it onto the center of my chest. With a burst of white mana, a vision of an egg hatching came through me. A second later and I saw a mother holding a newborn baby in her hands. They both had reddish violet skin, like Kessiah. The image faded as I saw the spark of a fire and the explosion of a far off supernova. Kessiah said,
"Words can't transmit the meaning of this language like mana can. I'll do this for each character, and that should give you a general feel for each."
I nodded before saying, "Give me a minute...That hit me harder than I expected."
She giggled before saying, "It's like a shot of Sorekai cactus juice, isn't it?"
I shook the sensation from my head before saying, "Does that wine tell you memories?"
She pursed her lips before saying, "What do you mean memories?"
I shrugged as I said, "Uh, the mana came across as a series of flashbacks or something."
She grinned as she said, "Ohhh, really? That's a bit unusual Well you're going to have fun with a few of these then."
Each character was like reading a book. One was a deep dread, like knowing you were going to die. Another was like the vigor before a fight or the anticipation before a test, another still like a deep, red rage. Each glyph was a wave of feelings like this. I could hardly stand when we finished the entire fifty character set. I'd even vomited for the character of disgust.
With a fresh sheen of sweat on my forehead, I said, "Jesus, what a ridiculous learning process."
"Most people don't learn it like that. They learn each character's meaning then the standard formulas that each character are used in. After a few years of writing with the language, they gain a firm understanding of it and can start forming their own spells."
I walked over towards a tree, searching for the feeling of the first character. As I used my armored finger as a chisel, I couldn't remember the rune at all, so the scribble came out wrong. When I looked at the signal and tried recreating the character, it didn't feel right. Kessiah said this was the way to learn it, but I couldn't help but think this was a shallow imitation of the real characters.
Skill Gained! [Carving Into Oblivion(lvl 1) - You've gained the means into another world. +1% effectiveness of runic carvings and their longevity.]
With the skill learned, I kept on trying to write the characters, even moving towards full words after a few hours. The boost in memory helped tremendously with memorizing them, just as perception helped with understanding them. After we both left several trees covered in the markings, my mind was exhausted.
Still, I had a plan of what to do next. With a sharp blade extended from my armor, I sliced several plates of wood for later practice. I found a shelf of mud surrounded by brushes and trees. There I settled myself in for a long night. Hours passed as I sat there carving the runes out, learning the language.
My finger ached after several hours, but that wouldn't stop me. With a little stream of mana from my left hand, I lit my workplace as I carved with my right hand. The various words took firmer shape. The symbols becoming clearer. Of course they lacked the precision of Kessiah's characters, but there was definite progress.
As the morning sun rose, I had a stack of around fifty or so plates of wood beside me. I would take breaks each hour to cut trees and make out another set of plates. During these lulls, I'd think about what I needed to do in order to improve each character. I wanted to completely understand the alphabet before I tried making my own formulas. I figured having a strong foundation wouldn't hurt when I moved on to the more complex aspects of the language.
By the time I passed back towards the camp, Althea was reforming her hand into a variety of nasty looking blades while Torix carved in the background. He'd made amazing progress over the last day and night. Large patches of the walls were covered in the characters. Now that I understood some of the glyphs and the difficulty of writing them, his decisive and precise movements amazed me.
His engraving was superior to Kessiah's, like night and day. Kessiah wrote the language without deforming it in the slightest. On the other hand, Torix wielded the language as if it were his own. I watched him carve for a few minutes, spellbound now that I understood his mastery.
In that instant, an idea popped into my head. I sprinted back towards my learning spot. It was time to learn this shit.
I didn't come back to the camp for several days, except when I needed to eat some rations from Torix. I'd wake up, carve into sheets of wood, then go to sleep. Every now and again, Kessiah would stop by and check on me. She'd see me hunched over a plate, working with a frenzy in my eyes.
When you spend so much time focusing on something, everything else becomes a haze as it becomes your focus. That's what happened to me. I'd forget to eat or sleep for days at a time during this process. As my own engravings grew in intensity, I'd become further absorbed in the process. I'd walk into trees and forget where I was. I was like some airy professor at some college. The difference was that my thoughts were driven by a singular purpose.
To become a mother fucking sorcerer. It would be awesome.
During the week or two that I was stuck in that haze, I wondered off into one of the nearby dungeons. Of course the monsters were low-level as hell, so I cleared them with ease. With just a few choice words, I got Torix to send a minion holding the dungeon core towards the steel legion's base in Springfield. It read,
Sorry for not giving this as payment earlier. Not giving up the core was an impulsive and rash decision. We are sincerely sorry for any undue grievances our stalled payment may have caused. I hope this helps mend any broken ties.
Sincerely, Michael Cortez and Kelsey Lanier.
I had Torix edit the message and write it with some ink infused with mana. He sent a summoned eagle towards their base of operations. The mana he used for it had been white as snow, which Torix said made the mana almost impossible to distinguish. By preventing any of your affinities from leaking out into your mana, it made the user of that mana far less apparent.
As for the mana signature, it was like an intergalactic code thing. A message imbued with mana was considered far more sincere than one without it.
With that handled, I kept focusing on leveling my various skills related to oblivion carving. I had no idea why the fuck it was called that, but I'd probably figure out later. For now, I focused all my efforts into carving it into wood then stone then plates of steel that Torix gave me.
Three weeks of this passed before I hit a breakthrough and began carving differently. When I wrote each character, I would think of memories I'd had that represented the various feelings each rune had. If it was a rune of rage, I would think of my father. This would make the rune come out far clearer than before.
With this knowledge in tow, I tried out my first working line of the language. The runes inscribed power and how it consumes and overhwhelms. The passage went on, casting the calm of a clear ocean and the silence of an empty field. At the end of the written letters, it told the balance of two perfect and opposite halfs. The runes went from a flare of fire to a deep cold, like a wild, frenzied animal calming at its master's touch. After weeks of work, these lines were the culmination of my efforts.
It was amazing how fucking hard writing the passage had been. When I channeled my mana through the runes, they glowed a blazing orange before a surge of power went through my muscles and bones. Arcs of lightning streaked across my skin as a dark fire ebbed from me. The rush of power was palpable.
Of course, the wood burned away, turning into a black piece of charcoal in seconds. It crumbled in my hands to ash. The rush had burned through about 1/10th of my health bar as well. The wood hadn't done shit. I frowned before picking up an unused steel plate. After spending half an hour carving the sentence into the slab, I channeled the mana once more.
Less of it poured out , though still a bit more than I could handle with my health regen. The ritual had a way of amplifying my over consumption, despite making the ritual focus on controlling the sudden surge of mana. Even then, the plate melted in a few minutes along with the surge of strength. Of course I could carry around blocks of steel for the bonus in power, but that would be super inconvenient. I had a better idea.
I would carve it into my new skin.